Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Park 51 Protests: First Hand Account and Thoughts

with 2 comments

by Wiz

According to the New York Post, there was a “Holy War” yesterday in the Financial District over the misnamed “Ground Zero Mosque.” I actually was there, and have some thoughts about the dueling protests, which have been receiving coverage all over the country, and spawned a video that has already gone viral.

First of all, the protests (both of them) were insanely small. We’re talking about 250 on our side (the non-bigot side) and maybe 500 on the other (the pro-bigot). That’s about roughly 0.0000131% and 0.0000263%, respectively, of the New York metropolitan area. So the narrative that this issue is enflaming New Yorkers is a bit exaggerated.

Second, while the bigots did outnumber us, I’d say the turnout was surprisingly big for the pro-tolerance group. Given that opposition to the community center is being driven by the entire institutional might of the conservative movement (talk radio, Fox News, the Republican Party, etc…), while, as far as I could tell, it was only the sectarian Left who mobilized anyone to come out and defend religious freedom, I’d say our numbers were decent. I’m not always a fan of the various splinter left groups (Judean People’s Front, Popular Front of Judea, etc…) but, to their credit, they were far better represented there than, oh, the Democratic Party. Once again, the non-liberal Left are better liberals than actual liberals.

Third, next time you hear some conservative complain about Muslims burning American Flags in the Mideast take a good look at this picture I took. Guess what happens when Muslims are proud to be American? When they embrace American flags? Well they get screamed at and insulted and told they’re terrorists by conservatives in Revolutionary war uniforms. As Jello Biafra might say, “tell me, who’s the real Patriot?”

I didn’t see that much violence, though there were some old bigots trying to start a fight with the hippies. And occasionally this fat white guy walked past us and screamed “racist” at our crowd. Given that his side was whiter than a Jimmy Buffett concert, I’m not sure what exactly he meant (actually, I do know what he meant: “white people are the real victims here.” As they always are…)

Glenn Greenwald had a good article today about this whole controversy, arguing that it is not a “distraction,” as some wish to call it. He writes, “The Park51 conflict is driven by, and reflective of, a pervasive animosity toward a religious minority — one that has serious implications for how we conduct ourselves both domestically and internationally.”

I think Glenn is right here. This controversy may be manufactured, more spectacle than reality. And it absolutely is. But imagery matters and now that its been manufactured, and the angry racists are on the loose, decent people have the responsibility to stand up to them. “Have you no sense of decency?” “No Pasaran”. That sort of stuff.

Anyways… it got me thinking about the excellent piece Luce had (before she joined us here) on the thorny question of multiculturalism and the Left. Luce criticizes the flatness of the common complaint that multiculturalist politics have gone too far and that we should return to the solid ground of economic justice. There is a group of (largely) white male lefties, some of whom I deeply respect (like David Harvey or Thomas Frank) who act as if the only true domain for the left to fight on is economics, everything else is a distraction. Luce pretty much said everything I had to say on the topic.

But I wanted to expand on something Luce wrote when she criticized those who act “as if these very categories of race, sexuality, and gender hadn’t been manufactured at some (sometimes not so distant) point by that majority itself.”

Situations like this Park 51 controversy, I think, illustrate this point perfectly. It’s not as if the Left is the one out there politicizing categories of race, gender, ethnicity, or religion. Perhaps it was different in the 60s, but today it is the reactionary Right who are increasingly choosing to fight its battles on those grounds. I think its fair to say that, after recent history, many of us on the Left would be more than happy to focus on defeating the banks, getting better health care, more equitable access to education, etc… But if the Right is going to go around mobilizing people with naked appeals to racial and religious resentment– with more than a dash of misogyny and homophobia thrown in– than its our responsibility to defend those groups, even if it means a politics of “special interests.” This is both because it is the right thing to do and because we’re well aware that once you start accepting that Talk Radio has a veto over one minority’s freedom of religion, things don’t end well for the rest of us. Like, for instance, people start going around calling Mike Bloomberg and Scott Stringer “Judenrats” or harassing black guys just because they happen to work near your protest.


Written by Peter Wirzbicki

August 23, 2010 at 21:21

2 Responses

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  1. You asssume as a matter of fact that the opposition to the mosque is manufactured. So why not put it to a public referendum and see if it passes popular vote? No we can’t put constitutional rights up for referendum, but if the builders of the mosque care about community opinion given this sensative area, why not move it?

    And I don’t appreciate being labelled a bigot because of my opinion on this one issue. I am a lifelong Democrat and I am ethnic and I am totally against the mosque. Its in terrible taste and the tolerance issue is such bs. They won’t tolerate a gay bar or strip club next door I assure you. Catholic churches also use religious freedom as a tool to express repression and discrimination, so I don’t think its such a clear issue.

    dylan garcia

    August 23, 2010 at 22:29

  2. Dylan: Actually, I assure you, the Islamic cultural center would be one block away from the New York Dolls Gentlemen’s Club (

    And I imagine a dozen straight bars would be ok? Just the gay ones we need to keep out?

    Wiz: Excellent piece as always– nice reporting from the ground.


    August 24, 2010 at 08:01

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