It turns out that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, — branded a radical Muslim leader on talk shows and some Internet websites — worked for the FBI and is not as he has been described by those who’ve also insisted plans to build a mosque two blocks away from Ground Zero is really a mosque at Ground Zero.
Here’s the beginning of a report by Sam Stein on The Huffington Post — seemingly yet another manifestation of how 21st century American politics works, where facts are cherry picked and some things passed off as facts that are in fact not…facts. The idea is if you repeat a charge long enough it sticks and becomes a fact. Balance and accuracy aren’t the points in such political “debate:” it’s about repeating a string of negative affirmations and pushing hot-buttons to get people outraged to run to the polls to vote against a candidate or, by association, a group. (Footnote: Kindly spare me the emails about yours truly really being a secret Muslim. I was bar mitzvahed and as Oliver Stone will attest I am busy dominating the news media, running Hollywood and keeping Chinese restaurants open.):
In March 2003, federal officials were being criticized for disrespecting the rights of Arab-Americans in their efforts to crack down on domestic security threats in the post-9/11 environment. Hoping to calm the growing tempers, FBI officials in New York hosted a forum on ways to deal with Muslim and Arab-Americans without exacerbating social tensions. The bureau wanted to provide agents with “a clear picture,” said Kevin Donovan, director of the FBI’s New York office.
Brought in to speak that morning — at the office building located just blocks from Ground Zero — was one of the city’s most respected Muslim voices: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. The imam offered what was for him a familiar sermon to those in attendance. “Islamic extremism for the majority of Muslims is an oxymoron,” he said. “It is a fundamental contradiction in terms.”
It was, by contemporaneous news accounts, a successful lecture.
Flash forward six-and-a-half years, and Feisal Abdul Rauf occupies a far different place in the political consciousness. The imam behind a controversial proposal to build an Islamic cultural center near those same FBI offices has been called “a radical Muslim,” a “militant Islamist” and, simply, the “enemy” by conservative critics. His Cordoba House project, meanwhile, has been framed as a conduit for Hamas to funnel money to domestic terrorist operations.
For those who actually know or have worked with the imam, the descriptions are frighteningly — indeed, depressingly — unhinged from reality.
But what does reality matter?
Welcome to a world where realities are created at will — with scores of enablers.
It’s a world where Fox News — which I’ve defended in terms of its reporting staff’s professionalism — has insisted it’s “fair and balanced” although everyone knows it isn’t, yet it could never be accurately said that it was a virtual official part of the GOP. Now its parent company has given $1 million to the Republican Governors’ Association — the biggest contribution to that group to date. So Fox now has a vested interest in the GOP winning. News Corp tries to dance around the reason but the bottom line is: Fox News is now established as being to “fair and balance” what a banana split is to dieting. It is now OFFICIALLY backing a dog (or elephant) in the Nov. 2010 race.
In the case of Feisal Abdul Rauf, if you read Stein’s whole post it bears little resemblance to the comic bookish radical leader being described by some of the mosque’s foes.
Stein gives many details. But these details will be ignored or dismissed by those trying to paint a pitchfork and tail on Muslims as a group, while denying that they are doing just that.
The Fear Factor got ratings on TV; it works even better in elections, particularly when bolstered by radio and cable talk and the Internet.
The bottom line is that it’s increasingly clear that the ends (whipping up outrage to get votes or bring someone’s poll numbers down) justify the means (getting a red, hot campaign issue and/or propelling ones’ self to the head of a likely primary pack by doing such things as equating Muslims with Nazism).
There are some — notably some 9/11 families — who truly are against the mosque being built anywhere near Ground Zero and devastated by these plans.
And then there are those who distort and look for the easy phrase that will get attention to get them audience or votes.
And if there is collateral damage (reputations…the stirring up of hatreds against an entire religion in the United States)? Damage schmamage, who cares: its a great campaign issue…
And so the common mantra — repeat charges and cherry pick factoids over and over until someone, something (or some religion) is negatively defined goes on. The beat goes on. And on.
But it usually works and it’ll get media share, ratings, hits from like-minded readers — and votes.
And that’s what life’s really all about, isn’t it?
OF RELATED INTEREST TO MAKE UP YOUR OWN MIND
—Google Web results on Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf with many stories warning that he’s radical written by mosque critics and conservatives.
—Media Matters posts on the accuracy some of the charges aimed at him by mosque opponents. When you read some of these you will see enough cherry picking to fill a CostCo warehouse.
FOOTNOTE: If you’re interested in seeing some of the inaccuracies on this story be sure to read Kathy Gill’s earlier post.
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Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.