What The Hell Is Ground Zero, Anyway?
As the debate has endlessly worn on about the Park 51 Islamic community center, two things have become abundantly clear. The first is that much of our discourse in this country is fundamentally driven by a strain of Islamophobia tempered only by the fact that overt displays of violence are likely to end up on YouTube. The second is that the people seeking to protect Ground Zero have no fucking idea what the World Trade Center was, what Ground Zero is, where it is, how it’s perceived, or, likely, what the words “Ground” and “Zero” mean.
Case in point: Andy McCarthy’s Ground Zero Thought Experiment.
Imagine that there really were these fundamentalist Christian terror cells all over the United States, as the Department of Homeland Security imagines. Let’s say a group of five of these terrorists hijacked a plane, flew it to Mecca, and plowed it into the Kaaba.
Now let’s say a group of well-meaning, well-funded Christians — Christians whose full-time job was missionary work — decided that the best way to promote healing would be to pressure the Saudi government to drop its prohibition against permitting non-Muslims into Mecca so that these well-meaning, well-funded Christian missionaries could build a $100 million dollar church and community center a stone’s throw from where the Kaaba used to be — you know, as a bridge-building gesture of interfaith understanding.
McCarthy then goes on to ask what the reaction would be from Obama, the State Department, Saudis, etc. Because, as we all know, patterning your reaction to the construction of a religiously-influenced building on how it would play in Saudi Arabia is the exact right move. After all, America was founded as a totalitarian theocracy…and stuff.
But what struck me about this was the building used in the analogy. The Kaaba is the holiest spot in Islam, the central place to which all Muslims pray.
Now, granted, I was 19 when the Twin Towers fell, but I don’t remember bowing down to pray towards them every day. They were a workplace for thousands, a frequent backdrop in movies, a symbol of American achievement, a great landmark. But what they weren’t was some sort of national symbol of Americanism…until they were attacked. And that, I think, is the chief difference between those leading the opposition to Park 51 and those who remember that this is America. The former view themselves either as the answer to or the aspirational heirs of a Saudi or Iranian-style theocracy, and all Muslims worldwide as the unfair beneficiaries thereof.
The history of the opposition, as well as the effort to consecrate an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory as part of Ground Zero makes a lot more sense if thought of in this light. All Muslims, in this view, are agents of an oppressive theocracy who get to dictate how others behave, and all they do is wander around in blankets and drill for oil. The problem isn’t really that Muslims allegedly get to oppress others, it’s that red-blooded American patriots get all sorts of guff when they try to pull the same shit. And Americans are Americans, people, so we have to assume they’re better than Muslims.