Volume 23, Number 9 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 9 - 15, 2010
Polling aside, it’s not a mosque, it’s a right
We were disturbed at the results of last week’s Quinnipiac poll on New Yorkers’ opinions concerning a possible “mosque” near Ground Zero. First and foremost, as we pointed out in a previous editorial, the word mosque is an inept description of what the Cordoba Initiative will eventually erect at the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory.
And we suspect that had Quinnipiac refrained from using the inflammatory word in their poll, the results would have been different, perhaps significantly. We would also like to point out that the poll has absolutely no bearing on the project itself, as it is a true as-of-right project. The community center can be built if it complies with all zoning, building department, and Landmarks regulations; it does not need City Planning or community board approvals.
The Cordoba House has mistakenly been labeled a “mosque,” unveiling closeted feelings of prejudice among some residents of this city. Bigotry has steadily formed since the September 11th attacks and the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Polls such as this only add fuel to the fire and give the opposition the cultural battlefield on which to wage their wars.
Why does the location of the “mosque” matter? It seems as if Stop Islamization of America is using this project as an excuse to spread its anti-Islamic agenda. And it’s doing so in the wrong place: New York City, a melting pot of religions and home to between 600,000 and 800,000 Muslims, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Some of the results were startling. Only 35 percent of surveyed New Yorkers ages 55 and up have a generally favorable opinion of Islam or the Muslim religion. 49 percent of white Jews and forty-one percent of white Catholics have a generally unfavorable opinion of the culture or religion.
Fortunately, results improve for those who actually know a Muslim: 57 percent of these surveyed New Yorkers have a generally favorable opinion of them. So perhaps if the surveyed folks gave Muslims a chance by getting to know them, they wouldn’t automatically associate them with the al-Qaeda extremists.
The debate over what to call the Cordoba House — mosque, community center, cultural center, prayer center, etc. — underscores the general ambiguity of such “community centers.” What is the appropriate name for churches that sponsor events open to the general public? Or Jewish Cultural Centers that have prayer spaces in them? Does the name “community center” undermine the religious component of the organization?
Rather than refer to the Cordoba Initiative as a “Muslim mosque and cultural center,” poll director Douglas Schwartz could have phrased it the correct way, that is, a “cultural center with a Muslim prayer space.” We suspect that would have changed the results about this specific center.
It should be up to the creators of the Cordoba House to get the final word on naming their center. After all, they’re the ones who are building it.
But perhaps this is all academic. What Schwartz was really getting at, and what the poll accomplishes, is that it highlights the prejudice in New York City, supposedly one of the most liberal-minded populations in America.
We have work to do at home, which irronically is precisely the mission of the Cordoba center: to provide a forum that helps to foster tolerance and interfaith dialogue.