“Ground Zero Mosque” Dispute Impedes America’s Progress
By Liya Rechtman '14
I have spent the first 18 years of my life living in Brooklyn, New York. My high school was situated in Brooklyn Heights by a promenade overlooking lower Manhattan. This means that I, like many New Yorkers, had the unfortunate ability to view the collapse of the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, from my math class window. Every New Yorker has a story about where they were when the towers were hit; every student from my graduating class has a story about seeing them fall, in real time, during our first period class of fourth grade.

So when I think about 9/11 and Ground Zero I see it from there, literally, from the ground up. I see Tribeca and Wall Street, the neighborhoods surrounding the area, and I see my city, chaotically propelling itself forward through a terrorist attack, through all the crazed security that followed and through a recession. To the rest of the world, 9/11 is a symbol, riddled in politics and international diplomatic movements. 9/11 reminds us, as Americans, of our position in the international community, of radical religion and of hatred. These two sets of ideas are not inherently in conflict — they are both true. However, when it comes to the site itself, this country often gets carried away with the symbolic weight of an idea, instead of recognizing that the place itself exists, and people have to continue living, through trauma, around it.

With this in mind, the idea of the Burlington Coat Factory being replaced by an Islamic center and mosque in one of the most crowded and diverse cities in the world is not a particularly notable one. The building that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is bought for the mosque is about 560 feet away from Ground Zero. In Manhattan terms, that’s about two blocks. If this mosque is impeding on hallowed ground, then so are the Starbucks, Century 21 and the Stage Door Deli, because those are some of the other things surrounding Ground Zero.

There is more to the building of a mosque than a purely geographic element though; of course there is truly an international statement being made and we do have to consider what that statement is. The twin towers were destroyed by radical Muslim extremists: people who were willing to give up their own lives and the lives of 2,605 other people for the sake of religious extremism. They showed us on an astronomical level the depths to which religion can damage society. However, this did not turn America away from religion — in the days following the attacks, clergy people were called on to counsel people all over the city. Religion had been used against New York to attack and in the immediate aftermath, we New Yorkers, of all sects and beliefs, turned to religion to heal. We asked for community, we came together as a city in the most incredible way. There are countless stories of the kindnesses of strangers: people helping each other escape the smoke and muck that drifted through the air and over the river to my part of Brooklyn, escaping the burning buildings and the lower Manhattan.

When a city collectively holds its breath to stop inhaling ash, no one is paying attention to anyone else’s race or religion or beliefs. So what does it say when that same city, only eight years later, argues against the idea of progressive Muslim community center in our midst? What message are we sending then? We are fighting here, not against Islam but against radicalism, we are fighting for progress in New York City, in this country and in the world. I find it disgusting that Americans would think to discourage the small, but growing, number of Muslim progressive organizations. Ground Zero should have been the world’s lesson in what happens when we allow extremism and intolerance. So when Imam Rauf asks his country, America, to help him build a center for progress and multi-faith community and his country says no, who are the real extremists?

Issue 01, Submitted 2010-09-20 20:15:16