I’m currently confused about what recent events have said about American priorities. Specifically, looking at the reactions to the proposed Manhattan Muslim Community Center, and Glenn Beck’s 8/28 rally, I’m really confused about the disparity in outrage. The protest over the Community Center has spent weeks with constant coverage and constant angry protest. Beck’s 8/28 has had comparatively little coverage, and a very small and civil counter protest. But a strong argument can be made for at least a comparable level of content of outrage between the two. And if this is true, what does this say about the priorities of America these days.
So lets look at the two events. The opposition over Muslim Community Center centers around the fact it’s being built 2 blocks from the Ground Zero site, and will include a prayer room among its 13 floors and many facilities. The opposition over the 8/28 Rally comes from the fact that it is a rally that at the site and day of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 march on Washington in which he gave his iconic “I have a dream” speech, but being lead by Glenn Beck, a man who has frequently taken stances in direct opposition to MLK’s views, and has claimed this rally would, in part “take back the Civil Right’s Movement.” The main individuals involved have some controversy around them. The Imam developing the community center, Feisal Abdul Rauf, has worked for both the Bush administration to improve US-Muslim relation and the FBI to help with anti-terror operations. He has spoke out against the attacks of 9/11, and has spoken out against religious violence. However, he has also been criticized for pointing out America’s training of Osama Bin Laden, and for refusing to comment on the US’s classification of Hamas as a terrorist organization, stating that doing so would hinder his ability to act as a peace broker. Glenn Beck is a well known radio and television pundit, but has been criticized for fear mongering, equating social justice with Communism and Nazism, calling President Obama a racist, frequently comparing groups that oppose his views to Nazi Germany, and falsely accusing John Holdren of promoting forced abortion and sterilization. Both the community center and the 8/28 rally have made some mistakes in planning that have been attacked. The original name of the community center was to be the Cordoba House, after an overly idealized Muslim memory of at time where there was comparative religious freedom in Cordoba, Spain, but instead brought up memories of religious struggles in the center’s opposition. Glenn Beck originally claimed that he was unaware of the anniversary of Dr. King’s march when he planned his rally for 8/28, and claimed that the rally’s date on the anniversary was unintended and incidental. It should be noted however, that when the opposition was pointed out to the community center’s name, it was changed to Park51 to fix the error, but when opponents pointed out the date for Beck’s rally, he not only kept the date, but also began to play up the connection between his rally and Dr. King’s march. Finally, there is the issue as to why there is protest: the community center has been called insensitive because it is an Islamic center planned for the vicinity of Ground Zero, and Glenn Beck’s rally has been called insensitive because it is a rally on the anniversary of Dr. King’s most iconic march, at the very place of that march, but run by a man whose stated views not only directly oppose those of Dr. King, but has also, in the past, talked about how our collective memory of Dr. King has been cleansed to make it more palatable.
Now, the community center has every right to be built, and Glenn Beck has every right to hold his rally. Also, the protesters outside the community center have every right to non-violently protest, and those who did protest Glenn Beck’s rally did have every right to non-violently protest as well. But my question is: why the disparity in the coverage and protest, and what does that say about our priorities. Every news organization has been covering the community center and its protests, yet, the 8/28 coverage has been decidedly less. In addition, the protestors to the community centers have been many and vocal, yet fewer than 5000 protested the 8/28 rally.
9/11 was strongly emotional time for our country, but 8/28 was as well. For though 9/11 reminds of what was lost in an act of terror, 8/28 is the anniversary of what lead the US to stand up against the terror of racial violence and oppression. And though 9/11 affected us all, as we all felt the damage done by the planes, 8/28 also affected us all by bringing out that actions that would serve as huge strives for equality. And finally, even though 9/11 showed us that we are not invulnerable, 8/28 showed us that even the downtrodden has the strength to bring about social justice so long as it had the courage to do so. And yet, when it comes to what we focus on, and where we put our outrage, the difference is remarkable.
So back to the initial question: what does this discrepancy say about us? Why are we defending a memory of fear and destruction more vehemently than one of unity and social justice? Why do we care more about a symbol of an attack than a symbol of equality and unity? Why is it more threatening to us to lose a memorial to the dead, than to lose a memorial to the civil rights victory? Why is the act of 250,000 patriotic citizens that lead to us righting a wrong worth less protection that the act of 19 radical terrorists committing a grievous wrong? Finally, why are we, as a people, more outraged at a man who has a history of trying to heal US-Muslim relations attempts to build a community center for the purpose of healing than when a man who has regularly insulted social justice and opposes Dr. King’s views holds a rally on the place and time of his most remembered march with the purpose of “Restoring Honor” and “taking back the civil rights movement?”