Those terrorists are at it again. This time bigger, better, and ultimately deadlier. They are building a mosque on the ashen remains of the World Trade Center, giving a giant middle finger to September 11th victims, and ultimately destroying Western Civilization with their violent extremism.
Or so says the right wing.
In reality, the infamous “Mosque at Ground Zero” is a cultural and recreation center located two blocks away from Ground Zero. Officially named “Park 51” for its address at 51 Park Place, it will offer community classes, a performance art space, cultural exhibition space, library, child care facilities, fitness center, swimming pool, and 9/11 memorial space. The building will also be completely green and include a garden. Along with offering these services to people of all faiths in an increasingly residential area, the project will invest over $100 million in infrastructure and create over 150 full-time jobs and over 500 part-time jobs.
Within Park 51 will be the Cordoba House, home of the infamous mosque along with mediation rooms and a series of multi-faith classes and programs. The project is organized by the Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative as an inter-faith dialogue with an emphasis on improving relations with and within the Islamic faith. It is named after Cordoba, Spain, a city historically known for Jews, Christians and Muslims living and coexisting.
However, “Muslim-run-pluralist-tolerance-promoting recreation facility conveniently located two blocks and around the corner from Ground Zero” is not nearly as catchy or controversy-inciting as, “The Mosque at Ground Zero.”
Sarah Palin has resoundingly “refudiated” the mosque as wildly inappropriate. Newt Gingrich denounces the mosque as illegitimate until there are churches and synagogues being welcomed in Saudi Arabia. According to the website of the National Republican Trust, the mosque organizers actually “intend to erect a shrine to the 9/11 terrorists.” Aside from this expected political circus of right-wing support-garnering Islamophobia, a recent CNN poll states that 70% of everyday Americans oppose the mosque. Perhaps these numbers would change if headlines described the “All Faith Welcoming Community Center Built Upon the Excavated Remains of the Burlington Coat Factory” instead of the “Mosque at Ground Zero.”
Interestingly, for all the politicians across America who oppose the mosque, many New York politicians and citizens, many of whom have very personal experiences with September 11th, see no problem with it. Perhaps New Yorkers understand that every block in New York is its own little city, making “two blocks from Ground Zero” less affiliated with September 11th than others would argue. Or perhaps, like Mayor Bloomberg commented, New Yorkers realize that their city is “built and sustained by immigrants—by people from 100 different countries speaking more than 200 different languages and professing every faith.”
Nevertheless, the right is relentless in its mission to open, rather than heal, September 11th’s wounds. Unfortunately, their inane threats, protests, and conjectures about terrorist funding are gaining them more legitimacy than ridicule. Along with twisting media headlines and facts, blogging, and ranting, the right has organized and united based on their shared Islamophobia. These coalitions extend beyond the local mosque protests and Koran burnings. For example, after New York City’s M.T.A. rejected a graphic advertisement proposed by the American Freedom Defense Initiative for “visualizing the September 11th Attacks,” their executive director, Pamela Geller wielded the right’s tactics, responding with $10,000 and a lawsuit. The M.T.A. caved and will now run an ad that juxtaposes a plane crashing into the World Trade Center with a rendering of the proposed mosque and the text, “Why There?”
New York’s many Muslims aside, how will September 11th victims, loved ones, and New Yorkers who walked home across the Queensboro bridge and wondered if their wife, husband, lover, son, or daughter was alive feel when they are faced with those traumatic images every day on their way to work? What will happen when the children of September 11th victims see the ad, and associate that day with a community of innocent people who fight these stereotypes daily? What will happen when (the apparently 70% of Americans) who already harbor suspicion towards Muslim-Americans have their suspicions cemented? This does not bode well for a future of tolerance in America.
The Cordoba House may “refudiate” the right wing’s beloved white, Christian, heterosexual, patriarchal American nationalism. However, if you look at history, there is no better place for a “mosque” than the sacred remains of the Park Place Burlington Coat Factory. Before Astoria and Bay Ridge, Washington Street was known as “Little Syria” for its vibrant Arab-American population. Ironically, the neighborhood was destroyed during the 1960s to create the World Trade Center.
Also nearby is an African burial ground where several Islamic talismans have been excavated. These artifacts suggest that many of the slaves who first erected New York City were Muslims. History and archaeology indicate that Lower Manhattan is the forgotten birthplace of a thriving Muslim community that has contributed to New York City for generations. Creating a progressive Islamic Center honors these contributions, recognizes the tragedies of September 11th, and inspires a future of moderacy, community, and healing.
When I first started learning Arabic one of the things that struck me the most were the literal translations of colloquialisms. They were all beautiful, musical, welcoming, and confusing when juxtaposed against images of Islamic extremists in the media. Perhaps you are Muslim, or have visited a Muslim family. If you haven’t, they will most likely greet you with, “Ah ha la wa’sa ha lahn” which I learned translates to, “come in, the rough riding is over.” If they are anything like the Muslim families I know, they will make you sit down and talk for hours and won’t let you leave without feeding you.
Perhaps not all Muslims are like this, but there are a lot more of these than there are bomb-strapping, western-civilization-destroying extremists. It’s time to let these Muslims welcome us non-Muslims, tell us that the rough riding is over, and teach us about their religion.
They might even feed us.