Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Picking up after Douthat. This time: the Ground Zero mosque/community center.

Ezra on the coverage of the mosque, here:
You get a lot of these mini-manias in the 24-hour news cycle, and it's always hard to say which you should take seriously and which you should ignore. After all, if you jump on everything that cable news makes into a big deal, you've become part of the problem, because you're helping the story along. But you don't want to just dismiss everything, either. The test I try to use is this: Could I imagine a world in which this thing was happening but no one ever thought to comment on it?

Well, yes. I can't imagine that world for unemployment, or financial-regulation reform, or the Afghanistan Wikileaks. But it absolutely could've been the case that Imam Feisel Abdul Rauf decided to build an Islamic community center and no one really noticed, or cared, and maybe a few local politicians from both parties showed up to help cut the ribbon. As it happened, a few opportunists went after it, which brought it to the attention of a few sensationalistic media outlets, and then some opportunistic politicians jumped on board, and then their colleagues felt compelled to comment, and then more legitimate media outlets had something to cover, and on and on. The story is a story because of the incentives of the people making it a story, not because there's something about an Islamic community center a few blocks from Ground Zero that just screams out for national attention.

Don't believe me? Then ask yourself why you've never heard anyone complain about the halal food carts parked outside the Ground Zero construction site. This didn't need to become a polarizing national issue. It was made into a polarizing national issue. And now the only thing to do is to wait for it to pass.

I'm inclinded to follow Ezra's example and not discuss the mosque mess, but, offline, Michael requested my response to Douthat's mosque piece, so I'll indulge him.

Douthat makes two common mistakes:

1) Treating the 9/11 terrorists as if their behavior informs us about Islam. It doesn't, any more than the bombing of abortion clinics by self-proclaimed Christians informs us about Christianity. There is an America that cannot get this concept through their heads and therefore insist on treating Muslims as a special class who are always suspect, who are not entitled to the freedoms that our country promises, who have to prove their trustworthiness in a way that non-Muslims do not, who are expected to employ more "sensitive" antennas than non-Muslims. It's THAT America that scares the sh*t out of me.

2) Watching and reading news stories and drawing the conclusion that what isn't presented there doesn't exist -- that if news stories don't present images and sound bites of Muslim Americans decrying the 9/11 terrorists, then that means Muslim Americans accept, support, and are in agreement with the 9/11 terrorists or other radicals. Douthat, and everyone else, needs to appreciate that the media doesn't give time or space to people spouting reasonable, temperate sentiments, so Muslims with reasonable, temperate sentiments are not going to be appearing in news stories or as talking heads in the proportions that they exist in the world. The Muslims being quoted or trotted out for inflammatory comments in news coverage are not a representative sample and that's what gives Douthat the impression that they "too often" do what they do. The real "too often" is that the news finds and quotes these folks but fails to quantify how prevalent their positions are. Also, "too often" the media automatically associates the views of an individual with those of an organization to which he/she belongs.

I don't know anything about Craig Berger writing at Future Majority, but he has already written a rebuttal to Douthat that addresses these points. He does a good job of putting the shoe on the other foot to illustrate the absurdity and unfairness of having an attitude that the events of 9/11 should have a bearing on selection of a mosque location.

I'm still calling him DOUGH HAT in my head. Will someone correct me if I've got that wrong, please? It's hard not to think derisively of someone you're calling DOUGH HAT.

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