America

NYC Mosque Went From Zero To Controversy

Ground Zero mosque

The site of a planned mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center in New York City.  Mark Lennihan/AP hide caption

itoggle caption Mark Lennihan/AP

Just how did the New York City Ground Zero mosque issue evolve into a towering controversy being played out in the news media and on the web and threatening to blot out so much other, really important news?

The Washington Post's media writer Howard Kurtz examined that matter in a recent piece in which he pointed to an article in Salon which indicated that it took a while for the issue to catch fire.

Indeed, the initial reaction even among some conservatives was benign.

As Kurtz points out, courtesy of and Salon writer Justin Elliot, the New York Times first reported about the plans to build the mosque in December 2009 in a piece that dropped like the proverbial tree in the forest.

Kurtz writes:

The reaction? Nada. Later that month, in fact, conservative radio host Laura Ingraham interviewed the imam's wife on "O'Reilly Factor" and said: "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it. . . . I like what you're trying to do."

That bit of history, provided by Salon's Justin Elliott, raises the obvious question: How did the mosque morph into one of the most divisive issues in American politics today?

It seems to me a colossal waste of time, a huge expenditure of national energy over something that is ultimately symbolic, and which government doesn't have the power to stop anyway (since the planners have obtained the necessary New York City approvals). It is as if the country's agenda has been reduced to a noisy cable TV debate.

Kurtz's sentiments, that the hubbub over the mosque, are no doubt shared by many people who wonder if it's just not a distraction from issues like unemployment hovering near 10 percent, the economy generally and foreign policy challenges like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Iran.

Indeed, even some Republicans share Kurtz's concern but for different reasons, as the Karen Tumulty reported elsewhere in the Washington Post.

Still, it's worth pondering how we got to where we are on this story from where we started.

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