Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No to a Ground Zero Mosque, Yes to a Community Center

Yesterday, protests at Ground Zero continued to gain international attention. What's at issue is a figment of the American public's imagination: the ground zero mosque. Herds of "well-intentioned" Americans flooded lower manhattan to chant down the construction of what they are calling a ground zero mosque, but what really is an Islamic community center. This case is a powerful lesson in framing, which I was first introduced to by the George Lakoff but you and I experience constantly. If we want to make sure The Community Center at Park 51 is built, we've got to re-frame the conversation, or else the Islamophobes have won!

Basically frames or framing structure how you think about a thing and often influence your actions towards it. They play to what you know and most importantly what you fear. It's the reason why when people hear welfare, they think poor Black women, despite that fact that Whites are the majority on welfare. It's the reason when you hear immigration people think Mexicans sneaking across a border, despite the fact mlliions of people who look "White" or "Black" are here illegally but will never be questioned. Smartly, conservatives have brewed up a massive controversy around the Park 51 community center by calling it a mosque (or masjid) - which usually is a space that's primary use is prayer. After convincing the masses it's a mosque they then lead folks to believe it is a breeding ground for terrorism and all sort of boogie monsters. Now I won't go into how faith=terrorism in many folks minds because that'd take me down a whole different rode. Instead, I think it's important that supporters of Park 51 project do a stronger job of counter-framing. Every TV appearance, every radio show, every online interview the first thing out of their and their allies mouths should be something like, "We are not supporting a mosque, we are supporting building a community center. A center whose primary purpose is arts, culture and recreation. Just as the YMCA is not and was not a Church, Park 51 is not a mosque." Reframing in that way gets at the heart of combatting the fear mongering, highlight the disingenuous framing that has been occurring, and spells out to the true purpose of the space. Yes, there is a space for prayer but the majority of the space features other activities like athletics, cooking, and will be the first green islamic center! All of these things are key to highlight because as the conversation is guided, supporters of Park 51 are steadily losing ground in public opinion.

This a game of politics and semantics (literally the meaning of things) and if we are going to ensure religious freedom is available to all, we have to play politics and semantics. As each day passes, I get more and more concerned that the misinformation of "ground zero mosque" is not only spread by the protestors but also those of us who support Park 51 who continue to abet the language of those who deny the basic freedoms that this country.


Educatedblkman06 said...

I feel you brother. They DEFINITELY need a good PR firm with a quality Ad campaign highlighting all of the points you just listed about the site. Because as things currently stand, with the project now being used for political reasons, it would appear to me to be already defeated.

BUT...even as I type this I feel I'm telling them to smile and dance for the camera. To ignore the fact that they are (in lower Manhattan and across the country) being discriminated against.

aisha08 said...

This is quite a pragmatic post. I'm inclined to say that along with ensuring that Park 51 is built, supporters should also be fighting Islamophobia. But that would be too lofty of an idea, now wouldn't it? Although I want to disagree with "counter-framing" to address the 'phobes, I cannot deny how invaluable counter-framing actually is. You are absolutely right Dr. Lewis! Supporters of Park 51 should make it an utmost priority to counter-frame the Community Center to at the very least, shake off the Islamophobes. Great post, Great message! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...I ask myself how deep can this kind of counter-reframing get? I think counter-framing "Ground Zero Mosque" as the "Islamic Community Center" hits the nail on the head but how deep does this nail go?

In the name of a counter-argument, I'm convinced that, after jumping over the hurdle of being profitable enough to get airtime, the next step would be to tackle the myths exclusively linking Islamic faith to terrorism. Hypothetically assuming that a mosque is actually being built, we are seeing is the backlash about assumptions in the US of other ways of life/religions.

Bottom line, peeps need to speak to a diverse group of practicing Muslims and read the Qur'an. Instead of letting others misconceive them.

CharonNYC said...

Dr. Lewis,

As I read this post and hear the startling reports of the number of Americans who think Barack is a Muslim, I am more terrified than ever to live here (especially as we live in the information era). Though I fully understand the reasoning of your suggestion to market the project differently, ultimately, it is the "affiliation" with Islam (regardless of community center, school, or house of worship) that is being attacked. It is clear to me that mainstream America desperately needs further education around non-Euro Christian history and culture. We need further open dialogue about these misconceptions. (A history lesson on the crusades probably wouldn't hurt either.)

The progression of Hip Hop to Main Street traveled a similar path. 20 years ago, Hip Hop was deemed Black music… associated with the poor and the powerless. Who would have thought it would be used to market businesses and endorse presidents. The straight and narrow path of addressing fallacies is the only course to true progress.

- C Dub