BY JACK BRADY
New York City is home to thousands of people, thousands of cultures, and thousands of beliefs. It is a city practically defined by the differences and diversity between its people, yet during the catastrophic events of 9/11 the city came together in a display of unity and community the likes of which our nation has hardly seen. People of all beliefs and religions came together to mourn their losses and rebuild their city. Yet in the years since an unparalleled level of hatred and division has gripped the city and the nation, and now poisons our sense of tolerance and belief in religious freedom, the founding values of our nation.
The hostility some Americans feel towards the Islamic community center being built near ground zero isn’t out of sheer hatred towards Muslims, but rather a sort of quiet ignorance towards exactly what the building is and its message.
Most people instantly hear the word “mosque” and see minarets towering over ground zero and furious, black-turbaned men screaming in Arabic about the evils of America. What few people know, and even fewer people choose to accept, is that in actuality this is a site dedicated to promoting peaceful worship and tolerance between Islam and all religions, and seeks to be an integral part of the local Islamic and general population of New York.
Despite the fact that the Muslim community in the United States experienced just as much suffering and sorrow as the rest of the nation, the Muslim community became a prime target for discrimination after news of the 9/11 attacks. First responders to Ground Zero were Muslims, victims of the attacks were Muslim, and yet this is being ignored in furor over the proposed construction of the Park 51 Islamic Community center.
Often labeled as the “ground zero mosque”, Park 51 is in actuality an Islamic community center, replacing an existing Muslim worship site five blocks from ground zero. The center is designed be an ultra-modern, discreet building that imposes no religious ideology upon the surrounding area, despite the borderline racist names so fondly used by the media.
The common misconception that the beliefs of the 9/11 terrorists are the same as the general Muslim population has sparked a massive national debate, much of it fueled by ignorance and hatred. Conservative commentators and opportunistic politicians are acting as if the proposed building is going to be some sort of monument to the success of so-called “Muslim” terrorists. This is a fallacy created by ignorance and fear, and could not be farther from the truth. If anything, this fear-mongering is in itself a form of terrorism, spreading irrational fear and hatred across the nation.
Many families of the many victims of the 9/11 attacks have been outspoken defenders of the site’s construction, some even joining together with 40 or so religious and civic organizations for a massive candlelight vigil at the proposed site during the ninth anniversary of the attacks. If even the families of the very people who died during 9/11 can put aside their fear and doubts, why can’t we?
Religious freedom of expression is held as an unalienable right of the American people, to which each and every citizen is entitled. By opposing the construction of the Park 51 we are completing the job of the 9/11 terrorists. Their goal was to divide the American people and destroy our way of life. This resurgence of hatred towards Muslim Americans is not defying the terrorists, but instead fulfilling their desires. We must remember: You cannot fight terrorism with terrorism.