It's a sad day for bigots in New York City. Opponents of a planned Islamic cultural center and mosque at 47 Park Place failed in their last-ditch effort to usurp the private property rights of the Cordoba Initiative. The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 that the decrepit old Burlington Coat Factory building was not a municipal landmark worthy of government-imposed preservation.
The controversy over this project is a national embarrassment. Of course the Cordoba Initiative has every right to build a YMCA-style recreation center, auditorium, and mosque at 47 Park Place. There nothing offensive, provocative, or even remarkable about an Islamic organization setting up shop in lower Manhattan, two blocks from the former World Trade Center.
The proposed developed doesn't even border on the hole. It's two blocks away. The southern tip of Manhattan is a densely populated part of a living city. It's not a national park or a shrine. People live, work, and worship there, including Muslims. This was true before 9/11 and it's still true. The group that wants to build the community center has been running prayer meetings next door for years. There's another mosque a few blocks away on Chambers Street. This is exactly as it should be. New York is the same thriving, diverse metropolis that it always has been.
Abe Foxman of the supposedly anti-racist Anti-Defamation League says it's insensitive to 9/11 families to have a mosque in the neighborhood. Some of the 9/11 families are Muslim. What about 23-year-old EMT/paramedic Salman Hamdani who died trying to rescue victims, or the dozens of other Muslim victims? I'd like to think that the vast majority of 9/11 families have no problem with the cultural center, regardless of their religious background. Even if this plan were opposed by the majority of 9/11 families, which I seriously doubt, we shouldn't hold all of lower Manhattan hostage to their whims.
The whole idea that a mosque near Ground Zero is offensive presupposes that all Islam was equally responsible for the attacks. This is such a ridiculous idea that I feel stupid even spelling it out. Should we ban churches from the vicinity of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City because Tim McVeigh was a Christian? Of course not. Nobody thinks that the taint of Tim McVeigh extends to all Christians. Continuing to practice the Christian faith in Oklahoma City is not a provocation or an affront. We don't insult the churches of Oklahoma City by calling them "moderate Christians" as if they're just a part-way along the spectrum to the full-fledged Christianity of Tim McVeigh. We don't make them apologize for being nominally part of the same world religion/civilization.
Remember that the original plan was never to leave the World Trade Center as a permanent gaping wound. We were supposed to rebuild and get on with our lives. Nearly a decade later, a giant hole in the ground has become a fetish object in some very ugly psychodramas.
[Photo credit: Flickr user Johnnie Utah, licensed under Creative Commons. Original caption reads: Jingoistic demonstration in Zucotti Park against proposed Islamic Cultural Center a few blocks from Ground Zero. Later, someone garlanded the proposed site with dirty shoes, raw porkchops, and cartoons of the Prophet.]