Politics & Government

N. Carolina candidate's ad calls Muslim center near Ground Zero a 'victory mosque'

People look at the site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center on Park Place near ground zero in New York.
People look at the site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center on Park Place near ground zero in New York. Diane Bondareff/MCT

WASHINGTON – A little-known congressional candidate from North Carolina has released a television advertisement that calls the planned Muslim community center in New York City a “victory mosque” and associates it with terrorists.

Renee Ellmers, a tea party advocate and Republican challenger in the 2nd Congressional District, began running the ad Wednesday morning on cable channels throughout the district. She is taking on U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge, a seven-term incumbent considered a moderate-to-conservative Democrat.

The ad’s script echoes the words of many conservative commentators in recent months who complained about Park51, the Muslim community center being planned two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

In the ad a male narrator, his voice backed by an ominous music score, says Muslims built “victory mosques” after conquering Jerusalem, Cordoba and Constantinople in the early A.D.’s.

“And now, they want to build a mosque at Ground Zero,” the narrator says.

Then Ellmers appears on the video. “The terrorists haven’t won, and we should tell them in plain English, ‘No, there will never be a mosque at Ground Zero,’” she says.

The ad says Etheridge “won’t take a stand” on the community center.

In an interview, Ellmers said the planned mosque is relevant in North Carolina.

“One of the interesting things we’ve found in talking to people in District 2 is they’re overwhelmingly concerned about and against the mosque being built in New York,” Ellmers said. “I think it’s a very serious issue.”

In response, Etheridge campaign spokesman Mike Davis said Ellmers “is desecrating hallowed ground” and distracting voters with her ad.

“Bob Etheridge has never thought building this mosque and community center so close to Ground Zero is a good idea,” Davis said in his statement.

Ellmers pounced back, saying it was her ad that prompted Etheridge’s public skepticism of the Park51 project.

“Why did it take him so long to say that?” she asked.

Davis acknowledged that Etheridge has never offered his opinion publicly, but said that’s because “he’s not going to get involved in it. That decision is for New York.”

The ad began running Wednesday morning on CNN and Fox News, Ellmers said. Her campaign consultant, Carter Wrenn, said it likely will run about a week. He would not disclose the amount the campaign is spending.

As of June 30, the last time campaigns had to disclose their finances, Ellmers had raised less than $190,000 and had about $46,000 on hand. Etheridge had raised $909,000 and had about $417,000 on hand.

Ebrahim Moosa, an associate professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, corrected the ad’s assumptions about “victory mosques,” saying Ellmers’ ad perpetuates disinformation about Islam.

“All conquering nations built temples, churches and mosques whenever they arrived in new territories,” Moosa said. “But these were not ‘victory’ shrines, but rather testaments of faith. Claims that Muslims have built victory mosques in Jerusalem or Cordoba are sheer flights of fancy with no historical testimony to support it.”

Within hours of being posted on Ellmers’ site, the ad was all over political blogs, receiving attention from Capitol Hill newspapers and cable news networks. A separate version of the ad, on YouTube, encouraged viewers to contribute to Ellmers’ campaign.

“Did we think we might get some national attention? Yeah, we thought this might strike a nerve,” Ellmers said.

A blogger at the left-leaning Salon.com, Justin Elliott, called it the “most baldly anti-Muslim ad of the year.”

Ellmers disagreed.

“This is the anti-Muslim card that they’re going to pull out,” she said. “Well, I’m not anti-Muslim. As a nurse, I’ve taken care of people of all races, creeds and colors and respected all their traditions. What I am is pro-American.”

Wrenn, who consulted for U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms, said several years ago he regretted the race-baiting ads that Helms ran in his races in the 1980s and ‘90s.

But Wednesday, Wrenn said he doesn’t see Ellmers’ ad in the same light.

“No,” he said. “I think it’s just absolutely wrong to say, ‘Well, if you’re opposed to putting a mosque at Ground Zero, you’re a bigot.’ That’s playing the race card in reverse.”

A YouTube video surfaced this summer showing Etheridge grabbing a young man who tried to question him with a video camera on a Capitol Hill sidewalk. Etheridge, clearly angry, was seen repeatedly asking the man, “Who are you?” and holding his arm.

Etheridge apologized for his actions, but Ellmers has not made much of the video politically.

Ellmers said Wednesday she has recorded one other political advertisement, though -- a repudiation of Etheridge’s voting record in Congress.

That ad, she said, has not yet been released.

View the ad at http://tinyurl.com/27sl5bk

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