So the “Ground Zero Mosque” essentially got the go-ahead for construction when the Landmark Preservation Commission did not grant the location landmark status. Despite straying from political and religious commentary on this site, I feel that this issue has become so highly polarized for New Yorkers and Americans that I now feel compelled comment on it. Yesterday, in an attempt to finally formulate an opinion on the issue, I visited the proposed site and listened to Mayor Bloomberg’s shockingly patriotic speech—and I’m pretty sure I haven’t liked America this much since I watched HBO’s John Adams series.
First, I want to get one thing straight: This is an Islamic community center. When I go workout at the YMCA, I don’t say, “Hey guys, I’m going to church.” When I went to the JCC (Jewish Community Center) to play as a kid we did not say, “Mom, can I go to temple?” In the same vein, this is a community center lacking a good acronym and not just a mosque. There will be a swimming pool, a reception hall, learning center and plenty of other facilities available to the downtown community in addition to a prayer center (mosque). And let’s be honest, downtown Manhattan is in desperate need of a community. Right now the Financial District is overrun by rats after 6 p.m. (literally, there are more rats in the street than people come sundown). FiDi is a ghost-town and a rather frightening one at that, so as New Yorkers we should support efforts to rebuild its vitality—beyond the nice Whole Foods and Conde Nast moving their headquarters down there.
At the forefront of this debate, however, is the 9/11 sensitivity issue. Obviously many people feel that two blocks is too close to Ground Zero for an Islamic prayer center. What if I told you that a mosque has been completely functional a mere six blocks from Ground Zero for decades? There is one, and nobody has burned it to the ground. And how should we quantify the appropriate distance from the WTC site for such “mosque” anyway? In one of those impressive career speeches, the normally rigid, indifferent Mayor Bloomberg spoke to the idea of religious tolerance and even, dare I say it, showed emotion. Regardless of what you think of the man, his politics or his company, his speech yesterday deserves a full read, which NY Daily has kindly provided here. The important message:
“Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: Should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that. […]
“On Sept. 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked, ‘What God do you pray to?’ (Bloomberg’s voice cracks here a little) ‘What beliefs do you hold?’
Right on. At first I was concerned the center would face a multitude of threats after its completion, thus endangering the lives of even more people and children. (And it still may; I’m hoping there’s room in the budget for some serious security at that point!) But disallowing the project out of fear would be hypocritical and unconstitutional, quite frankly. If the Jews, Quakers and Catholics endured throughout history like Bloomberg said, then we can breed tolerance too. Cheers to progress, New York.