Coming around on the Muslim Cultural Center near Ground Zero
By: Brendan Patrick Keane | Published Friday, August 13, 2010, 3:40 PM | Updated Friday, September 9, 2011, 9:47 PM
Originally, my feeling about the Ground Zero mosque controversy was based on the sense that one victim-group--the Muslims and the British--were being memorialized with special attention, while it would be thought crass to memorialize the Irish-American victims of 9/11 with their own museum or what have you.
I wrote Ground Zero mosque? Not my favorite idea, but this is NYC
with that in mind. I saw the zone around Ground Zero becoming a Disneyland
of competing ethnic groups building special memorials where the richest ones would get to build theirs first.
I was critical of it, and like Governor Patterson, wondered if it could not be built in a less controversial location. That would avoid memorial competition, I thought.
I had misunderstood the intention of the mosque. I thought it was conceived especially to memorialize 9/11 at Ground Zero.
Wishing to see fairness in the way we recognize the suffering of victims, their families and their communities, I saw the Muslim Cultural Center as a very tall interpretation institution, where one victim group would have the opportunity to interpret the events of 9/11 from a thirteen story monument, competing for attention with the more universal monument. That's how I saw it. I see it differently, having watched others analyze and provide better detail.
I thought the building was being pushed by a man with a vision on behalf of financial backers that were far away in the Middle East
. In this misunderstanding, the religious freedom argument seemed to be inapplicable, as it was not being built by a community in that neighborhood, but rather by outside visionaries using the mosque to get their interpretation center built. I felt the zone best left to a memorial shared by all, to memorialize all those who suffered on 9/11 across cultural or religious groups.
In my wrong understanding, such a center would have been built with the 9/11 attacks in mind, rather than from the need to provide a community in the area its center.
Religious freedom is noble if it defends a community trying to build their center, but it's a tool if people just want to build a footnote to your country's memorial.
It took some time, but I'm coming around to understanding the Islamic Cultural Center, called Cordoba House, as a project that pre-existed 9/11, and is very much the work of the Muslim community in America
, as is their right here.
Prior to the attacks, the American Society for Muslim Advancement had scouted various locations around Manhattan
to build a thirteen story institution where Muslims could explore their faith in a larger American context. The Center is to include health facilities, galleries for art, and all sorts of amenities for their community. It will become a major attraction of New York
, and it is two blocks from Ground Zero, out of sight--a point I have reconsidered.
The committee building this center put in a bid for the McBurney YMCA on 23rd street, but lost to a higher offer. The Burlington Coat Factory downtown was then selected, an application put forward, and the Community Board agreed it would be a major boon to the neighborhood where such buildings have remained vacant for more than a decade.
The building will include a 9/11 memorial, but it is not being built specifically to showcase the particular suffering of one group of victims from the attacks. The Muslim Cultural Center has a much larger purpose, that pre-dates 9/11. Maybe the Center could provide space for an exhibit like that lost on 9/11, which I described in my call for fairness
in representing the suffering of various groups on that day.
There is no basis for rejecting such a center from opening on a street that is in need of investment, by a community that is indelibly part of New York in a country committed to freedom of religion in opposition to prejudice.
The center is a much-needed community center for moderate Muslims at a location two blocks from Ground Zero. Muslims are not taking over the solemnity of the 9/11 attacks. They are building a religious house in Manhattan down the street, as is their right, and opportunity, under the American Constitution.