I was in New York on 9/11, and I will never forget what the city – and the whole country – went through during that time. Like my parents’ generation will always remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot, mine will forever recall exactly where they were in the hours after 8:40 AM on that sunny Tuesday.
Though I did not lose any friends or family that day, I did know a few people who did not return home that day – mostly language students who I taught either English or Portuguese. In fact, I was scheduled to meet one of them for a lesson later that very afternoon. With the chaos that took place after the towers came down, I only learned of her passing months later when I saw her name on a memorial for the Jersey City 9/11 victims.
Like everyone else, I was shocked, saddened and angry at what had happened, and wondered how a group of people could have so much hate in their hearts that they would indiscriminately murder almost three thousand defenseless strangers who most likely had no beef with them at all. And while those events unfolded, I was sitting in a classroom in Queens that happened to be filled with Muslims (and Jews) who were just as appalled as I was. During those horrible hours, we all came together and kept our ears glued to the radio while looking out the window, witnessing black smoke from the fire turn into gray as The World Trade Center collapsed.
A few months ago, I read on a local paper that there were plans to build an Islamic cultural center and Mosque on Park Place. At the time, I didn’t think much of it – there are many houses of worship in the area, which share space with businesses and residents alike. But as time went by, the whole thing became quite controversial, with opponents accusing Islam of having a long-term plan of slowly conquering the United States and imposing Sharia law that would undermine the US Constitution or something like that. Ah, and there were of course those who thought that building a Mosque in that area was disrespectful of the ‘sanctity’ of the area – never mind the strip clubs, bars and novelty shops in that exact same neighborhood.
The fact is that this country was built under various principles, and that includes freedom of worship, which was established because many people came to this country because they were persecuted due to their religion. To deny anyone – including the countless Muslims who work in the area – to establish a house of worship anywhere would be an insult to the framework of this nation.
Though I understand the concerns that some have about the location, I must respectfully disagree with them, because their arguments simply do not hold water. For instance, former House speaker Newt Gingrich said on TV that building a mosque near the WTC site would be comparable to building a Japanese center in Pearl Harbor.
What the Gingrich missed there was the fact that in the case of World War II, we were attacked by a sovereign nation who later (according to records) declared war on the United States. In the case of 9/11, there was no country willing to destroy us (if we are talking nationalities, remember the hijackers were Saudis – and we’re not fighting Saudi Arabia). We are not fighting a religion, but a bunch of fanatics who are not that different from the wacko right-wing religious groups in the US who assassinate abortion providers and bomb birth control clinics. Radical Islamists are just more organized and have more monetary power in their hands (considering the Tea Party movement, which might change soon).
Another argument is that Christians and Jews are not free to worship in Muslim lands. While that might be true in countries like Saudi Arabia (where about 2 million Christians can only practice their religion privately), even countries like Iran have Christian churches in their lands. And in the case of Saudi Arabia, remember that Islam is the country’s official religion – something we don’t have here, as our Constitution separates church and state – which also makes the ‘Islamization of America’ a moot point
To stop the building of the so-called Ground Zero Mosque (or any other Mosque – there is also anti-Islamic controversy brewing in Tennessee and on my own borough of Staten Island as well, even though we don’t hear about it much) would be a slap on the face of the Constitution and what this great country supposedly stands for. And worse, it would only show the international community one of our ugliest facets – a country that has a hard time understanding and accepting those who happen to be different from the mainstream.