Round zero intelligence

Things are so heated at the moment that you could probably toast a marsh-mallow by jabbing it on a stick and pointing it towards the United States.

Millions of Americans 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 1 700m 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 at 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. 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, that of a mosque at Ground Zero. When I heard about it—in passing, in a sound bite—I figured it was a US example of the sort of inanely confrontational fantasy scheme a proselytising Islamist might issue a press release about if he fancied winding up the newspapers 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. And — it isn’t a mosque. 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.

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 up an angry mob who can’t hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.

Perhaps spatial reality functions differently in New York, but in most parts of the world something that is “two minutes” walk and round a corner” from something else isn’t actually “in” the same place at all. I once used the toilet in a pub about two minutes’ walk from Buckingham Palace.

I was not arrested and charged with poohing on the Queen’s pillow. That’s how “distance” works in most of the world. It’s also how distance works in the US, of course, but some people are pretending it doesn’t, for daft political ends.

In 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 it, OK? That’s 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”.

According to a recent poll, one in five Americans believes President Barack Obama is a Muslim (he isn’t). A quarter of those who believe he’s a Muslim also claim he talks about his faith too much. Clearly these Americans have either gone insane or been seriously misled. Where are they getting their information? Sixty percent said they learned these facts from the media.

Broadcasters, journalists—just give up, because either you’re making things worse or no one’s paying attention. You may as well knock back a few Jägermeisters, 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? Whatever. Roll titles.—