Of all the ridiculous things written about the controversy over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero, one has stood out for me. A couple of weeks ago Salon‘s Justin Elliott asked Why did no one object to the “Pentagon mosque“? He said that “right-wingers have been strangely silent” about Muslims praying in the Pentagon and having their own Muslim chaplain.
The story spread around the Twitterverse with pundits and political journalists retweeting and suggesting hypocrisy. They thought concern over Cordoba but not the Pentagon proved that it was an invented controversy.
Of course, it could have also meant that the vast majority of Americans concerned over the $100 million mosque really were telling the truth when they said they support religious freedom — just question the propriety of a mosque near the site where terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers in the name of Islam.
The Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Goldberg, who is a big fan of Cordoba, headlined his piece:
Muslims Infiltrate Pentagon! Judeo-Christian Civilization Collapses
Thanks in part to President Obama, I think that most people now have a clear understanding of the difference between discussing the right of a religious group to do something and the wisdom of doing so. And yet I just saw this Associated Press story about this supposed scandal of an interfaith chapel at the Pentagon. The headline works overtime to drum up some controversy “Muslims pray daily at Pentagon’s 9/11 crash site”:
Americans are debating bitterly the proposed building of a mosque near New York’s ground zero, but for years Muslims have prayed quietly at the Pentagon only 80 feet from where another hijacked jetliner struck.
Pentagon officials say that no one in the military or the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has ever protested.
They describe the 100-seat chapel as a peaceful place where some 300 to 400 Pentagon employees come to pray each week. The chapel hosts separate weekly worship services for Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Protestants, Catholics and Episcopalians.
The first few versions of this AP story that I read reduced it down to four paragraphs. That just makes the piece even less serious than it is at full length. But the big weakness in the piece, even at full length, is that there is precisely no discussion of why, perhaps, Americans support the chaplain program at the Pentagon while expressing concerns about Cordoba.
I don’t want to put too much on one wire service story. But it did prompt some thoughts about larger media coverage problems. It seems that too many members of the media are unable to loosen their death grip on the idea that bigotry is the sole, or even primary, reason for opposition to this mosque. The sooner they open their minds to the actual arguments of the people (arguments I disagree with, I hasten to add), the better the coverage will be. This Pentagon chapel could have provided an excellent hook for just such a discussion.
UPDATE: Reader kjs notes the addition of two helpful paragraphs at the end of the story:
Abraham Scott, whose wife, Janice, was a civilian Army employee killed at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, said that while he opposes the lower Manhattan mosque, he “can live with” the fact that Muslims pray at a Pentagon chapel.
“It’s not a mosque that’s built specifically for Muslims,” Scott said. “It’s a facility where Muslims can go and pray.”
The two issues — neither of which I oppose — are even more different than that. But still, it’s nice to get at least one additional comment on the matter.