Is productive dialogue possible around Ground Zero?

By Megan Sweas| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
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The Muslim community center near Ground Zero--now Park51 instead of the Cordoba House--is keeping interfaith relations in the news, but the question now is: Is any publicity good publicity?

Back in college, I wrote a paper critiquing media coverage of interfaith dialogue. My research, just a few years after 9/11, found that there was little coverage beyond event announcements.

With recent debates, most of America has now heard of the Cordoba Initiative. People are at least discussing the possibility and purpose of talking to their Muslim neighbors, though most aren't eager to start quite yet. Even with all the hatred out there, is it at least a good thing that we're holding difficult discussions about religious freedom and dialogue, as on my previous post on this subject?

This is my reaction to this heated debate between Eboo Patel, director of the Interfaith Youth Core and a U.S. Catholic interviewee, and a CNN anchor (a representative of the group fighting Park51 was there too, but the CNN anchors comments are what really got me thinking). The CNN anchor pointed out that Park51 seems only to be creating more division, countering its goal to bring together people of various faiths. Watch the video here:

Should proponents of interfaith activity push through criticism or should they try not to make waves? As a journalist, all I know is that "not making waves" won't keep your issue in the spotlight.

The other question, though, is what is that spotlight focused on. Unfortunately, as astute media critic/comedian Jon Stewart pointed out, the spotlight is on the politics rather than question of dialogue and freedom.

An anti-Muslim attitude that conflates extremism with all Islam has become a rallying cry for some politicians, distorting the truth about both Islam and individuals such as Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf. Thanks to Eminem for linking to this article that clears up the distortion against the Rauf, and Stewart points out that Glenn Beck actually agrees with Rauf that American policy had something to do with 9/11. Our discussion would be a lot more productive if we lost all the political angling.

A few other interesting links on this story:
The Daily Show's Monday episode. I'm not posting the video here because the swearing and crack at the Catholic Church might offend some, but he makes some interesting points, and the story about a Muslim woman denied as a foster parent because she wouldn't serve pork in her house is pretty sad.

While I was right in my previous post that atheists such as Christopher Hitchens don't like moderate religious people, Hitchens isn't against the center. Read his argument against responding with emotion and taking "offense" to the mosque at the National Post.

Finally, a Huffington Post blogger wonders about the strip joint near Ground Zero and the mall planned for the new building. He also asks about the monument to Lee (as well as the shops and McDonalds) at Gettysburg.