“In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked ‘What God do you pray to? What beliefs do you hold?’ … We do not honor their lives by denying the very constitutional rights they died protecting.”
—Mayor Michael Bloomberg

This emotional plea from the New York City mayor was delivered to an audience of religious leaders on Tuesday. In stating his reasons to allow the building of a mosque near Ground Zero to go forward, Bloomberg cited historical examples tracing the right of religious groups and even the right of the government to intervene with private property.

The mosque to be built is a contentious one, often debated with heated accusations of discrimination or racism. Searching deeper, there appear to be more complex arguments: memories of loss, politics, a lack of trust in the organizations involved, embracing Islam, and strengthening the community. How do we go forward and be sensitive to all parties involved?


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Good news. One more step in affirming we are one people with differing views who can live together... differently... and inclusively.

Bravo, Mayor Bloomberg.

The first way to go forward is to be sure the facts in the question itself are correct. Many people talk about the "mosque" "at" or "on" "ground zero." (I appreciate that SOF at least said "near.")

First, is the building in question a mosque? What is a mosque? Per Wiki: "The word 'mosque' in English refers to all types of buildings dedicated for Islamic worship although there is a distinction in Arabic between the smaller masjids dedicated for daily five prayers and the larger masajid where the daily five prayers and the Friday congregation sermons are held...which is attended by more people and play more roles such as teaching Qur'an." As best I can tell (including from the Cordoba House web site), the center (note that Muslims themselves don't call it a mosque) is like a YMCA or YMHA. It's going to have a pool, for example. Many YMCAs have chapels so if this building has a masjid, why does that justify calling the building as a whole a mosque when you wouldn't call a Y a church? The Pentagon (also attacked on 9/11) has a masjid, by the way -- why no media frenzy or victims' consultation over that? Should the existing mosque 4 blocks from WTC be forced to close also? If not, why is 4 blocks away so much more acceptable than two blocks away? Whether the Cordoba House's masjid is proposed to be the larger or smaller sort -- I don't know -- do any of those debating the question know? The building is explicitly proposed to be open to everyone -- that's its raison d'etre -- it's not like a church that is aimed at a specific cohort of believers or at those willing to become believers. So shouldn't we first ask the question, when people hear "mosque," does that word convey what's proposed for the Cordoba House? If not, then why is that term used so much instead of any attempt to come up with something more accurate?

Second, I think if you haven't lived in NYC, you might have a different idea of what it means to be near a very tall building. I haven't been to NYC in 20 years, but when I did live in the area, I used to enter the city from the old WTC. If you went to the top, you saw less looking straight down than people suppose -- kind of like a fat person looking at his/er feet -- the view is blocked. A mosque with onion domes & minarets (the Cordoba House will have neither) that was built on a location like the Palisades Heights would be more "in your face" to WTC visitors than one two blocks away. Similarly, depending on the other buildings, you may not be able to see One WTC from the Cordoba House -- you frequently could not see the old WTC in the Wall Street area unless you stood in the middle of a street (not safe!) & looked straight up. Moreover, although NYC has multiple use buildings to a greater extent than the suburbs, the old WTC had no apartments -- the areas in which people lived were almost a different world from that in which they worked even when only a block separated the two -- the old WTC seemed almost empty on Sunday mornings -- whereas Chinatown could not have been more vibrant. The Cordoba House is supposed to be part of the area for city dwellers, not city workers. What does "nearness" mean in this context? & why have so many discussing the issue chosen incorrect prepositions such as "at" or "on"?

Third, what do we even mean by "ground zero?" To the extent possible, the debris (including human remains) has been taken away and a new building (One WTC) is being built. The tenants probably will include businesses involved in international trade & finance (just like the old WTC). Nothing particularly spiritual (& possibly much that is frankly unethical) will be going on there -- this is Wall Street, after all. Why is that land use not harrowing to the victims' families? What about an office building represents a shrine or "hallowed ground?" For example, given the role of insurance in the financial industry, it's quite possible that a future One WTC tenant will be involved in some deal that makes an immense profit from firefighter life or disability insurance by screwing over the putative beneficiaries. That's respectful of the victims' grief?

The original "ground zeroes" (Nagasaki & Hiroshima, Japan) have been largely rebuilt -- not as they were, but to accommodate the needs of living Japanese. Christian churches are not banned in those cities, nor are other manifestations of the bombers' culture (i.e., American culture) -- e.g., Kentucky Fried Chicken & McDonald's both have restaurants in both cities. That's okay for the Japanese to countenance but not for us? To move forward, shouldn't we ask what we lack that we need? Like Japan, Manhattan is a densely populated island. What can we learn from the Japanese?

One other thing -- part of the pathos of 9/11 was the fact that people in both towers who survived the planes ramming through were cut off from all possibility of rescue by the design of the buildings and their height. Some people spent something like an hour staring death in the face. What in One WTC addresses these issues? Fire can bisect a building for many reasons. There's a kind of Titanticesque hubris in assuming the design is fireproof. My son is a firefighter (not in NYC) so when I think of what's being built on "ground zero" what I wonder about is whether it's once again designed to kill firefighters for no good reason and to leave people alive & yet doomed if the building is bisected by fire. Why isn't that as much a cause for victim anguish as anything else? & why isn't that anguish given the same attention as that that's anti-Muslim?