My Turn: NYC Mosque Debate Has Some Scary Implications for PR

August 24, 2010 at 11:28 am

I’ve been watching the debate over the NYC mosque with increasing frustration and disgust, exacerbated by news reports that people think that Pres. Barrack Obama is a Muslim and that his own church-going habits aren’t real.

 Who cares? Is he doing the right thing for the country?

 The whole mosque debate is absurd. If the zoning laws are OK with it, there is no reason that a group of Muslims can’t worship wherever they please, providing the State and City of New York has no legitimate reason for them not to.  This racially motivated attempt to block the mosque belongs in Selma, Ala., circa 1960, not here and now. We’re playing into the hands of Islamic and American Right Wing extremists.

As a PR guy, this has other scary overtones. Decision-making in a democracy is supposed to be about the intelligent exchange of ideas (stop laughing). Over the past few years, discussion, ethics and facts have been replaced with volume and innuendo. He who shouts loudest must be right. So those who aren’t so sure go along, making the volume higher. Reason, facts and morality get drowned out and we make dumb decisions. It’s plain scary.

While the mosque debate may be the loudest argument going on, it’s far from the only one. Many good public servants are finding themselves unemployed by groups using these tactics.

As a public relations person for a homebuilder, I see this tactic used regularly, if at a lower volume. The combination of statements at meetings and letters to the editor (had one the other day that talked about “all the government studies” – yeah? Show them to me!) are basically the same tactic. I’ve seen again and again opponents who don’t know the facts yell or write half truths and innuendos until the volume reaches  the point where it defeats sound judgment and, in some cases, the law. There’s oil leaching into one of New Jersey’s bays from a town that went that route rather than work with us.

I keep thinking of a profound line in Men In Black: “A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals.” This latest trend of opinion influencing leverages that.  The media – traditional and social – exacerbates the problem, sometimes for readership, sometimes because reporters are caught up in it.

While we have to master the latest technology, maybe its time to also apply the original social media: community meetings, personal letters and other individual contact with persons. A person might listen and make a wise judgement. People, apparently, tend not to.  Who, for instance, is the face of New York City mosque? Perhaps if it had one, we’d be less afraid of it.

What do you think?

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Entry filed under: Dealing with social media, Ethics in Public Relations, stuff & rants. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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