The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny historic status to a 19th century building near Ground Zero. By doing so, it paves the way for the old building’s demolition and the construction of a 15 story Muslim community center, a mere two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The controversy has brewed for months over the creation of a mosque and an Islamic center so close to the site of the World Trade Centers where nearly 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks blamed on Muslim terrorists affiliated with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.
Opponents of the mosque have argued that the creation of it so close to the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks disrespects the memory of those killed. They also question who is behind the funding and bankrolling of the proposed structure, Cordoba House, which is estimated to cost nearly $100 million. Many prominent members of the Republican Party such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have come out strongly against the building of the mosque and Muslim center so close to the site of the attacks. Gingrich argued that “that the Ground Zero mosque is all about conquest and thus an assertion of Islamist triumphalism which we should not tolerate.”
Seemingly directed at peace seekers such as myself, Sarah Palin posted the following message on her Twitter page “Peace-seeking Muslims, please understand. Ground Zero Mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Please reject it in the interest of healing.”
Some of the relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have come out and said that the mosque and Islamic center would amount to a monument for terrorists as the extremists would see it as a celebration of their destruction of an American monument and lives lost. According to them, the building of the Muslim structure gives an impression that the Islamic extremists won and we Americans lost, not just in terms of lives lost but also in terms of lost and lowered morale.
The proponents of the Cordoba House have advocated the building of the structure especially since they see the center as an organization that promoted tolerance and inter faith dialogue, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. They say that the “center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.”
Their website further states that the Cordoba House project is “about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all.”
In fact the name Cordoba House, takes its name from the medieval Spanish city where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and harmony under the Moors of Spain for over 800 years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right in supporting the construction of the Cordoba House not just on the basis that religious freedom is enshrined in our constitution, but because it was the right thing to do. Denying the building of this structure would have been a blatant admission on the part of the city and indeed the entire country that there is absolutely no difference in the twisted misinterpretation of Islam practiced by the hijackers and the Taliban and the one practiced by the rest of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. As if a mere 19 deranged, misguided, yet determined adolescent men could change the fact that the vast majority of the adherents of Islam are peaceful, hardworking, average people like you and me who want nothing more than to live a good life, raise their kids, and worship their creator.
No, the opponents of the Cordoba House and their hate wagering backers and right wing politicians like Palin and Gingrich want nothing more than to incite people into believing that Islam in general is bad and evil and to suspect anything that goes on in a mosque. Oddly enough, it seems that much like their enemy, the Taliban and Muslim fundamentalists, the right wing politicians in the GOP want nothing more than “Clash of Civilizations” to come about between Islam and the West. Preachers like the Pastor Terry Jones in Gainesville, Florida who is organizing an “Everybody burn a Quran Day” as well as mainstream evangelicals like Pat Robertson also condone this view and treatment of Islam and Muslims.
Little do these so called “leaders” realize that scores of Muslim Americans also perished that day on September 11, 2001. The hate and fear mongers will not want you to know the story of Salman Hamdani, a NYPD police cadet, who was a part time ambulance driver, an incoming medical student, and devout Muslim whose remains were found at the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably trying his best to help those at the site of the attacks. Or the Muslim waiter at the Windows of the World restaurant, who never got to see his wife give birth to their son two days after the attacks. I wonder if Gingrich, Palin or any of the others could look US Army Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s mother in the eye and tell her that although her son died in an American uniform fighting in Iraq under the American flag, his religion and his beliefs system are evil and have no place in American life. The deceased Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient would turn in his grave at Arlington National Cemetery if he knew how his faith was being disrespected and marginalized by politicians and right wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, individuals who never served this country or risked their life as had Specialist Khan.
It is heartening to see that good sense prevailed by the New York City panel that had the tough job of deciding on this issue and this heavily watched story. Although there promises to be a further fight and appeal by the opponents of the Islamic center, one hopes that the ruling would stand as denying it would clearly violate the freedom of religion that all faiths should get in America, regardless of the actions of some of their members. After all, one should not punish and ostracize the many for the actions of a few.
-Manzer Munir, founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.