Debate over Ground Zero Islamic Cultural Center - By Helene Sairany

“Liberty is the only thing you cannot have unless you are willing to give it to others.” -William Allen White

Building a Mosque at Ground Zero has been one of the most heated topics in the media lately. Before writing this article, I sent a questionnaire out to my American friends and contacts to simply ask for their honest opinions about this Ground Zero Islamic center story. Here are some of their reactions:

“There is no reason to oppose building a mosque (or anything else) at that location which is, afterall, two blocks from "Ground Zero" where innocent people of all religions died.”

“Ever since they coined the term "Islamic terrorist", there is no distinction between the two.”

“A terrorist is a terrorist!! They come from all walks of life, all religions, all races, countries, and genders. Don't judge ALL for the sake of ONE!! By not allowing a mosque to be built WHEREVER, they're taking all of the sacrifices that occurred in the American Revolution and the American Civil War, and making them null and void. Where is our freedom of Religion??”

“If we give them a mosque, next they will demand foot washing arrangements in every local bathroom and airport! Naa, I'm good with using the sink, just like I do at home. But thanks for the idea!”

“There are already mosques in NYC, one of which is four blocks away and holding services daily. This is a blatant political tool designed to maximize Republican turn-out at the mid-terms this Fall.”

“This whole thing is disgusting and the vast majority of the outspokenly-opposed are really not educated enough to have an opinion. It angers me that Democrats and other progressives will never stand up for what is obviously and universally right. By not doing so, they give legitimacy and power to this growing group of hateful and extremely dangerous extremists...and I don't mean the Muslims, I mean this neo-lynch mob.”

“Plus, what has happened to separation of church and state? Why is our government so caught up with this religious, private project all of the sudden?”

It is sad to learn that despite its economic crisis and the high unemployment rate, topped with the Gulf oil spill, the United States chooses to concentrate its focus on a pre-20th century issue; an issue pertaining to differences among religious values and rights. It feels even worse to know that there are a gazillion other issues in this nation that deserve far more attention than the debate over building an Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero; meanwhile, our troops are scattered all over the place with the hope of bringing an end to terrorism.

It is not a mosque that the Muslim community is trying to build at Ground Zero, it is an Islamic cultural center. The aim of this cultural center is to promote interfaith dialogue. It is not in Ground Zero, it is four blocks away from where the attack happened.  While some radical Christian groups chose to have a National Burn-a-Quran Day on Sept 11th of every year, Muslims chose to build a cultural center at Ground Zero to promote peace and spread the true understanding of Islam. The center is still only an idea. In fact, fundraising hasn't even begun for the project; it's still in its developmental stages.

Many opponents of building the Islamic cultural center at Ground Zero claim that such a pursuit is an insult to the families of the victims of 9/11. Let me remind myself here, was the 9/11 attack carried out by Muslims or terrorists? So if you think an Islamic cultural center is an insult to the families of 9/11 victims, don't you think your objection is also an insult to those who want to build this center because they are being falsely labeled as “terrorists”? Also, are we fighting a war against terrorism or Islam? What about the Muslims who were also victims of the 9/11 attack?

There were 63 known Muslim victims on that day. Since politicians, xenophobes, and people guided by religious fundamentalism fail to make mention of these people, I thought it vital to reference some names of the victims of 9/11 who were also Muslims:

Mohammad Salman Hamdami was a part-time ambulance driver, medical student and NYPD police cadet. When he saw smoke coming from the twin towers, he drove right to the scene and tried to help. Since he wasn’t working and no one knew his whereabouts, the media were all-too-happy to identify him as a terrorist.

Rahma Salie was a passenger on the American Airlines flight that crashed into the North Tower. Rahma, a Muslim of Sri Lankan origin, was traveling with her husband Michael, a convert to Islam, to attend a friend's wedding in California. Rahma was 7 months pregnant with their first child. Rahma's name was initially put on an FBI watch list, because her "Muslim-sounding" name was on the passenger manifest and her travel patterns were similar to those of the hijackers (she was a computer consultant living in Boston).

Baraheen Ashrafi was nine months pregnant with her second child. Her husband, Mohammad Chowdhury, was a waiter at Windows on the World restaurant, located on the top floors of Tower One. He went off to work the morning of September 11th and she never saw him again. Their son Farqad was born only 48 hours later and was one of the first 9/11 orphans to be born after the attacks.

And the list continues. Many Americans question why this center has to be built at Ground Zero. First of all, the building that the Islamic community has chosen is not quite at Ground Zero. It is about 4 blocks away and is not even visible from the site of the attacks. Plus, if we look back at history, every time Muslims have planned to build a mosque or a cultural center, they have been opposed and have faced various attacks and objections.

I think the word “terrorism” needs to be redefined in America. The whole nation needs to understand what terrorism is and what Islam promotes. At the moment, we Americans as a nation are refusing to listen. We cannot continue to view other religious practices through the lens of our own practices; nor can we make judgments based on how the media portrays other religions. Suspicion, intolerance, and mistrust of others are driving us apart. We are stronger when we share, and smarter when we listen to each other and coexist. At the end of the day, religion was meant to bring happiness to humanity, not to cause tension. When one deprives an individual of their basic human rights (e.g. religious practice; in this case, building the Islamic cultural center), one deprives them of their sense of belonging, which in turn, leads to a long line of consequences (e.g. low self-esteem, violence, aggression, separation, etc.).

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September 3, 2010
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