Ground Zero Mosque and Manipulation of Symbol

MarkCRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on 15 December 2010 was a homecoming story of Mark Woodward, one of the lecturers of CRCS UGM from the United States. Woodward, a professor of Arizona State University, during his return, was observing the development of political issues in his country. He found polemics related with constructing plan of an Islamic cultural center in New York named Park51 or Cordoba House that is likely known as Ground Zero Mosque, a title given due to effects of political sentiment.

Presenting “Understanding the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center Controversy”, Woodward started the story by mentioning the polemic of Park51 was as big as polemic of Vietnam War. Pros and cons arose at the constructing plan of the building which is located only two blocks from the ruins of World Trade Center (Ground Zero). Inevitably, Park51 constructing plan was then politically linked to the tragedy of 9 /11 terror.

What understood by the society was no longer Park51, but rather as Ground Zero Mosque, a mosque deliberately built adjacent to the site of 9/11 picturing a symbol as well as monument of the Muslim terrorists’ victory in the United States. Rejection escalated as the media blew it up even more that kept reminding people of the tragedy. According to Woodward, the impact gained over the situation was none other than an issue of symbolism.

In every case, any form of symbol would be associated with the interests of particular parties. Supporters or repellents of a policy would tend to try to manipulate the symbols that are applicable to their interests. Woodward gave an example of a case in Indonesia; some time ago a group of Muslims in Bekasi was trying to reject a monument which was considered as a symbol of moral decadence of the society. In view of the case, the problem was not about the monument, but the meaning of the symbol instead. This is what exactly happened with Ground Zero Mosque.

Moderated by Fransiskus Borgias, an ICRS student, the discussion talked more about manipulation of symbol. Some participants who were also citizens of the United States said that giving an understanding of symbolism to the society required hard work, including the work through education. American society consists of diverse cultures of which not all people have equal ability in analyzing the symbol.

The discussion also alluded to the issue of mass media as the agent of manipulation of symbols. Jokingly, Woodward noted that people need to develop the capabilities of advertising and marketing; in other words, to have such a sensitivity towards presenting ways of media that have a symbolic message strategy. He suggested those who would do the ‘counter narration’ to use affirmative statement instead of negative statement.

A participant was saying that Islamic society tends to associate things from outside as symbols of power upon them, while the symbol of their power over the other is always worth to fight for. In contrast, Woodward commented that the United States people tend to look for symbols of ‘enemy’, such as Communism, Fascism, and Islamism. This is why sensitivity and understanding must be possessed by all parties. [MoU]

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