"Mosque" at "Ground Zero"

I've been in ministry nine years this August.  This means I started my ministry in August 2001, and was about a month in when the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened.  Like many people, I remember what I was doing and where I was when I heard the news--a member of the congregation called me.  Immediately, my question was about how to minister to my congregation and community in this situation.  I've talked with other clergy who began their ministries when I did, and they have a similar response--our ministries were shaped immediately, and perhaps permanently, by September 11th.  Immediately, September 11th, 2001 became about our religious response, both pastoral and prophetic.  The first response was about the pastoral--a vigil held at the church for a congregation worried about friends and loved ones and the possibility of future attacks on the city we were in, home of major oil companies and the George Bush Airport. I remember the next event in my schedule, I think the very next day, was a meeting with my clergy cluster, the other Unitarian Universalist ministers in the city, and we all talked about what we would be doing the following Sunday, and shared resources.  I'm still grateful for the advice I received that day from my more experienced colleagues whom I had barely met. 

Very quickly, the news came out that these attacks were the work of As-Qaeda, and the prophetic part of my ministry emerged.  We were contacted by a local Sufi group who had a visiting leader, and they asked to come and do a presentation on Islam at our church.  We had them come for an evening presentation and also a Sunday morning presentation.  The local paper did a very large article on the event, which was a plus.  As the country's attitudes toward Muslims in America grew increasingly hostile, and sometimes violent, it became clear to me that a very important part of the religious purpose of Unitarian Universalists right then needed to be in response to this, building interfaith dialogue and cooperation. 

Here we are, nine years later, and Islam and the attacks of September 11th, 2001 are back again in our news, showing that this need for interfaith dialogue and cooperation, as various people weigh in on the issue of "the Mosque at Ground Zero."

Let's get some of the misconceptions cleaned up first:

Is it a mosque?  Those who are against it are quick to call it a mosque.  Those on the other side respond that it's a community center.  Which is it?  Well, I think it's primarily a community center, but the site for  Park51 does say future plans include:
  • a mosque, intended to be run separately from Park51 but open to and accessible to all members, visitors and our New York community
  • a September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space, open to all
We need to stop pretending, on the left, that this doesn't include a mosque, when its own site clearly says that it does.  On the right, they need to admit that the mosque is not the primary function of the Park51 plan.

Is it at "Ground Zero"?  No.  It's really not.  The Park51 center would not be on the footprint of the World Trade Center.  It's on Park Place, one or two blocks north, depending on how you count.  This map may prove helpful:

View Larger Map

Also, take a look at this map, which shows where the buildings of the World Trade Center were.

Those who argue against Park51's placement need to explain the following, in order for their stance not to be hypocritical, anti-Muslim, or just plain silly:
  1. Do you believe that no religion should have a  house of worship at "Ground Zero," or are you just restricting Muslims from this wide geographic area?  If the former, fair enough.  If the latter, you need to explain how this is consistent with a land of equality and religious freedom.  There's a Catholic Church even closer at 22 Barclay St.  Of course, it's possible to believe that they should be allowed to have a mosque there but that the planners should just chose respectfully not to--similar to my arguing that we have the right to draw Mohammed, but I choose not to, for example.
  2. What span of land do you consider "Ground Zero"?  If you think this stretch Park Place is included in "Ground Zero," what does "Ground Zero" include?  If you just realized that your definition doesn't include the Park51 location, then your apology is humbly accepted.
  3. If you are restricting all religious groups from this large area of commercial land in lower Manhattan because this is hallowed ground in some way, by what reasoning do we restrict religious groups from creating houses of worship while still allowing everything from strip clubs to a "hookah lounge" in the same radius?  What should this hallowed land include?  Understanding that this is a huge piece of commercial land in the middle of New York City, what would you put there?  And how do we allow business but restrict it to only that which is palatable to all the victims' families? 
If I were to decide what was placed at the site of the former World Trade Centers, what would I put there?  I would include a memorial which would be carefully designed and thought out and probably immediately hated by much of the population.  And I would include some sort of center for peace and religious cooperation and understanding. Oh, wait, that's what Park51 is planning on doing!

Next post: I'll address this argument that putting a mosque within a few blocks of "Ground Zero" is distasteful and offensive to the victims' families and argue for what is most needed.


Red Sphynx said…
See if I can explain it to you.

When the Carmellite nuns went to build a convent at Auschwitz, they had the legal right to do so. But it was offensive. Even though it was the Nazis, not the Carmellites, who’d perpetrated the evil at Auschwitz. It was especially offensive because the Carmellites were linked by history to the Catholic church’s acts of anti-Semitism, no matter how much the nuns said they hated the Nazis. And I think you understand this.

If the United States' 17th Calvary purchased land to build a social hall at Wounded Knee, they’d have the legal right to do so. But it would be offensive. It would be more offensive than a Stuckees or a used car lot on the site. Even if they pointed out that the massacre had been done by a completely different Calvary unit; even if they protested that they were doing it as a goodwill gesture. It would be offensive and it would make Native American / Anglo relationships worse, not better. And I think you’d understand that the Native Americans would not be bigoted to object.

If the Russian Orthodox put up a building at Srebrenica, they might have the legal right to do so. But it would be offensive. Even if the Russians protested that they disaproved of what the Serbian Orthodox had done at that site. Even if they included a swimming pool in the building and said it wasn’t just a church. It would still be more offensive than a gay bar or a cheap souvenir shop on that site, because the historic linkages of the two strains of Orthodoxy. It would make Muslim / Christian relationships worse, not better. And I think you’d understand this.

If the Anglican church put up a church close to the center of the devastation in Dresden, they might have the legal right to do so. But it would be offensive, even if there was already a Gentleman’s Club near the site. Even if the Anglicans said they were sorry about the fire, and lamented that it was an unfortunate side-effect of Germany’s 1930’s era foreign policy. Even if they included a 2000 seat auditorium that could be used by the general community. It would be offensive because of the historical ties between the Anglican Communion and the British RAF. It would make Anglican / German relationships worse, not better. And I think you would understand that most Germans who objected were not being bigots - even if a small number of them were, indeed, skinheads and firebreathing crazies.

So how come you have so little empathy for the majority of Americans who are offended by this mosque proposal? (“I’ll accept your humble apology”, indeed.) Sure, the courts and zoning boards should follow the law, and the law is quite clear that the project is legal. But don’t you see how much the Cordoba Mosque is a thumb in the eye of much of America? Why do you scorn people who object and are offended?

And what on earth do you mean when you say that you'd happily erect a memorial "immediately hated by much of the population." What ministerial or theological purpose would that serve?
Cynthia Landrum said…
Saying whatever monument I put up would be immediately hated was tongue-in-cheek because the idea of putting up a memorial that most people will be happy with is such an impossible task because tastes and sensibilities are so very different in general and particularly on this issue, and also because so many memorials, like the Vietnam Memorial, are disliked in the initial reaction. I would not want the job, because I'm sure that I could never create a memorial that would appeal to most of the public. For one thing, the Republicans would instantly hate it no matter what it was, because it came from me as a source.

As to the rest... more later.
Cynthia Landrum said…
There is an Anglican presence in Dresden (http://tinyurl.com/2bqye6a), as it turns out, and it located at the Frauenkirche Dresden. The Frauenkirche was completely destroyed in the bombing of Dresden, and has been reconstructed. It now serves as "symbol of reconciliation between former warring enemies" (http://tinyurl.com/2f5m5ot). It sounds like it may be a somewhat analogous situation!

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