Journalists, politicians generate fear for personal gain over plans for mosque near site of 9/11 attack

I recently saw a video clip that sent chills down my spine of a supposedly “grassroots” rally outside a closed Burlington Coat Factory in New York City where protesters were chanting against building a mosque on the site. They were chanting words this publication wouldn’t print.

The hatred was so great that, at one point, a carpenter working on the new building that will replace the World Trade Center passed through the crowd and was verbally and physically attacked. Apparently the hate-filled crowd thought he was a Muslim. He was simply a black man with a skullcap. The level of vitriol was hard to watch: So much anger — and at what?

The truth is not nearly as sensational as the people at Fox News would have you believe. Cordoba Center, the building that is proposed, is not just an Islamic Cultural Center, it will also contain interfaith spaces for Christian and Jewish worship and meditation. Of course you have not heard that story in the news, because it is easier and more sensational to call it the Ground Zero Mosque and show pictures of scary guys in turbans for ratings.

The fundamentalists and right wing have grabbed onto this issue like a chew toy and are shaking it for all the fear and hatred it is worth.

That is what bothers me the most. Fear and hatred are two tools that have been used to galvanize people against us for centuries, and I suspect we are uniquely attuned to recognize them.

It is easy to see where all this is coming from as well. It is a great deal the fault of the right-wing media, like Fox News with their demagogues Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly. But it also has become a cause célèbre for politicians seeking a little extra boost. It would be easy to look at these videos and events and see a “clash of cultures” building. But that is not the reality of the situation.

What we are seeing is a carefully orchestrated fear mongering narrative guided by some pretty cynical folks. Just think back a few years ago when candidates were using the fear of homosexuals to rile up their base.

Fake research groups like the Family Research Council published papers claiming that “35 percent of pedophiles are homosexuals and a child molester is 17 times more likely to be homosexual than heterosexual.” Both these figures are intentional misinterpretations of the actual studies done by real researchers.

The point is, both these “issues” are really no more than jingoistic talking points that rally people into a frenzy. These kinds of false controversies only feed on the underlying real issues of racism, homophobia and xenophobia and blur the picture.

That leaves the question of why? Why would anyone want to stir up this kind of anger? Again, I look to the cynical folks causing it.

For fundamentalist preachers and organizations it is an “easy sell.” Every tent revivalist knows you can get a much fuller collection basket when the congregation is riled up.

The same holds true for the organizations like American Family Association. Fear fills their coffers. For politicians, the answer is obvious. As Sarah Palin says, “mama grizzlies,” once angered, are hard to stop. A populace who is scared will vote for whoever offered them “security.”

Just look to the previous administration and how they successfully manipulated a manufactured war to win re-election. For the “news” organizations like Fox, fear sells. Why spend money on real reporting when you can create events?

As a sidenote, it is further proof of the cynical nature of right-wing media that Al-Walid bin Talal, a Saudi financier, owns a big chunk of Fox News and is also funding the “Ground Zero Mosque” through his charitable contributions. You’ll never hear in the fear narrative being pushed by Fox.

We LGBT Americans know just how powerful fear and hatred can be. We need to look past the sound bites and bumper stickers and see the real issues behind this whole ruckus. It’s about the right to be different. That is a founding principal of our country: Freedom to build a place of worship, a community center, an AIDS clinic or whatever should not be hindered by baseless fears. If we fall prey to the media spotlight beating the drums to “stop the mosque,” we should not be surprised the next time that spotlight falls on us.

It isn’t easy to see past the glare of this craziness. Like the lyrics to the song from the musical Chicago say, “… how can they see with sequins in their eyes … Razzle dazzle ‘em. And they’ll never catch wise!”

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 27, 2010