Social Justice Research

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 492–512 | Cite as

“Why There?” Islamophobia, Environmental Conflict, and Justice at Ground Zero

  • Patrick SweeneyEmail author
  • Susan Opotow


Conflicts over environmental spaces that are sites of trauma or have been designated as sacred involve questions about who has a legitimate stake in determining the use of the site, and where the hallowedness attached to that space ends. We examine these questions in a study of the 2009–2010 controversy about the Park51 [sic] Islamic Community Center, sometimes called the “Ground Zero Mosque,” to examine how issues of distributive, procedural, and inclusionary justice play out in a conflict over valuable land close to Ground Zero. This conflict, though in a specifically fraught locale, speaks to resistance to mosque construction in the USA and Europe. Using newspaper articles on the public debate as data (N = 65), and performing a thematic analysis, we identified four key themes: (1) views of Islam, (2) conflict, (3) American identity and ideals, and (4) proximity and place. Utilizing Chi square analyses to examine the effect of propinquity on support for Park51, we found that people living within New York City were more likely to support Park51 than those outside of the city. Our conclusion discusses constructs that link values, space, and social relations—hallowed ground, place attachment, social distance—and discuss their relationship to justice. We argue that while several kinds of justice are relevant, at its heart, this conflict concerns inclusionary questions about who can speak, who belongs, and who should be excluded.


Environmental conflict Distributive justice Procedural justice Inclusionary justice Islamophobia Ground zero 



We thank Naomi Podber for her assistance, and we appreciate helpful comments on an earlier draft by Dominique Grisard, Markus Brunner, anonymous reviewers, and the editors.


  1. Ahmad, M. (2002). Homeland insecurities: Racial violence the day after September 11. Social Text, 20(3), 101–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aizenberg, E. (2010, September 21). Muslims and the apology question. [Letter to the editor]. The New York Times, p. A30.Google Scholar
  3. Amer, M. M., & Bagasra, A. (2013). Psychological research with Muslim Americans in the age of Islamophobia. American Psychologist, 68(3), 134–144.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bannerjee, J. C. (1994). Gestalt theory of perception. In J. C. Bannerjee (Ed.), Encyclopeadic dictionary of psychological terms. New Delhi: MD Publications.Google Scholar
  5. Barbaro, M. (2010a, August 25). N.Y. political leaders’ rift grows on Islam center. New York Times, p. A17.Google Scholar
  6. Barbaro, M. (2010b, July 31). Debate heats up about mosque near Ground Zero. New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  7. Barbaro, M., & Hernandez, J. C. (2010, August 4). Mosque plan clears hurdle in New York. New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  8. Barnard, A. (2011, August 2). Developers of Islamic center try a new strategy. New York Times, p. A21.Google Scholar
  9. Barranco, J., & Wisler, D. (1999). Validity and systematicity of newspaper data in event analysis. European Sociology Review, 15, 301–322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Bhabha, H. K. (2005). Race, time, and the revision of modernity. In C. McCarthy, W. Crichlow, G. Dimitriadis, & N. Dolby (Eds.), Race, identity, and representation in education. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Bilici, M. (2005). American jihad: Representations of Islam in the United States after 9/11. American Journal of Social Sciences, 22, 50–69.Google Scholar
  12. Bleich, E. (2011). What is Islamophobia and how much is there? Theorizing and measuring an emerging comparative concept. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(12), 1581–1600.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Blumenthal, R. & Mowjood, S. (2009, December 9). Muslim prayers and renewal near Ground Zero. New York Times, p. A1.Google Scholar
  14. Bogardus, E. S. (1926). Social distance in the city. Proceedings of the American Sociological Society, 20, 40–46.Google Scholar
  15. Cambanis, T. (2010, August 26). Looking at Islamic center debate, world sees U.S. New York Times, p. A12.Google Scholar
  16. Cesari, J. (2005). Mosque conflicts in European cities: Introduction. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 31(6), 1015–1024.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Clayton, S., & Opotow, S. (2003). Justice and identity: Changing perspectives on what is fair. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7(4), 298–310.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Coser, L. (1956). The functions of social conflict. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  19. Deutsch, M. (1969). Conflicts: Productive and destructive. Journal of Social Issues, 25(1), 7–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Deutsch, M. (1973). The resolution of conflict: Constructive and destructive processes. New Haven, CT: Yale.Google Scholar
  21. Deutsch, M. (1985). Distributive justice: A social psychological perspective. New Haven, CT: Yale.Google Scholar
  22. Dunlap, D. W. (2010, August 25). When an Arab enclave thrived downtown. New York Times, p. A16.Google Scholar
  23. Earl, J., Martin, A., McCarthy, J. D., & Soule, S. (2004). The use of newspaper data in the study of collective action. Annual Review of Sociology, 30, 65–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. ENAR. (2013). Racism in Europe ENAR shadow report 2011–2012. Brussels: European Network Against Racism.Google Scholar
  25. Foa, U. G., & Foa, E. B. (1974). Societal structures of the mind. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  26. Geminder, E. (2010, July 20). 45 Park Place’s place. New York Observer. Retrieved July 6, 2013 from
  27. Geschke, D., Sassenberg, K., Ruhrmann, G., & Sommer, D. (2010). Effects of linguistic abstractness in the mass media: How newspaper articles shape readers’ attitudes toward migrants. Journal of Media Psychology, 22(3), 99–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Grynbaum, M. M. (2010, August 12). Dispute over ad opposing Islamic center highlights limits of the MTA’s powers. New York Times, p. A22.Google Scholar
  29. Haberman, C. (2010, August 24). Ground zero: Its boundaries are elastic. New York Times, p. A16.Google Scholar
  30. Harwood, S. A. (2005). Struggling to embrace difference in land-use decision making in multicultural communities. Planning, Practice, and Research, 20(4), 355–371.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hernandez, J. C. (2010, July 14). Planned sign of tolerance bringing division instead. New York Times, p. A22.Google Scholar
  32. Khan, M., & Ecklund, K. (2012). Attitudes toward Muslim Americans post 9/11. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7(1), 1–16.Google Scholar
  33. Kyle, G., & Chick, G. (2007). The social construction of a sense of place. Leisure Sciences, 29(3), 209–225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Leventhal, G. S. (1979). Effects of external conflict on resource allocation and fairness within groups and organizations. In W. G. Austin & S. Worchel (Eds.), The social psychology of intergroup relations. Monterrey, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
  35. Lind, E. A., & Tyler, T. R. (1988). The social psychology of procedural justice. New York: Plenum.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Low, S. (1992). Symbolic ties that bind: Place attachment in the plaza. In I. Altman & S. Low (Eds.), Place attachment. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  37. Low, S., & Altman, I. (1992). Place attachment: A conceptual inquiry. In I. Altman & S. Low (Eds.), Place attachment. New York: Plenum Press.Google Scholar
  38. Martin, S. E., & Hansen, K. A. (1998). Newspapers of record in a digital age: From hot type to hot link. London: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  39. Nafstad, H. E., & Blakar, R. M. (2012). Ideology and social psychology. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 6(4), 282–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Obeidallah, D. (2013, September 28). Fox host wants to take away my rights. CNN. Retrieved September 29, 2013 from
  41. Opotow, S. (1990). Moral exclusion and injustice: An introduction. Journal of Social Issues, 46(1), 1–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Opotow, S. (1995). Drawing the line: Social categorization, moral exclusion, and the scope of justice. In B. B. Bunker & J. Z. Rubin (Eds.), Conflict, cooperation, and justice (pp. 347–369). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  43. Opotow, S. (1997). What’s fair? Justice issues in the affirmative action debate. American Behavioral Scientist, 41(2), 232–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Opotow, S., & Clayton, S. (1994). Green justice: Conceptions of fairness and the natural world. Journal of Social Issues, 50(3), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Opotow, S., & Gieseking, J. (2011). Foreground and background: Environment as site and social issue. Journal of Social Issues, 67(1), 179–196.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Opotow, S., & Weiss, L. (2000). Denial and the process of moral exclusion in environmental conflict. Journal of Social Issues, 56(3), 475–490.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ortiz, D. G., Myers, D., Walls, N. G., & Diaz, M. D. (2005). Where do we stand with newspaper data? Mobilization, 10(3), 397–419.Google Scholar
  48. Park51 (2013, July 6). Mission. Retrieved July 6, 2013 from
  49. Rindskopf, D. (2005). Decomposition of Chi Square. In B. S. Everitt & D. Howell (Eds.), The encyclopedia of statistics in behavioral science. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.Google Scholar
  50. Sacred. (2013). Oxford English Dictionary online. Retrieved July 6, 2013 from
  51. Salles, C. (2010). Media coverage of the internet: An acculturation strategy for press of record? Innovation in Journalism, 7(1), 3–14.Google Scholar
  52. Sheridan, L. P. (2006). Islamophobia pre- and post-September 11th, 2001. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 21(3), 317–336.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Sirin, S. R., & Fine, M. (2008). Muslim American Youth: Understanding hyphenated identities through multiple methods. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  54. Stewart, C. O., Pitts, M. J., & Osborne, H. (2011). Mediated intergroup conflict: The discursive construction of “illegal immigrants” in a regional U.S. Newspaper. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 30(1), 8–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Sunier, T. (2005). Constructing Islam: Places of worship and politics of space in the Netherlands. Journal of Contemporary European Studies, 13(3), 317–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Svendsen, E. S., & Campbell, L. K. (2010). Living memorials: Understanding the social meanings of community-based memorials to September 11, 2001. Environment and Behavior, 42(3), 318–334.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Thibaut, J., & Walker, L. (1975). Procedural justice: A psychological analysis. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  58. Triandafyllidou, A., & Gropas, R. (2009). Constructing difference: The mosque debates in Greece. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 35(6), 957–975.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Tversky, B. (2003). Structures of mental spaces: How people think about space. Environment and Behavior, 35, 66–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Vitello, P. (2010, August 24). Amid furor on Islamic center, please for Orthodox Church nearby. New York Times, p. A16.Google Scholar
  61. Wark, C., & Galliher, J. F. (2007). Emory Bogardus and the origins of the social distance scale. American Sociologist, 38, 383–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Wester-Herber, M. (2004). Underlying concerns in land-use conflicts- the role of place-identity in risk perception. Environmental Science & Policy, 7(2), 109–116.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.John Jay College of Criminal Justice and The Graduate Center, City University of New YorkNew YorkUSA

Personalised recommendations