As you may know, I’m a New Yorker. My current office is located near the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street in lower Manhattan: about three blocks from Ground Zero. This afternoon, I found myself at the Halal food cart on Broadway and Liberty Street: one block from Ground Zero. As seen outside the proposed Islamic community center several blocks away, a crowd of people stood by the cart. They were not, however, protesting the presence of an Islamic establishment in the area. Like me, they were standing in line for lunch.
I believe that many of those who oppose the Cordoba House — which will be neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero — do not realize that New York is a very diverse place. I’m hearing rhetoric from politicians, particularly in other states, framing this as an “us versus them” issue. “THEY” want to do this on “OUR” sacred ground. The problem with that statement is they are us. If it’s sacred ground, it’s also sacred to those of us who happen to be Muslim. In fact, the center will include a memorial to those who lost their lives in the attacks. As Mayor Bloomberg and others have eloquently stated, Muslim New Yorkers were among the victims of 9/11. We were told that the terrorists were jealous of our liberties. How can anyone in good conscience suggest responding to that terrorism by restricting our own citizens’ liberties? The government discriminating against Americans on the basis of religion would be an obvious constitutional violation, and I’m not one to believe we should surrender our fundamental rights — for any reason, but especially not out of fear.
Then there are those who acknowledge that the legal right exists, but still ask the question “Why there?” To ask this question is to implicitly demonize the entire Muslim faith. Some are comparing 9/11 to the Holocaust. Would opponents of the Cordoba House question a German structure near the site of a concentration camp? Probably not, because most people realize not all Germans are Nazis. There was recently a story in the news about a black man who shot white co-workers over alleged racism. If someone wanted to build an African American heritage museum a few blocks away, would many people say, “They can have their museum, but why does it have to be there?” I’d sure hope not. People claiming to be offended by a “mosque” near Ground Zero should honestly ask themselves whether they would not also be offended by the sight of a mosque anywhere else in the world.
To be certain, 9/11 deservedly provokes a strong emotional reaction, but that does not excuse ditching rational thought as some have suggested. We have history to learn from. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps and otherwise mistreated in their own country. Let’s not repeat that mistake. This is a civil rights issue: we must not discriminate against anyone for looking different or following a different religion. Now is not the time to placate our enemies by abandoning our principles as a nation. Now is the time to celebrate our diversity. Now is the time to march to Liberty Street and order the lamb and rice with hot sauce.
I hope you will join me in my support of the Cordoba House.