Posted by: MC | August 25, 2010

Hearing : Listening as Ground-Zero-Mosque : Islamic Community Center

The EX:Change is about listening across differences.  Differences in political views.  Differences in values.  Differences in social circumstances due to income, education, ethnicity, personal relationships, physical ability, age.  Beyond hearing what people have to say, it is about listening to get a sense of how life looks from another person’s perspective.  We call this communication and it tends to be used to support understanding, cooperation, strong and generative community…stuff like that.

The EX:Change is also about what listening means to our country.  We have inherited a nation that names itself a democracy.  Democracy is based in the voices of the people.  It’s an awesome idea and, as we’ve learned, democracy is hard to pull off.

Part of what defines this country, at least judging from the 100 voices of the EX:Change, is the tireless commitment to continue working toward the ideal held in the word democracy. That work requires hearing and listening, and it requires change.

Over the past weeks, we’ve been bombarded by media hype from all angles regarding the agreement made many months ago that an old and abandoned former Burlington coat factory on Manhattan Island –several blocks away and visibly obscured from the place, post 9/11, we know as Ground Zero – would be used as the site of a multipurpose community center.  A center FOR the community funded and administered by American citizens who practice the religion of Islam.

This is actually old news, but has been stirred up again.  Beneath the hype are more fundamental questions of listening.

Today two video tapes are circulating on the internet.  One of the videos is from a 2006 ABC news interview with Glenn Beck and Imam Rauf (the leader of the religious group sponsoring the community center).  In it, Beck listens to Rauf as he says, “The Muslim world has felt for a long time besieged by the West – by Western culture, Western faith traditions.”  When Diane Sawyer asks about the Imam’s response to violent attacks by people who identify themselves as Muslims, Rauf continues, “I think these are wrong reactions.  These reactions are not at all called for by Islamic teachings.”  This was Beck’s response:  “I believe it is a small portion of Islam that is acting in these ways.”  He then moves his hand as if referring to Rauf and speaks of the “Good Muslims” who make up the “vast majority of Islam.”

That was 2006.  In the next tape from just a few days ago, Beck said this with rhetorical reference to Imam Rauf:  “After you’ve killed 3,000 people you’re going to now build your mosque?”

Well, already we know it’s a community center and not a mosque.  But that aside, what changed?  When Beck heard the Imam speak 4 years ago, did he listen?  Did he want to?  Did Beck listen to himself?  Did he mean what he said?  And, finally, does that matter in the game of who can capture the most attention in the entertainment venue of television/radio news?

I use the Beck example here, but could just as easily turn to some of the things Kieth Olberman says to find an equally contorted rendition from the other political extreme.  In either case, it’s not about the basic accuracy of a pundit’s portrayal of her or his subject as more rabidly conservative or liberal.  It’s about the spin.  It’s about the intentional failure to listen beyond the act of hearing.

I’m no longer convinced the goal of many media pundits remains to sway public opinion.  That requires a measure of calm in the delivery of thoughtful analyses based in … listening … and seems less important to than continuing to fuel the emotional polarization of public discourse.  This seems so for most media outlets – conventionally corporate to remotely indie.

For the dialed in public to remain chronically irritated into polarities, confusion has to be our daily fare.  In turn, that diet of rapid fire puzzlement renders the popular media our easiest access to someone who will say something definitive – something certain – the accuracy of which is far less vital than the hit we get to feed our distraction.

Regardless of our political positions, we the consumers have become the addict, distraction the drug, obfuscation and polarizing political rhetoric the needles.  We’re in this, now as much as the media we alternately suspect and applaud.  Of course, there are exceptions.  Thank whatever wisdom and maturity humankind retains!!  Nonetheless, we’re sure spending a lot of time in the noise of it.

Still, there’s an opportunity here.  What if we copped to being deeply afraid of one another?  What if we admitted that we’d rather be distracted into our superiority by comparison than risk connecting with someone who seems scary different from us?

Here’s the deal.  The more we cower in our false  sense of superiority (and we know it’s false – we’re actually afraid of that, too), the more we fail to hear and take the time to listen to and understand one another (whether we finally agree or not).  AND, the more we bring upon us exactly what we fear most.  Mutual destruction.

It’s really such an option.

Next week, the story of Cheri in Tucson – a slight 65 year old woman retired from law enforcement and setting up private practice as a private investigator.  She had some things to say worth listening to.


  1. Thing one… flesh out what you could “just as easily do” with Keith Olberman’s commentary

    Thing two… a guy who’s apparently thinking about running for Japan’s prime minister said that he admires American’s commitment to democracy, but he doesn’t understand why American’s are so monocellularly simple-minded..

    (my paraphrase… the article was on Yahoo news links this morning)..

    At any rate, I agreed with him on both counts and I really think that our simple-mindedness is directly co-related with how much time we spend reading/listening to for-profit opinions.

  2. Oh, and by the way, it seems that our commitment to democracy has the edge in this particular debate… seems the families of the victims for the most part get it that kkk mentality is passe

  3. I now see right through all the absurd discussion on this topic being generated by the talking heads and News Corp. Apparently, the mosque is being funded with a generous donation from the co-owner of News Corp (Fox Noise). News corp also funded and created the Tea Party movement using Glen Beck as its face. They are working for the republican’s goal of starting a new world war. Symptoms:

    #1. Gather the angry white people (Tea Party)
    #2. Give them something to be angry about i.e. “muslim” president, “socialized” health care, “killing” small business by taking away tax cuts (which really don’t help small business anyway)
    #3. Throw gas on the fire (create a fake controversy about a non-issue, a mosque being built in NYC)
    #4. Once about a third of the population is in a froth, then they will have enough vocal support to start a war against the East.

    We need to stop the nonsense by calming these poor people down whenever we can. Our neighbors that are falling for these lines, our students, friends, co-workers that are believing the BS.

    Let them build the mosque/community center. It is over two blocks away, and in a city, that can be miles away from anything. People gathering to worship God are not a danger to ground zero.

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