On Friday, Ryan Mauro wrote an article criticizing Jon Stewart for not understanding why 70% of Americans are against the Ground Zero mosque. While I agree with Ryan’s critique on Stewart’s dismissal of his fellow citizens’ concerns, I do believe the segment Stewart ran has something to teach us. The first lesson is that the message we want to send to Imam Rauf is disjointed, and the second is that the way some conservatives portray their concern about the mosque is rather unproductive. The second problem, in particular, is worrisome enough because it could allow the left to distort it, just as Stewart did in his segment.
The way I see it, there are two schools of opposition to the mosque:
- We don’t want it at Ground Zero because of what happened on 9/11/01. It is insensitive and a slap in the face to do it. We don’t mind you building the mosque, just not here.
- We don’t want the mosque because we have concerns about the funding and associations of Imam Feisal Rauf. We believe the mosque may become a home to terrorists.
The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, of course, but not everybody holds both positions. The first position seems to be exclusively subscribed to by a lot of the leading GOP leaders in Congress, like Eric Cantor. The second position seems to have as its exclusive students the talking heads, like Sean Hannity, or the Fox and Friends crowd, as we saw in Stewart’s clip.
I feel like the failure to send out one coherent message will have some people wondering which is the real problem: the location, the imam, or both? I think it’s both, but GOP and conservative opinion leaders need to communicate that more effectively.
That leads me to the second point: the content of that second school of thought. As we saw in the segment, there is a lot of maybe and he might be associated with whenever the subject of Rauf’s background comes up. That is to say, everything I’ve seen so far is all speculation and inferences, but no concrete facts.
The way the concerns are framed right now allows the left an opportunity in which to portray the people asking the questions as Islamophobes who see all Muslims as terrorists. They’ll probably do so, anyway, but we could more easily combat these tactics with a different approach that seeks the truth rather than sensationalizes speculation.
We need to put Imam Rauf on the spot. We need to say, “Look, we have these valid concerns, and you have the responsibility to answer for what are conflicting accounts of your belief and your activities. You also must consider the wishes of the people who live in New York. You have so far refused to do any of this, and more so, either ignored the American people, or worse, accused them (via your wife) of being Islamophobes. Is it any wonder you have people questioning your associations, and your motivations for the mosque, when you act like the kind of Muslim they so fear? How can you expect to build any bridges when you won’t lay the first stone?”
It’s a confrontational approach, but one that says we genuinely want answers to our questions and concerns addressed, rather than the one that people like Jon Stewart can portray as hate.