When I Google "Stop the Ground Zero Mall" I find a lot of people have misspelled "mall" as "mosque." I wonder what's up with that?
There is no mosque being built at Ground Zero, the hallowed ground where almost 3000 people died on September 11, 2001. There is, however a mall being built as part of the development on the former World Trade Center site. The mall, which will be built underground, will literally be constructed among the remains of the innocent victims of that infamous day.
So why all this confusion about a mosque? For my friends who don't live in the USA, and who perhaps haven't heard of Fox News, it is indeed a mystery how a mall turned into a mosque turned into a manufactured controversy.
Welcome to August. A slow month for political news, August is when news outlets like Fox News have a vacuum to fill. And what better nonsense to fill it with than an emotional issue like a "9/11 mosque!"?
No such thing exists, of course, but to hear tell, you'd think Osama bin Laden had risen from the grave or cave or wherever he's hiding and caught the afternoon flight from Heathrow just in time to jab his lanky finger into the heart of our national sorrow.
In reality, a building (two and a half blocks away from Ground Zero, or even further according to Politifact) that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory (not a factory, but a retail store that once sold dog fur coats) is the proposed site for a development called Park51. Several months ago the devolopers received unanimous permission from the NYC planning commission to build the project, which will be similar to a JCC (Jewish Community Center) or the YMCA (Young Men's Christian Association), only from a Muslim perspective. It will offer day care, culinary classes (sign me up!) and a fitness center, as well as providing space for multi-denominational meetings and a prayer room.
Park51 (known as Cordoba House) will be thirteen stories tall, and since Lower Manhattan is nothing like Central London, that's not a big deal. Who are the people behind the project? Primarily Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, who is currently in Saudi Arabia representing American Muslims to the wider Muslim community—something he was hired to do under the Bush administration, who were particularly sensitive after 9/11 that America be portrayed favorably in the Middle East. You can read what Jeff Goldberg, no Middle East dove, has to say about the Imam here. It's an amazingly thoughtful statement, one you won't hear on Fox News.
It also turns out that there's already a mosque near the proposed site. And two strip clubs. And numerous fast food restaurants, tacky souvenir shops, and buildings where people work and play every day. These people don't object to a "mosque" or a community center being built in their neighborhood. And if they did, that's why we have the first amendment.
Freedom of religion. Isn't that why they hate us? Because of our freedom? Our freedom to wear bikinis on the beach. Our freedom to say what we please. Our freedom to worship who or what we please, or to not worship at all. Our freedom to protest—which some people use to stir up false political outrage. And our freedom to turn off the TV when it offends us.
So what about the mall? Why isn't there outrage that one day knock-off sunglasses and skinny jeans will be sold on hallowed ground? Why didn't anyone listen to Roger Ebert, who proposed that a more appropriate memorial be built—or rather, not built—on the site? I really like his idea of a grassy space, with no buildings at all, just a place to remember, quietly, and maybe plant some corn.
I don't know why so many people are ready to believe there's a mosque going up at Ground Zero, or why so many continue to object when told the truth—that the "mosque" is really a cultural center two blocks away.
One of the moments I remember from those awful days in September, right after the towers fell, is that of a family who offered protection to their Muslim neighbors, in case anyone had the idea to harm them during a time when tensions were high and emotions raw. But many people from all across the country were outspoken in the belief that the terrorists were no more representative of Islam than the IRA was of Catholicism. I was relieved that at least our country had reacted with dignity during our darkest hour.
Now it's August, and another anniversary is upon us. Where's our dignity now?