Need further proof that the controversy surrounding Park51 is nothing more than this campaign cycle’s wedge issue, whipped up by the right to distract from a lack of agenda or leadership? Just follow the dollars.
So far backers of the project have raised less than $9000. Park51 lacks an organizational structure and a coherent PR strategy. It’s an idea, a hopeful idea, that has become the center of controversy as Republicans scramble to score cheap political points and hopefully drum up a few votes in the process.
As Asra Q. Nomani reports in The Daily Beast, these initial fundraising challenges are to be expected in any fledgling operation, let alone a project besieged by artificial outrage. But rather than responding to those on the right who are challenging the center’s very right to exist, the group, the developer of the property, Sharif El-Gamal has hired a top New York publicist as part of the group’s efforts to improve its image over fears that these initial stumbles, alongside the heightened media scrutiny, has made the Islamic center effort look “juvenile and amateur”. Of course, in many ways the efforts are juvenile because they are in their initial stages. And there’s no shame in acknowledging that.
The initial money raised has been done so largely through a nonprofit organization called Muslims for Peace, a group started in 2006 by four Muslim moms. The group has since halted its fundraising efforts as it regroups and refocuses its efforts. As Nomani points out in her article, since actual fundraising details have been scarce rumors that the center is a well-funded operation full of cash from Saudi clerics and Iranian Holocaust deniers have become the norm, despite any lack of evidence to support these rumors.
Until cooler heads are able to prevail future fundraising efforts remain in doubt. And that’s a shame because Park51 is imagined as part of a larger multi-cultural initiative and gathering place. A spot where meetings between Muslims and Americans could occur that would be focused on promoting intercultural communication, trust and tolerance. Some of the larger efforts by the parent organization also include plans for a “Cordoba Bread Feast” which would gather Christians, Jews and Muslims together to “break bread and celebrate the sacred significance of the role bread has played in the three Abrahamic cultures.” Another effort includes the “Sharia Project”, a research-backed initiative aimed at demonstrating that “Islamic holy law is compatible with a pluralistic and free democratic society and that peace and tolerance are authentic expressions of Islamic principles”.
As is typical with manufactured outrage campaigns by the right a closer look reveals these efforts as little more than cynical and sad reflections of their own provincialism and intolerance. What is even more outrageous about the Park51 controversy is the continued insistence by its opposition to campaign on the tragic losses of 9/11–a day in this country’s history where, for a brief moment, differences were put aside as we strived for common ground and understanding irrespective of belief or non-belief. Unfortunately as this story unfolds what we are seeing is the common ground of intolerance and hatred shared between religious fundamentalists of both faiths–between those who perpetrated the gruesome attacks on that day and those that now oppose a space of unity–all in the name of religious fidelity.
photo courtesy of David Shankbone via Flickr