After reading all of the impassioned and amazing comments from yesterday’s blog, I realized that my own take on the so-called “Mosque at Ground Zero®” was based on parts of me that I’m going to have to learn to subjugate. It’s not about Muslims and it’s not about 9/11, it’s about two things: the national dialogue, and my problems with religion.
Do I believe they should be able to build a Muslim interfaith center two blocks from Ground Zero? I feel unqualified to answer a question so stupid. It’s so obviously “yes” that to even have to say “yes” feels embarrassing. Do I think it has proven to be a good idea? Well, if the builders were trying to bridge an “understanding gap” between followers of Islam and other belief systems, it has been a devastating failure before a brick has been laid.
Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University in Washington, said:
“I don’t think the Muslim leadership has fully appreciated the impact of 9/11 on America. They assume Americans have forgotten 9/11 and even, in a profound way, forgiven 9/11, and that has not happened. The wounds remain largely open…”
Which I think is probably right, but it’s probably right because cynical wingnuts – as well as the Bush Administration – fomented and cashed checks on those fears for seven years, and the Republican Party continues the tradition. (Yes, I know Bush spoke admirably of Islam in the days immediately following 9/11, but his regime behaved otherwise.)
Whether you like how America got bigoted or not, it’s still bigoted, and in some cases, sidestepping an obvious PR disaster can pay big dividends. You can opine about the 1st Amendment, but the fact is, a lot of American idiots out there think there’s going to be minarets towering over the Woolworth Building and shifty-eyed jihadis wandering around Liberty Street.
I appreciate the builders’ resolve in the face of these right-wing assholes, but all things being equal, would it ultimately served their purposes better if it had been built farther away? I have to say… probably? Maybe far enough that morons couldn’t say “AT Ground Zero”? You want a precise number of blocks, fine. Let’s say five. I used to work three doors down from the proposed Islamic Center site, and anything north of Chambers Street would have been impossible to connect to the WTC.
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To those saying “there’s already been a mosque in the neighborhood for 27 years” and “they sell falafel at the WTC site just like they always did” and “New York is a melting pot with all religions and bizarre rituals”, I say sure, but that’s missing the larger point. These things have always been there; the Islamic center has not. It’s a new construction built near an oozing laceration in America’s skull.
It’s human nature to “grandfather in” the things that were always thus, which is why the other mosque doesn’t bother anybody. But if you think the “newness” of this project shouldn’t make a difference, you’re right, but you’re also being disingenuous. It’s okay to have feelings about this Islamic center, given the mood and timbre of our culture. It’s okay to oppose it, even against all rational discourse proving otherwise, as long as you admit you’re being a dick.
My true personal feelings? I’m a dick. But I’m not a dick because I have something against Islam in particular, or because of my oft-expressed experiences around 9/11, or even because I loathe the amount of airtime this story has given to some of the worst Americans we’ve got. I’m a dick because I have problems with religion in general, and I don’t think anything religious ought to be shadowing the WTC site. In my mind, fundamental religion is how the towers came down, and on that day, I remember thinking this is how it would all end, if not this religion, then another.
I know this lumps my cousins and some of my best friends in with the abortion doctor killers and Timothy McVeighs of the world. I know this lumps Al Qaeda in with other friends of mine, not to mention billions of peaceful followers. I know many of you profoundly hate this quality in me, and I recognize my inability to fathom religion as one of my biggest failings. My virulent, occasionally angry agnosticism has consistently separated me from people I love and has done me no favors.
And yet, like a lingering worry, it persists.