The New York Times continues its delicate, sympathetic coverage of NYC-centric Muslim issues with its treatment of the controversy over the Cordoba House, a proposed Muslim community center, to be topped by a mosque, that would be raised at the sight of the World Trade Center.
Wednesday's Metro section story by Javier Hernandez, "Planned Sign of Tolerance Bringing Division Instead" certainly made a lot of positive-sounding assumptions (starting with the headline) about the ideas behind the mosque, but failed to probe the secret details of the financiers behind it or to question the propriety of building an Islamic worship site at the same spot where thousands were murdered by radical Muslims in the name of Islam.
The Cordoba House was supposed to be a monument to religious tolerance, an homage to the city in Spain where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived together centuries ago in the midst of religious foment.
Its 15 stories, home to a Muslim community center and a mosque, would rise two blocks from the pit of dust and cranes where the twin towers once stood, a symbol of the resilience of the American melting pot, its supporters said.
But instead of inspiring mutual respect, the center has opened deep divisions marked by vitriolic commentary, pitting Muslims against Christians, Tea Partiers against staunch liberals, and Sept. 11 families against one another.
And so what began as a gesture of combined good faith by Muslims and non-Muslims has turned into a familiar game of New York City political football.
The bellicose discourse was on full display on Tuesday in an auditorium at Hunter College in Manhattan as the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission considered whether to grant one of the buildings that would be torn down for the project, at 45-47 Park Place, status as a protected landmark. The entire center would occupy 45-51 Park Place.
In recent days, politicians have called for an investigation of the group's finances and expressed concerns about the views of its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has held services in a small mosque in TriBeCa since 1983. The Internet has featured fury from all sides, and some bloggers have labeled the proposal a sub-rosa effort to spread extremist Islam.
Many Muslim-Americans have been taken aback by the intensity of the reaction, saying it was a sign that discrimination was alive and well nearly nine years after 9/11. But they said the vigorous opposition underscored the need for the $100 million center, which would include a 500-seat auditorium and offer a range of programs modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan.
El-Gamal refuses to say where the funding for the $100 million project is coming from, a detail Hernandez skips even while saying the project "began as a gesture of combined good faith by Muslims and non-Muslims." So who are they, exactly? Hernandez wasn't curious.
Neither did he raise Rauf's recent refusal to call Hamas a terrorist group. A 9-11 victim's group that opposes the construction rounded up details on The Cordoba Initiative, the consortium backing the plan, the name of which didn't appear in the Times's article.
The Times has a history of soft, sympathetic pseudo-coverage of local Muslim initiatives and controversies, going so far as to blame rival papers like the New York Post for "relentless criticism," in the case of principal Debbie Almontaser, dismissed from a Muslim academy in Brooklyn for defending distribution of a T-shirt by a related organization that read "Intifada NYC."