Monday, November 22, 2010

Zogby: Islamophobia Exaggerated

Hats off to James Zogby for providing some perspective that surely was lost during the Park51 media scuffle. In his latest post at HuffPo, Zogby grudgingly concedes that Jewish power isn't up to Elders of Zion levels but does set the record straight about actual instances of hate crimes towards the Muslim and Arab communities:

"Another myth is that Americans are increasingly intolerant of Muslims and Arabs, and that America is a hostile and unwelcoming place. The reality is quite the opposite. It is true that we've had a spike in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate crimes, but official statistics* establish that the numbers of these incidents still pale when compared, for example, to anti-Semitic acts directed against Jews and Jewish institutions."
(H/T: Huffington Post Monitor)

But back to Park51, John Avlon in the Daily Beast reports that the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, has applied for a $5 million federal grant from money set aside for the redevelopment of lower Manhattan after the attacks of September 11th. Wow, how are the families of the victims of 9/11 gonna respond to this revelation?

Avlon and others wonder if El-Gamal and Imam Feisal are seriously tone deaf in gauging the sensibilities of New Yorkers in regards to this project. After all, the Park51 website claims to understand the need to “appeal to the undecided, and change the conversation about Muslims in America.”

So he spoke to someone who understands: "If Imam Feisal and his retinue want know why they're not trusted, here's yet another reason,” says Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam and Director of the Moral Courage Project at NYU, when I asked her about the grant proposal. “The New Yorkers I speak with have questions about Park51. Requesting money from public coffers without engaging the public shows a staggering lack of empathy—especially from a man who says he's all about dialogue."

Interestingly, the asked-for $5m is outside the range of $100,000 to $2m grants usually given out. "According to the two sources knowledgeable about the thinking behind the proposal, the strategy behind the $5 million ballpark was trying to yield a higher figure in the end," writes Avlon. Looks like El-Sharaf learned a thing or two about chutzpah since arriving in NY.

But as Avlon continues, "...the project likely doesn’t quality for a grant in the first place. Specifically, the grant criteria mandate a demonstration of a project’s financial feasibility, based on benchmarks set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The government will help complete development projects—but it does not provide seed capital. And in their last public financial statement, Park51 was found to have less than $20,000 in the bank for a project with a slated cost of $100 million."  Which brings us back to how this project will be paid for and will they be putting together a transparent structure to fund and operate this JCC-wannabe? 

This story may be heating up again and, one hopes, Zogby's reality test re Islamophobia will open the door for legitimate scrutiny and discussion without the previous demagoguery issuing from both sides of the debate.
(H/T: SH)

*Please read the latest FBI report on hate crimes to get the picture. As the Elder says, "There were 107 hate crimes recorded against Muslims in 2009, compared to 931 anti-semitic hate crimes."

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