Charlie Brooker sticks it too ‘em. From The Guardian, Monday 23rd August, 2010.
Things seem awfully heated in America right now; so heated you could probably toast a marshmallow by jabbing it on a stick and holding it toward the Atlantic. Millions are hopping mad over the news that a bunch of triumphalist Muslim extremists are about to build a “victory mosque” slap bang in the middle of Ground Zero.
The planned “ultra-mosque” will be a staggering 5,600ft tall – more than five times higher than the tallest building on Earth – and will be capped with an immense dome of highly-polished solid gold, carefully positioned to bounce sunlight directly toward the pavement, where it will blind pedestrians and fry small dogs. The main structure will be delimited by 600 minarets, each shaped like an upraised middle finger, and housing a powerful amplifier: when synchronised, their combined sonic might will be capable of relaying the muezzin’s call to prayer at such deafening volume, it will be clearly audible in the Afghan mountains, where thousands of terrorists are poised to celebrate by running around with scarves over their faces, firing AK-47s into the sky and yelling whatever the foreign word for “victory” is.
I’m exaggerating. But I’m only exaggerating a tad more than some of the professional exaggerators who initially raised objections to the “Ground Zero mosque”. They keep calling it the “Ground Zero mosque”, incidentally, because it’s a catchy title that paints a powerful image – specifically, the image of a mosque at Ground Zero.
When I heard about it – in passing, in a soundbite – I figured it was a US example of the sort of inanely confrontational fantasy scheme Anjem Choudary might issue a press release about if he fancied winding up the tabloids for the 900th time this year. I was wrong. The “Ground Zero mosque” is a genuine proposal, but it’s slightly less provocative than its critics’ nickname makes it sound. For one thing, it’s not at Ground Zero. Also, it isn’t a mosque.
Wait, it gets duller. It’s not being built by extremists either. Cordoba House, as it’s known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It’ll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.
To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you’d have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you’re heading an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.
Perhaps spatial reality functions differently on the other side of the Atlantic, but here in London, something that is “two minutes’ walk and round a corner” from something else isn’t actually “in” the same place at all. I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen’s pillow. That’s how “distance” works in Britain. It’s also how distance works in America, of course, but some people are currently pretending it doesn’t, for daft political ends.
New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald’s and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven’t produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.
That’s literally all I’d ask them in an interview. I’d stand there pointing at a map of the city. Would it be offensive here? What about here? Or how about way over there? And when they finally picked a suitable spot, I’d ask them to draw it on the map, sketching out roughly how big it should be, and how many windows it’s allowed to have. Then I’d hand them a colour swatch and ask them to decide on a colour for the lobby carpet. And the conversation would continue in this vein until everyone in the room was in tears. Myself included.
That hasn’t happened. Instead, 70% of Americans are opposed to the “Ground Zero mosque”, doubtless in many cases because they’ve been led to believe it literally is a mosque at Ground Zero. And if not . . . well, it must be something significant. Otherwise why would all these pundits be so angry about it? And why would anyone in the media listen to them with a straight face?
According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes Barack Obama is a Muslim, even though he isn’t. A quarter of those who believe he’s a Muslim also claimed he talks about his faith too much. Americans aren’t dumb. Clearly these particular Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled. Where are they getting their information?
Sixty per cent said they learned it from the media. Which means it’s time for the media to give up.
Seriously, broadcasters, journalists: just give up now. Because either you’re making things worse, or no one’s paying attention anyway. May as well knock back a few Jagermeisters, unplug the autocue, and just sit there dumbly repeating whichever reality-warping meme the far right wants to go viral this week. What’s that? Obama is Gargamel and he’s killing all the Smurfs? Sod it. Whatever. Roll titles.