Power  /  Antecedent

The 'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy Was a Harbinger of Our Times

A preview of Trumpism in 2010 protests against a proposed mosque in lower Manhattan.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It was a summer day, and I was in the New York area and visiting my wife, who lived in New Jersey. At the time I was stupidly living in rural east Texas and maintaining a long distance marriage. During this time I summered in beautiful, sunny Newark, and soaked up as much of New York as I could as an antidote to the stultifying rural existence I carried on most of the year. I went to the city that day by myself, since my wife was tired and wanted some time to rest and I wanted to have one last trip to the Big Apple before heading back to the country. At the end of a day bumming around Manhattan, I walked down to the World Trade Center PATH station to get the train back to Newark, and I saw them.

There was a horde of people who definitely did not look like New Yorkers or the usual tourists you’d see gawking at the Ground Zero site. The crowd was uniformly white, with eyes full of hard, direct stares with hatred smoldering behind them. One memory above all stands out to me. I saw a child, maybe nine or ten years old holding a sign. It simply said “Sharia” in red letters dripping with blood. He had such a look of anger on his face that I couldn’t avert my gaze. I was chilled wondering how many children were being made to think like this. These were people who had come out in the open in public for all to see to proclaim their hatred of a group of people because of their religion. It is hard to describe, but there was a feeling in the air that I had never felt before, a palpable feeling of hate that seemed to just emanate from the crowd’s bodies.

At the time I was shaken, but there were signs that I was witnessing the future, not just an isolated incident. The media, for example, treated the anger at the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” as a legitimate expression of patriotism rather than rooted in outright hatred. In a now familiar run of events, it failed to point out the facts of the case, lest there be any sign of “bias.”

The media, in its quest for “fairness” and “objectivity” rarely pointed out that 1. this was a community center, not a mosque; 2. it was to be located a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site, which in lower Manhattan terms might as well be on a different planet; and 3. Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf, who spearheaded the measure, was from a Sufi background, and thus despised by the Wahhabists who committed the 9/11 attack.