Almost from the start, the battle over a proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan has been as much about vocabulary as geography. In fact, I just stepped into the debate right there: is it a "cultural center" or a "mosque"? The Awl on Monday pointed out the absurd variety of ways people have described the location of the project, but the names they're using are just as telling: a quick survey of just some of the discussion provides a cornucopia of names, each with its own political implications. So what are people talking about when they use each label? Here's a quick guide to the semantics of the mosque debate.
1. The Ground Zero Mosque, the Mosque at Ground Zero
Who Uses It?
Conservative opponents of the mosque, including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich; the Anti-Defamation League; the Associated Press; NEWSWEEK; basically everyone (UDPATE, 8/19: Michael Calderone reports that the AP has instructed reporters not to use the phrase any longer, instead using stand-ins like "mosque 2 blocks from WTC site"). What Do They Mean? This is the orginal term of choice for people who felt negatively about the project. As many commentators have pointed out by now, the proposed location is two blocks from Ground Zero, not visible from the site, and located in the site of a closed Burlington Coat Factory. Liberal blog Talking Points Memo labeled the phrase "this year's 'death panel.' " Nonetheless, the term has since gone mainstream: it's useful shorthand for anyone discussing the issue, such as your Gaggler.
2. Cordoba House (now abandoned)
Who Used It?
The Cordoba Initiative What Did They Mean? The community center was initially called Cordoba House, drawing on the name of the Cordoba Initiative, the group that's sponsoring it. The group, in turn, takes its name from the Spanish city of Cordoba, which was the capital of Muslim Spain and was known as a center of tolerance and interdenominational cooperation. But Newt Gingrich claimed that the city actually represents the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula—much to the consternation of academics—and the Cordoba Initiative backed off the label, making Cordoba House just one part of the larger complex, which was christened ...
Who Uses It? The Cordoba Initiative What Do They Mean? Apparently gun shy after the Gingrich episode, the Cordoba Initiative instead adopted a slick name—complete with slick font—based on the address of the proposed mosque on Park Place and intended to emphasize the non-prayer functions of the center. Between its blandness and the elided space between "Park" and "51," it sounds more like the name of a luxury condo development than a cultural center or place of worship. Perhaps as a result, few others have taken to it.
4. The 'Ground Zero Mosque'
Who Uses It? Supporters of the project, people who want to remain impartial (e.g., NEWSWEEK). What Do They Mean? They're trying to use the helpful shorthand mentioned in No. 1, but avoid the appearance of propagating the views of their opponents by way of wry quotation marks. It's kinda like when people use air quotes: you know what they're going for, but it still grates.
5. Mosque/Community Center Near Ground Zero; WTC Mosque; Mosque Near the World Trade Center Site
Who Uses It? The New York Times; Curbed; New York Daily News; etc. What Do They Mean? It's the drier version of No. 4—less irksome, but linguistically much clumsier. In some variations, users refer to the community center in an attempt to downplay Park51's religious aspect or play up its multifaceted purpose. The Times in particular has been careful about how they refer to the center, standards editor Phil Corbett told Michael Calderone on Monday.
6. Mosque/community center in Lower Manhattan
Who Uses It? Some journalists; New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg; President Obama. What Do They Mean? More dovish still than No. 5, it's a play to totally dissociate Park51 from the negative implications of a link with Ground Zero.
7. The Ground Zero Terror Mosque; Ground Zero Death Mosque/Discotheque
8. Obama's Mosque
Who Uses It? Bet you thought this would be a joke too, right? Nope: Florida gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott busted it out in his latest ad, titled... um, "Obama's Mosque." What Does He Mean? It's standard-issue partisan politics: tar the standard bearer of the opposition party. Scott's gambit here is that Obama's remarks supportings the right of the Cordoba Initiative to build Park51 will help him with voters who oppose the project. But as Time's Adam Sorensen points out, it's all a little bit absurd: Scott doesn't mention either of his rivals, or even the state of Florida.