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Making of a mosque mess

The controversy grows over a proposed mosque near Ground Zero as more politicians enter the fray.

And keep this is mind: According to a Gallup survey earlier this year, 43 percent of Americans admit to feeling some prejudice toward followers of Islam.

At the Nation, Katha Pollitt blames the right:

"Park51, a k a Cordoba House, won't be a mosque; it will be a $100 million, thirteen-story cultural center with a pool, gym, auditorium and prayer room. It won't be at Ground Zero; it will be two blocks away. (By the way, two mosques have existed in the neighborhood for years.) It won't be a shadowy storefront where radical clerics recruit young suicide bombers; it will be a showplace of moderate Islam, an Islam for the pluralist West--the very thing wise heads in the United States and Europe agree is essential to integrate Muslim immigrants and prevent them from becoming fundamentalists and even terrorists. 'It's a shame we even have to talk about this,' says Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a longtime supporter of the project.

"Apparently we do, because the same right-wingers who talk about the Constitution as if Sarah Palin had tweeted it herself apparently skipped over the First Amendment, where freedom of speech and worship are guaranteed to all. 'America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,' claims Newt Gingrich, who argues that the United States can't let Muslims build a 'mosque' 'at Ground Zero' because Saudi Arabia doesn't permit the building of churches and synagogues. For a man who warns that Sharia law is coming soon to a courthouse near you, Gingrich seems strangely eager to accept Saudi standards of religious tolerance. Isn't the whole point that ours is an open society and theirs is closed? 'This is a desecration,' says former Mayor Rudy Giuliani. 'Nobody would allow something like that at Pearl Harbor. Let's have some respect for who died there and why they died there. . . .

"The attempt by Gingrich and others to portray Park51 as part of a planned Islamic takeover of the United States is shameful and ridiculous. America is a secular democracy in which at least three-quarters of the population are committed Christians, and hedonism is a way of life. Almost nobody, even among American Muslims, is interested in the supposed aims of militant Islam -- polygyny, forcing women into burqas, banning pork and alcohol and music, instituting Sharia law. Fear of Muslim rule is even more preposterous than what it has so efficiently replaced -- fear of communist rule -- and one day it will look just as bizarre."

Mark Halperin pens an open letter to the Republican Party:

"The political potency of the issue is obvious. Polls overwhelmingly show the president has put himself on the wrong side of public opinion. Opposition to the new facility arouses acute emotion and creates near total unity among relatives of 9/11 victims, first responders, Republican officeholders, potential 2012 presidential candidates, Tea Party members, the Fox News--talk radio--Drudge Report echo machine and many of the highly coveted swing and occasional voters whom you will need at the polls to win in November. . . .

"Yes, Republicans, you can take advantage of this heated circumstance, backed by the families of the 9/11 victims, in their most emotional return to the public stage since 2001.

"But please don't do it. There are a handful of good reasons to oppose allowing the Islamic center to be built so close to Ground Zero, particularly the family opposition and the availability of other, less raw locations. But what is happening now -- the misinformation about the center and its supporters; the open declarations of war on Islam on talk radio, the Internet and other forums; the painful divisions propelled by all the overheated rhetoric -- is not worth whatever political gain your party might achieve."

Think anyone will listen?

Time's Michael Scherer says the president's encounter with Ed Henry may prove to be a setback:

"President Obama has another reason not to talk to his press corps on the record. As a rule, Obama avoids much interaction with those who follow him on a day to day basis. He will have reporters and columnists over for the occasional off-the-record lunch, but the daily chit chat is kept to a minimum. In this way, he distinguishes himself from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, two more natural schmoozers. But Saturday's gaffe represents the second time this year that an unscheduled chit chat with the press corps caused him big problems. In late April, he came to the back of Air Force One and said 'there may not be appetite' for immigration reform, an admission dubbed by one reporter Obama's 'fatal flinch' that infuriated Senate leaders and Hispanic voters, and effectively ended any hope for the bill passing this year.

"Obama's hesitance for impromptu moments with reporters is bad for people like me. And it may, in some ways, be bad for democracy, as voters are denied the opportunity to see their leader without a script."

No presidential encounter with a reporter is ever truly off-the-cuff. Aides regularly prep the commander-in-chief for questions that might arise. Obama obviously wanted to make the clarifying point. There was no gotcha question involved. It would be a shame if this led to fewer interactions with his press corps.

Bonds buying affection

"Slugger Barry's Bonds' donation of $20,000 to the National Association of Black Journalists is fraught with irony," says Lance Williams.

"Throughout his long and exciting baseball career, the former San Francisco Giants star -- now retired and awaiting trial on perjury charges -- routinely treated the journalists assigned to cover him like dirt."

Howard Kurtz also works for CNN and hosts its weekly media program, "Reliable Sources."


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