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Uneducated public opinion, political biases contribute to ground zero mosque controversy

by Robert Wohner,

As the new school year starts, we are challenged to acknowledge and discuss controversial issues taking place around us. Those issues that affect people both in the surrounding Burlington community or populations thousands of miles away somehow always become entwined with our own personal world views. So, as we attempt to confer with other members of the Elon community this fall, a hot topic of discussion could be the ground zero mosque.

A dominant headline on the television and Internet alike, this Islamic cultural center is an issue people on which tend to have an opinion. Though the answers to this question vary, they ultimately fall into two categories.

Some agree with Ann Coulter, who dubbed the cultural center an "extended middle finger at America." Others see the center as a cut-and-dry issue of constitutional religious rights. The Constitution says it; it is a fundamental freedom. That settles it.

But this is more complicated. As the story continues to lead content on cable news hours, it has become apparent that this really isn't about an Islamic cultural center and this isn't about the victims of Sept. 11. This seems to be about hijacking the events of Sept. 11 to score cheap political points.

Ask some Republicans this question, and they say the United States' right to survival hasn't been this challenged since Lexington and Concord. For example, former Rep. and current gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio (R. NY) is using the mosque to revitalize his lackluster campaign against heavy favorite Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. He's made this issue the cornerstone of his campaign, going so far as to use Sept. 11 footage in his campaign ads.

When Democrats are asked this question, many have to scramble to decide what answer to give. Rep. Anthony Weinger (D. NY), generally never one to avoid giving sound bites to Rachel Maddow or "Meet the Press," has been silent outside of writing a letter to New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, praising him for his defense of religious liberty, while saying the rights of the victims' families should be protected. President Obama's original spoken expression on declaring religious freedom a right for all Americans was admirable.

When our elected officials are asked this question, there is no option. The government cannot be arbitrary as to who can register their constitutional rights. Supporting their rights doesn't mean you are standing in solidarity with the mission of the builders. It means you are standing in solidarity with the Constitution.

Certain media outlets have latched onto the issue and created a spectacle that doesn't come close to reflecting the realities of the situation. Chris Matthews and Sean Hannity consistently open their shows with the topic.

In some ways, the cultural center is like the "balloon boy incident". Just like there was no boy in a balloon, there is no actual mosque in the immediate location of ground zero. The Islamic cultural center is being built two blocks away from where the Twin Towers once stood, and isn't visible from the site. The American public is being force-fed so much misinformation that it's hard for anyone to garner any real perspective.

I think building this center in this spot in an attempt to press some buttons. Many of those who sympathize with the center argue their efforts are to foster greater understanding of Islam in the United States. But ground zero shouldn't be used as a teaching tool by either mosque organizers or candidates like Lazio. An informed discussion about this particular controversial issue may encourage new sentiments about what is just, what is distasteful and what is completely unnecessary.

Ask away, Elon. And don't be worried about ruffling any feathers. This is college after all.