I am opposed to the idea of constructing a mosque and Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City. My opposition is not based on religious intolerance or racism, but on my serious doubts about the reasons behind this project, as well as respect for those who lost their lives on the morning of September 11, 2001. I believe the construction of the Cordoba House would be more divisive than healing for Americans, many of us who have not forgotten the events of 9-11 and are still living with its memory today.
On September 11, 2001, my mother was still living in Brooklyn Heights, in a small apartment with a kitchen view of the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan. I was living in Philadelphia, sleeping in after a late night when I was eventually roused by the repeated ringing of my phone. I did not answer it at first, instead putting on my regular morning entertainment, the Howard Stern radio program. Immediately I could tell something was very wrong from the somber tone of the show. I turned on the television to see a plume of smoke emanating from one of the Twin Towers.
My phone rang again and it was my mother. She had been making her morning coffee and looked out the window at the curious smoke in the sky, and watched in horror as the second plane flew into the second building at that exact moment. It was the last I would speak to my mother for several days, as the phone lines were completely swamped. It would be near a week before she was able to get out of the New York City area to come be with me in Philadelphia. Although she escaped safely, she lost several colleagues and friends who worked at the WTC. One of them could have escaped, but chose to go back into the building to rescue co-workers. They survived, but he was trapped when the towers collapsed.
That is my personal connection to September 11, along with being a lifelong resident of the Northeast corridor between New York City and Washington, DC. I believe it is important that we not forget what happened that day. While we work for the noble goal of world peace, it is also important to show strength as a country. When I first heard of the proposal to build a mosque at Ground Zero, I was filled with shock and revulsion. As New York gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino put it, “It’s no different than Japan asking to build a memorial to kamikaze pilots next to the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor.” (Wall Street Journal) It feels like a slap in the face to the families of those who lost loved ones on September 11, and to all whom still suffer emotional scars from those events today. (My mother still gets upset when a plane flies too low overhead.) While I do not hold all Muslims and all those who follow the Islamic faith responsible for the events of 9-11, I do not believe we should have to allow a religious structure to that faith on the grounds where so many died due to terrorists who were acting under their, even if twisted, interpretation of that faith.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the spiritual leader of the Masjid Al-Farah mosque in lower Manhattan and one of those primarily behind the Cordoba House efforts, argues that their intent is to promote unity and understanding. He and his wife, Daisy Khan, claim that they have named it the “Cordoba House” after the Spanish city of Cordoba “where Muslims, Jews, and Christians together created one of the most fertile and creative civilizations in the world.” (The Washington Post) And yet, the word “Cordoba,” in Islamic symbolic terms, in fact means “Islamic rule in the West” (emphasis mine.) While Muslim-ruled Spain resulted in a boon of science, art and culture, which is being promoted by those behind the Cordoba house, it was still a time of colonization, slavery, and rule imposed from outside forces over a conquered nation. Muslims, Christians and Jews only worked together in Cordoba as long as the Christians and Jews followed Muslim rule and law. This history and choice of name for the Ground Zero mosque/”cultural center” leaves many, including myself, wondering what its real intents may be.
There is also the upsetting and curious factor that while so much is being made of promoting and allowing the construction of the Cordoba House, a Greek Orthodox church which was destroyed on 9-11 remains nothing but dust and memory. The St. Nicholas Church had stood in lower Manhattan since 1922 before being destroyed on that fateful day. If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan want to put some strength behind their words of unity and understanding, they will fight for the rebuilding of this church as part of the project to build an Islamic center and mosque. If one must be built, the other should be re-built at the same time.
We can promote religious understanding and tolerance without causing affront and insult. I would support Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan building their cultural center in New York City – anywhere other than Ground Zero, and under a different name. We can be open and tolerant in America without provoking further outrage and disturbing the memories of the dead.
* “Rebuild the Church at Ground Zero, Not a Mosque.” – George Demos For Congress.
* “Cordoba House” Suggests Muslim Triumphalism in Construction of Mosque At Ground Zero.” – Urban Elephants, June 3, 2010.
* Carnevale, Mary Jo, “Political Wisdom: The Mosque at Ground Zero.” – The Wall Street Journal | Blogs, July 24, 2010.
* Gaddy, Welton, “Great irony in outcry over Ground Zero mosque”, The Washington Post, July 22, 2010.