What, other than the project itself, is unethical about the Ground Zero mosque plan?
Just this: apparently, despite what we’ve all been told, there isn’t one!
Politico reported yesterday that “New York government officials and real estate insiders are privately questioning whether the project has much chance of coming to fruition.” If the facts stated in Politico’s article are true, that would seem to be an understatement. Among the revelations:
- The Cordoba Initiative currently has no architect, no lobbyists, and no engineer.
- It has no professional publicity staff.
- The proposed Cordoba House will require $100 million dollars to build.
- It currently has only $18, 255—$18, 255!!— on hand.
- It will begin fundraising in the midst of terrible publicity and negative public opinion.
As someone who was a professional fundraiser for many years, I can say with confidence that this is not a recipe for success. Add to that the fact that the potential donors who might be most enthusiastic about the project—those who want the mosque near Ground Zero for the wrong reasons—would kill the project if they were seen as the prime movers behind it.
What is a good ethics analogy for a group that launches a divisive public controversy based on its stated intent and presumed ability to build an Islamic center near the site of a mass murder committed in the name of Islam, when it doesn’t have the expertise, staff of resources to actually follow through on its plan? Is falsely shouting “Mosque!” at Ground Zero like falsely shouting fire in crowded theater? Is it like crying “Wolf!”
It is certainly stunningly incompetent, imprudent, misleading, reckless and irresponsible.
The general issue of the propriety of such a project is worthy of thought and discussion, but a cool, considered public debate about whether freedom of religion ought to make any concessions to public sensibilities is not what this episode has provoked. The controversy has stirred religious and racial tensions, inflamed the media and blogosphere, divided communities, caused public figures to embarrass themselves, and injected itself into political campaigns. A hypothetical ethics scenario–“What if an Islamic group wanted to build a mosque on land it owned near Ground Zero?”—wouldn’t have done any of that damage, or wasted so much time, media attention, emotion and energy.
There are factors at work here similar to the Tawana Brawley hoax, when a teenage girl staged her own rape and debasement (fecal matter was smeared on her) and it was turned into a divisive and ugly race-baiting crusade by Al Sharpton, who may or may not have known that she was lying. When she was exposed, Sharpton argued that it didn’t matter, that the racial issues her story raised were real and important.
Yes, Al–but. But the truth matters, and it is chicanery, manipulative, dishonest and disrespectful to the public to use a false story as a catalyst for social policy debate when the debaters all think the story is true. If the Islamic group can’t build the mosque, then everyone from Mayor Bloomberg to the Anti-Defamation League to Newt Gingrich to President Obama were duped, as was I, and anyone else who gave the controversy more that a thought and a sigh.
It is unethical to start an ethics train wreck when you don’t really have a train.