I generally avoid reading articles by the extreme right-wing (American, Pakistani or otherwise). My news channel of choice is definitely not Fox News. And I think Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh are ignorant and infuriating bobbleheads. Maybe I should be tuned into the other side of the spectrum, but I prefer not to be angry and indignant on a regular basis.
I do pick my battles, though, and I made an exception for the recent news surrounding the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero. Last month, a community board in New York City voted 29-1 in favor of a plan to build a mosque near Ground Zero, the site where terrorists crashed planes into New York’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Board member Rob Townley told reporters, “It’s a seed of peace. We believe that this is significant step in the Muslim community to counteract the hate and fanaticism in the minority of the community.”
Ironically, though, a decision that was meant to plant “a seed of peace” has also sparked anti-Muslim protests and statements. Over the weekend, protesters gathered in lower Manhattan to demonstrate against building the mosque, which is a joint initiative by the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and proposes to be “a $100 million, 13-story community center with Islamic, interfaith and secular programming.”
According to the protest organizer Pamela Geller, though, the center would be more “appropriate” if it was “dedicated to expunging the Quranic texts of the violent ideology that inspired jihad, or perhaps a center to the victims of hundreds of millions of years of jihadi wars, land enslavements, cultural annihilations and mass slaughter.” Change.org quoted Geller, who wrote on her own blog, “The mosque is an insult to the Americans who were murdered there. It is a manifestation of a radically intolerant belief system that is incompatible with the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.”
First, the victims on 9/11 were people from all backgrounds, including Muslims. Second, a radically intolerant belief system? Look in the mirror, lady.
I shouldn’t have to go into a whole shpeal about how the terrorists who hijacked the Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11 also hijacked Islam. You’ve heard it before, and I’m frankly tired of being on the defensive, (Spencer Ackerman did say it well though when he noted, “If the 9/11 hijackers were “motivated by the faith of Muhammed,” then every Christian is David Koresh and every Jew is Baruch Goldstein.”)
9/11 was not just a tragedy for Americans, it was a tragedy for us all. We all will remember where we were the day the towers fell, because that was also the day the world changed, when the narrative shifted. It was the day that cast the world in a harsh and polarizing light, as countries and their citizens found themselves on either side of the arbitrarily imposed Axis of Evil.
About two years ago, I visited the Newseum in Washington, D.C. On one of the upper floors was an exhibit on the September 11th attacks. Inside a dark room, the scene of the towers falling was projected on a large screen, interspersed by interviews with journalists, firefighters, and witnesses. The museum had strategically placed a box of tissues on the bench, and trust me. Everyone in that room, from various faith backgrounds, nationalities, races, and ethnicities, all watched in teary-eyed silence.
But sharing in the tragedy of 9/11 doesn’t mean we can’t move on from that day. Ten years later, and the issues and ignorance voiced by Geller and her supporters are an unfortunate reality, but one that should inspire discussion on the American identity, on how the sizable Muslim-American community fits within the nuances of that definition, and how ignorance continues to persist on all sides of the divide.
If nothing else, the Ground Zero Mosque is at least an attempt to go beyond dialogue, which has been exhaustive and relatively unproductive in the years since 2001. Daisy Khan from ASMA noted,
There is a lot of ignorance about who Muslims are. A center like this will be dedicated to removing that ignorance and it will also counter the extremists because moderate Muslims need a voice. Their voices need to be amplified.
So I’ll echo Spencer when I say, Build The Ground Zero Mosque.