Manhattan is a place where millions of people live. They work there, they date there, they eat there, they get married there, they raise children there – and they worship there. This is not the function of meat-eaters trying to stick it to vegetarians (and vice versa), or fertile people flaunting their properly functioning reproductive systems to the infertile. It is the function of people living in a place and participating in the things that people do as functional human beings.
And that’s what makes this piece so heart wrenching to read. The Washington Post found the Muslim daughter of a 9/11 victim, and gave her space in the paper to oppose the Cordoba House…by declaring that some ill-defined space around Ground Zero should be free from religion altogether.
From the first memorial ceremonies I attended at Ground Zero, I have always been moved by the site; it means something to be close to where my mother may be buried, it brings some peace. That is why the prospect of a mosque near Ground Zero — or a church or a synagogue or any religious or nationalistic monument or symbol — troubles me.
But a mosque nearby — even a proposed one — is already transforming the site from a sacred ground for reflection, so desperately needed by the families who lost loved ones, to a battleground for religious and political ideologies. So many people from different nationalities and religions were killed that day. This site should be a neutral place for all to come in peace and remember. I believe my mother would have thought so as well.
With all due respect, Ground Zero was a battleground for religious and political ideologies before 9/11, on 9/11, and most certainly after 9/11. The idea that pretending Islam (or, in fact, the conflicts and ideologies that define and guide our world) doesn’t exist for some undisclosed number of blocks around Ground Zero is not just naive beyond belief. If applied consistently, it would require a fundamental remaking of one of the most densely populated areas in America for blocks, perhaps miles.
There are dozens of churches within blocks of Ground Zero. There are a handful of synagogues, and a single mosque. Before Cordoba House was announced, there was no controversy over any of these places. The normal tapestry of American life weaves houses of worship in next to McDonald’s and CVS and Starbucks. There were no religious wars, no claim that St. Peter’s Catholic Church was an attempt to consecrate Ground Zero as a place in the Catholic faith, or that Beth Din Zidek was a Zionist base to raise ire against Muslims in America. It was only when Muslims, Muslims who have made it a clear and consistent point to preach tolerance and opposition to terrorism, attempted to build something new that Ground Zero because a sacred space from which all mention of controversy should be excised.
Whatever this woman’s pain, it doesn’t justify turning some broad area around Ground Zero into a place where Americans can no longer participate in the fundamental freedoms that make this country what it is, no matter the discomfort it might cause. If a Methodist church wants to hold a prayer vigil at Ground Zero, they should. If a Jewish congregation wants to remember September 11th at Shabbat, they should. And if a group of Muslims wants to take open real estate a few blocks away and build a center for people of their faith – and all faiths – to come and be together, then every single fiber of this country’s philosophical underpinnings should support them in that.
Otherwise, it’s time to start bulldozing some churches.