Like most political battles, the debate over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan is hampered by each side's inability to recognize any legitimacy in the other's positions.
Journalist Mary Jacoby explores this dynamic in a compelling essay on her site, MainJustice.com. The proposal's defenders, she writes, fail to acknowledge that many American mosques are financed by foreign interests who meld a political agenda with their conservative religious beliefs, often squeezing out moderate Muslim voices.
Mainstream media outlets help perpetuate this dominance by ignoring the sullied histories of national Islamist groups who are treated as the voice of all American Muslims:
"If liberals would acknowledge the origins and nature of groups like the Islamic Society of North America, the International Institute of Islamic Thought and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, it would help diffuse the climate of intolerance that they deplore.
Conservatives wouldn't be able to complain of a grand conspiracy of ignorance. And all Americans would become more sophisticated about distinguishing between Muslims who truly share values of religious freedom, and those who in some ways don't – not to discriminate against anybody, but to more clearly define the debate."
There has been little follow-up, however, and few other publications have done similar reporting.
Jacoby did. Though her current focus is on Justice Department news, she knows well from her past reporting the depth of ultra-conservative domination of many American mosques due to foreign financing.
She refers to a recent National Journal article (subscription required), which defines an ideological struggle among Muslims between reformers and revivalists. Reformers are not as rigid in literal interpretations of the Quran and try to modernize the faith, while revivalists, she says, are akin to the American religious right.
"The [New York] Times has spilled oceans of ink over the last 20 years covering the conservative political Christian movement and its opposition to abortion rights, gay rights, the teaching of evolution, and the battles over school prayer.
It would help everyone – including law enforcement — if more journalists took the same clear-eyed view of the Islamic revivalists in the U.S. as the National Journal did."
Read it all here.