Look, I don’t profess to know everything about Christianity. I don’t know much about Islam. I consider myself politically aware enough to have an intelligent conversation about most issues, but I’m certainly not qualified to go on CNN or MSNBC and talk about anything. I’m just a guy with a brain and an opinion.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been following the “Ground Zero Mosque” story with increasing interest. It’s been pretty damn hard to avoid. I mean, if you go on any news site, it’s Topic of Interest #1. Plus, the topic has been of interest to me because no matter where I live, the fact will remain that I spent 29 years of my life in New York City and I was born and raised in the Big Apple. While I may not have been in the immediate vicinity of the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11th (actually, I was traveling out of my apartment in Harlem, headed towards work in The Bronx when the first plane hit), I was close enough to be profoundly affected by the event and it’s aftermath. I will never forget the events of that day-watching the TV in disbelief as people jumped out of windows to their death hundreds of feet in the air to avoid burning alive, watching two buildings that I just assumed would always be standing collapse over the course of several hours, going outside my job and staring at the thick black smoke that enveloped the sky on a beautiful Tuesday morning. I can safely said it affected me quite a bit.
I don’t consider myself to be better than anyone, but my experience growing up in the ultimate melting pot of the U.S. has made me probably much more tolerant of people not outwardly like myselfthan the average American. I think one reason that racists stay racists (or homophobes, or people with any kind of intolerance or prejudice against people different from them) is because many of them live in environments so homogenous that they’re not able to experience cultures that differ from theirs and make judgments for themselves (and realize that hey, people are people). All they know is what’s been fed to them by people around them, or the images fed to them by mass media, who seem to be hell-bent these days not on reporting the truth, but by delivering the most irresponsibly sensational spin on the actual news that they can. All this to say that there was never a point in time when I blamed Muslims in general for the WTC attack. To equate the average Muslim with Al Qaeda is no different than equating the average Christian with Fred Phelps and his kind.
Am I gonna lie and say that there wasn’t a period of time that I was mentally “profiling” Middle Easterners (sidebar-funny that many people think Muslims are all from the Middle East, but I know more Black American and White American Muslims than I do Middle Eastern Muslims…maybe it’s all those years of taking the subway in NYC and buying chew sticks and body oil from the Five Percenters that peddled their wares on the train)? Nah. Am I gonna lie and say that there isn’t a part of me that thinks that the idea of building a 13-story Islamic “cultural center” a few short blocks away from the World Trade Center in poor taste? It’s certainly insensitive from a symbolic point of view. No, all Muslims are NOT terrorists, but those who crashed into the Twin Towers did so in the name of Allah. If I were the relative of a 9/11 victim, I can’t say that this plan wouldn’t bother me a little.
I do know several things, though.
The Pilgrims settled in America in the 17th century to escape religious persecution. Freedom of religion is a major tenet of our Constitution. To stop the building being built is unconstitutional, period.
The proposed building won’t be AT the WTC site. It’s certainly close (two blocks, or 1/10 of a mile), but it’s not like the building is being built where the towers fell. 2 blocks in New York City is practically another damn neighborhood.
To call the cultural center a mosque is stretching the truth slightly, since the mosque will only be one floor of what the 15-floor structure will house. Plus, the average American probably not aware that there’s already a mosque in lower Manhattan, just a few blocks from where the WTC stood, and that said mosque is very heavily attended.
(of course, we also shouldn’t forget that Muslims (not the terrorists obviously) were also working at the WTC at the time of the attacks, and some of them died, too).
All the folks screaming about hallowed ground should probably be a little consistent in their protesting. There’s a strip club in the shadow of the WTC, as well as an adult toys store. Until a couple years ago (I’m talking three or four years ago), there was also a gay bathhouse and an adult movie theater about the same proximity from the WTC as the proposed cultural center. If the area where the building is being built is hallowed ground, there sure has been a lot of semen spread there since September 11th, 2001.
One thing that galls me is that many of the people that are protesting the building of the cultural center are the same people that think most New Yorkers are culturally elite lefty cocksuckers. I’d imagine many/most of them have never been to the WTC site to pay their respects and probably haven’t had a thought about the events of September 11th for years, until this came up. While polls may suggest that the building may not be supported by most Americans (why have I never been asked to participate in these polls, anyway?), I don’t think that the average American would even give a shit about this whole situation if not for the fact that it allows them to anonymously spew their prejudice towards Muslims (and their frustration with President Obama) online. It seems like we have now gotten license to treat Muslims (and Mexicans, but that’s a whole ‘nother story) in much the same fashion as Blacks were treated prior to the Civil Rights Movement.
Look, I’m not gonna be standing in front of the cultural center with a hug and a cookie for each Muslim that walks in if and when it opens (and the ground breaking on this is still years away, if it happens). But I’m not going to judge Muslims as a whole for the actions of a rogue few, and I’m not going to be thick-headed enough to say that they can’t build a place to pray wherever they feel like (provided they have the money for it). Yeah, building an Islamic cultural center the size of the average NYC office building in lower Manhattan is something of a head-scratcher and I feel like we need to totally background check the imam and his wife who are putting up the scratch for this venture (as I imagine we should with anyone who decides to build a building ANYWHERE), but let them build it. Insensitivity and bad taste have never stopped Americans from doing anything before. Although I personally think the best idea is to promote unity via a structure that includes a place for Muslims to worship in addition to places for Christians, Jews, Hindus, etc, I don’t think anyone who understands the principles that this country was founded on can or should rightfully stand in the way of this structure being built. And the people who protested yesterday (most of whom I are probably not New York City residents OR immediate relatives of 9/11 victims) need to go back to the ‘burbs and shut the hell up.