FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Burning and Building

Should a building that isn’t a mosque be built on a site that isn’t all that near to where the Twin Towers once stood? Should a pastor of a church that no-one had ever heard of until recently be allowed to burn some books that he himself can’t read, but that folk he has never met often do read? As the frenzy of the past week quietens, this is not yet another article concerning either case. For herein lies the precisely the point: what could possibly be said regarding either case that was not obvious right from the beginning? This is about propaganda and distraction.

The anguish, airtime, and column inches that both issues (Islamic centre building in New York and Qur’an burning in Florida) have commanded has been so excessive that one wonders what was the purpose of all the hype. Some may think conspiratorially, and ask whose interests have been served by the frenzy. Did the issues hijack the media, or did the media hijack the issues? For all the depiction of contention, neither issue should be a battleground for meaningful dispute. Though the emotions involved in both cases are doubtless sincere, the agonising that has been stoked-up over these non-debates has served only to distract people from the many real issues that may actually affect their lives. The heated agonising merely represents the illusion of debate.

Sensitive though both issues are, neither are really controversial – they are simply depicted as such. The anxiety on the part of those who have suffered from violence prosecuted in the name of Islam at the prospect of an Islamic centre being built in the same neighbourhood as the Twin Towers is understandable. Yet of course the centre should be built. How could it be otherwise? If you don’t believe in freedom of religious expression there, then you don’t believe in freedom of religious expression at all. So too with the ‘book burning’: Though the pastor Terry Jones’ actions would have been deeply offensive to many people, of course he had the right to deface or destroy his own property however he wishes. Though his actions may be justifiably despised, of course no one should anyone force him to stop expressing himself how he wishes with his own property.

Indeed, it is precisely the obviousness of both ‘contentious’ issues that is the problem. They both appear to have been made contentious through their portrayal: One case should not have received press coverage from the beginning, but was catapulted into the limelight and snowballed thereafter; whereas the other should not have been covered in such a misleading way. Likewise, the sustained coverage and constant denigration of the Islamic centre as ‘controversial’ has only led people to think that it should be controversial. Still, the endless and all-consuming non-debates drag on. Who next will weigh in to refuel the cycle of non-troversy? The only aspect of even moderate interest is the connect between these two otherwise separate cases: that some of those who have voiced opposition to the right to build an Islamic centre are the same types who at other times cling doggedly to their own absolute rights, such as the right to firearm ownership. Likewise, some who were vocal in stressing the absoluteness of the right to freedom of expression in the case of building a religious centre, thought little of the pastor’s own right to express himself – no matter how revolting.

We have not heard the last of the ‘controversial Ground zero mosque’, and more revelations will surface. The finances behind the Islamic centre, the content of the religious instruction when it opens, the links and affiliations that the centre’s staff have: ‘controversy’ will continue. Yet the net result from both cases is that chattering publics are consumed by such non-issues: debating the obvious, pent up and charged with emotion over such cases, but diverted and therefore neglectful of genuine scandals. Agonising over issues that are uncontroversial serves only to distract publics from issues whose controversy is justifiable. Neither the ‘Mosque’ building nor the Qur’an burning are manufactured scenarios, but both were blown out of all proportion. Now the ‘debate’ subsides, one is left to wonder what is was all about. When people debate the obvious, they are hardly in a position to challenge the status quo.

RICHARD PHELPS is a Research Fellow at Quilliam (a London-based think tank). His main research focus is on Islamist movements and Islamist dissent in the Arabic speaking world. He can be reached at: Richard.Phelps@Quilliamfoundation.org

More articles by:

December 12, 2018
Arshad Khan
War, Anniversaries and Lessons Never Learned
Paul Street
Blacking Out the Yellow Vests on Cable News: Corporate Media Doing its Job
Kenneth Surin
The Brexit Shambles Rambles On
David Schultz
Stacking the Deck Against Democracy in Wisconsin
Steve Early
The Housing Affordability Crisis and What Millennials Can do About It
George Ochenski
Collaboration Failure: Trump Trashes Sage Grouse Protections
Rob Seimetz
Bringing a Life Into a Dying World: A Letter From a Father to His Unborn Son
Michael Howard
PETA and the ‘S’-Word
John Kendall Hawkins
Good Panopt, Bad Panopt: Does It Make A Difference?
Kim C. Domenico
Redeeming Utopia: a Meditation On An Essay by Ursula LeGuin
Binoy Kampmark
Exhuming Franco: Spain’s Immemorial Divisions
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
Democratizing Money
Laura Finley
Congress Must Reauthorize VAWA
December 11, 2018
Eric Draitser
AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?
Sheldon Richman
War Over Ukraine?
Louis Proyect
Why World War II, Not the New Deal, Ended the Great Depression
Howard Lisnoff
Police Violence and Mass Policing in the U.S.
Mark Ashwill
A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!
Laura Flanders
HUD Official to Move into Public Housing?
Nino Pagliccia
Resistance is Not Terrorism
Matthew Johnson
See No Evil, See No Good: The Truth Is Not Black and White
Maria Paez Victor
How Reuters Slandered Venezuela’s Social Benefits Card
December 10, 2018
Jacques R. Pauwels
Foreign Interventions in Revolutionary Russia
Richard Klin
The Disasters of War
Katie Fite
Rebranding Bundy
Gary Olson
A Few Thoughts on Politics and Personal Identity
Patrick Cockburn
Brexit Britain’s Crisis of Self-Confidence Will Only End in Tears and Rising Nationalism
Andrew Moss
Undocumented Citizen
Dean Baker
Trump and China: Going With Patent Holders Against Workers
Lawrence Wittner
Reviving the Nuclear Disarmament Movement: a Practical Proposal
Dan Siegel
Thoughts on the 2018 Elections and Beyond
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: I Can Smell the Dumpster Fires Already
Weekend Edition
December 07, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Steve Hendricks
What If We Just Buy Off Big Fossil Fuel? A Novel Plan to Mitigate the Climate Calamity
Jeffrey St. Clair
Cancer as Weapon: Poppy Bush’s Radioactive War on Iraq
Paul Street
The McCain and Bush Death Tours: Establishment Rituals in How to be a Proper Ruler
Jason Hirthler
Laws of the Jungle: The Free Market and the Continuity of Change
Ajamu Baraka
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Time to De-Colonize Human Rights!
Andrew Levine
Thoughts on Strategy for a Left Opposition
Jennifer Matsui
Dead of Night Redux: A Zombie Rises, A Spook Falls
Rob Urie
Degrowth: Toward a Green Revolution
Binoy Kampmark
The Bomb that Did Not Detonate: Julian Assange, Manafort and The Guardian
Robert Hunziker
The Deathly Insect Dilemma
Robert Fisk
Spare Me the American Tears for the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi
Joseph Natoli
Tribal Justice
Ron Jacobs
Getting Pushed Off the Capitalist Cliff
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail