Monday, August 16, 2010

On what it means to move on

Okay, so this actually started as a couple of comments on a friend's Facebook post, but then they were getting really long and wordy (long and wordy? Me? Noooo...) and so I decided they needed their own blog post.

The subject at hand was the misleadingly named "Ground Zero mosque." It's a misnomer because the structure in question isn't really a mosque, and it isn't really at Ground Zero. It's a Muslim community center, basically a Muslim YMCA, that will have a mosque in it, and it will be built two blocks from Ground Zero such that you can't see it from Ground Zero or Ground Zero from it. The location is currently the site of a defunct Burlington Coat Factory, now apparently considered hallowed ground due to its proximity to the WTC and the piece of one of the planes that crashed through its roof.

That hallowed ground stands in the shadow of a strip club; a stone's throw from two liquor stores; and if you make the mistake of turning left instead of right out the front door of the proposed community center, you'll find yourself passing a roadhouse and a reportedly pathetic nightclub with periodic lingerie parties on the five-minute walk to Ground Zero. (The New York Daily News counts a strip club, a lingerie parlor/peep show, 11 bars, 10 shoe stores, and "17 separate salons where a girl can get her lady parts groomed" within a three-block radius of Ground Zero. Oh, yeah, and a mosque.)

So let's get that out of the way right from the start: Objections to this project aren't because a two-block radius of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. Feministe's Jill--a New Yorker herself--points out that while the footprint of the WTC is hallowed ground if there ever was any, your average tourist treats it like EPCOT, so it's kind of disingenuous to be wringing hands about a community center--built in the spirit of neighborly relations, civic participation, social justice, compassion, education, and engagement, those bastards--a respectful two blocks away and completely out of view.

That's my statement on the whole "hallowed ground," "show respect" argument: It's bullshit, because the only reason you think this is disrespectful is that they're Muslims and thus all responsible for 9/11 and should keep their heads down and their eyes averted any time they wander south of Canal Street. So there's that.

And now I change gears to address more generally the spirit that keeps this debate going, now that it's been manufactured from whole cloth by one particular super-right-wing nutjob blogger. It's the spirit in all of us that won't let it die a graceful death.

At this point, I say something that could make me so deeply hated that I'll have to leave civilization and build myself a yurt, but that's never stopped me before: It's been nine years, people. Nine years. Most cars don't last nine years. Most Great Danes don't last nine years. The average first marriage doesn't lasts nine years. But we can sustain a near-decade-long hate-on for 1.5 billion people because 19 of them committed a horrific act of violence? "Sorry, the entirety of the world's second-largest religion. We're all about religious freedom and whatever, but you shouldn't build your community center on the site of this old Burlington Coat Factory because it's rude and we kind of hate you"?

Those 19 men killed nearly 3,000 people, and that will never not be a big deal. And we absolutely need to honor their memories. But how are we honoring them by saying, "No, one-fifth of the world's population, it's heartless of you to build a Muslim-thing within walking distance of Ground Zero because 9/11 was your fault, each and every one of you"? "You make me uncomfortable by your very Muslimity, so get the hell out of Lower Manhattan"?

Screw that noise. I'm all about compassion, and I hope the families of those 3,000 can find peace, but objection to this center isn't even universal among those families--some have gone so far as to come out and say they have no problem with it. And I'm definitely not all about letting some politically motivated wackjob 'winger and her mindless devotees manipulate those families and their grief to their own ends because it's important that we not forget to hate Muslims. Take a deep breath, drink a glass of wine, and go volunteer at a soup kitchen, for Christ's sake.

And this isn't me saying "move on." I mean, praise God, I've never been personally touched by anything like that, so far be it from me to tell anyone how long those wounds should take to heal. I just wonder how long we, as a country, have to pull out "Well, 'cause 9/11, that's why" as an excuse for everything we do or don't do. How long the footprint of the WTC is going to sit vacant while the entire country disagrees on what should go there. How long every Muslim cleric will be called upon to make a statement every time a Muslim somewhere kicks a kitten. How long a 9/11 will be a unit of measure to quantify the tragedy level of tragic events.

I remember how right after 9/11, people all over the country and all over the world were coming together and supporting each other and being compassionate and generous and people kept saying, "Wow, I hope we never forget what this is like." Instead, we "never forget" what it's like to be fearful and suspicious. Is there ever a point where we say, "Wow, that was really, really awful. It's a good thing we're a brave and resilient people who can grow together from the experience and come back stronger than ever"?

So I say, build the hell out of this community center--not as a defiant middle finger to a world still reeling from 9/11 but as a way to truly create community and bring people together in that same spirit we felt right after the towers came down. It's obvious our current approach isn't doing the job; maybe it's time to try something new.

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