The campaign to defend the controversial Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan continued on Monday even as the imam behind the project remained virtually silent and the group's communication shop remains understaffed and overwhelmed.
Several prominent progressive groups came to the aid of the the Islamic community center that would be built two blocks away from Ground Zero, publishing pieces and launching campaigns aimed at undercutting the project's chief critics.
The media watchdog group Media Matters highlighted a 2006 segment from ABC's "Good Morning America" in which Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and conservative TV host Glenn Beck discussed the need to separate moderate Islam from the extremist elements of the religion. Both Beck -- who has emerged as a leading critic of the imam's Cordoba House project -- and Rauf seem to be speaking with a shared voice on the need to elevate moderate Islamic elements. At one point, Beck appears to gesture toward Imam Rauf as he discusses the "good Muslims" who make up the "vast majority" of Islam's believers.
As Media Matters notes:
One of the loudest voices in conservatives' fight against the center has been Glenn Beck, who has specifically targeted Imam Rauf with blatant falsehoods and hypocritical attacks in a desperate attempt to smear him as a radical.
Additionally, among other offensive comments, Beck has asked, "after you've killed 3,000 people you're going to now build your mosque?" He's also absurdly labeled the center an "actual danger" and suggested it is an "Allah-tells-me-to-blow-up-America mosque." Though we -- and many other outlets -- have repeatedly pointed out that Rauf is widely viewed as a moderate and has often denounced the extremists who carry out violent attacks in the name of Islam, Beck and his fellow demagogues continue to push the dishonest attack.
Later in the morning, a coalition of two-dozen prominent religious leaders launched a campaign titled "Stop the War on Prayer" defending the Islamic cultural center on broader terms. Gathering leaders of several different faiths, the group posted both a video and an "Open Letter to the Faithful," arguing that the effort to stop the construction of the Cordoba House was an affront to the notion of religious tolerance (for any religion).
"All of us are children of God, " says Rev. Jim Forbes, Director of the Healing of the Nations Foundation and former pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, "Anybody who has such a fear or contempt of somebody else that they would deny them the opportunity to pray, or establish a place to pray, that's a real problem I think to God and clearly it's a problem in our nation."
The Media Matters clip and the religious leaders' campaign are a telling illustration of the type arguments to which defenders of the Cordoba House have begun to turn. With the rhetoric surrounding the project already heated, various efforts have been made to not only underscore Imam Rauf's history of preaching tolerance and moderation, but also to highlight the inconsistencies of his critics. Likewise, there have been previous campaigns to align community, religious, and even political leaders behind the cultural center.
Even more telling, however, is the vacuum in which the project's backers are operating. There has been, to date, no coordinated effort to defend the mosque. Rauf, for one, has been traveling overseas, limiting his press exposure. And until Sunday none of the formal supporters of the project had much -- if any -- national television appearances to diffuse the controversy.
Progressive institutions have been left to essentially pick up the cause on their own, demonstrating both the magnetic draw of this particular debate and how great a public relations challenge the Cordoba House faces.
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