On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a 7-year-old girl sitting cross-legged in front of my living room TV.
I didn’t fully grasp what the World Trade Center really was, or what those fiery explosions would mean for America’s future.
All I could really figure out, as the second plane hit, was that we would be entering a war.
Nine years later, the war not only continues but has led us directly into a second unseen war; a war against ignorance and prejudice in the “land of the free.”
I finally acknowledged this second issue when I learned of the controversy over Park51, an Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks from Ground Zero.
This park is to include cultural amenities, childcare services, a library, a restaurant and culinary school as well as other education programs, a 500-seat auditorium, and recreational facilities such as a swimming pool, gymnasium, and basketball court.
Attached but run separately is to be a mosque, open to all members, visitors, and to the New York community. A Sept. 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space will be hosted in Park51 as well.
My main issue with the controversy is that it’s a controversy at all. I understand that the wound of 9-11 is still fresh in the U.S. today, but I don’t understand how a mosque built two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center attack could affect that wound.
The Al-Qaeda terrorists claimed to be Muslims and were killing in the name of Allah; that is true. That does not mean, however, that the majority of Muslims share the belief that those murders were justified.
With any religion there will always be extremist groups that corrupt words and hurt innocent people. Any religious doctrine or holy book can be taken out of context, whether it is the Bible or the Qur’an.
The first known terrorist group was founded in the first century A.D. It was called Sicarii and was led by Judas of Galilee with the objective to end direct Roman rule over the Jews. As with Muslim terrorists, the Sicarii terrorists shed blood in the name of their god.
More recently, Aum Shinrikyo, a Japanese religious movement, gained international publicity in 1995 after carrying out five teargas attacks on the Tokyo Metro, the worst attack on Japan since World War II.
Even the Ku Klux Klan falls under this category as they believe only white, heterosexual Christians deserve freedom. However, I don’t recall any conflict throughout history over whether to put a Christian church near the site of a longago lynching.
The false link between Christianity and the Ku Klux Klan is typically understood, yet we still link Islam with Al-Qaeda. Why is it different when both religions
have been misconstrued and eventually led to innocents’ deaths?
True Muslims would never be violent or hateful. The word Islam even derives from the Arabic root “Salema,” meaning peace, purity, and obedience. Islam strongly opposes violence and terrorism, as well as spousal abuse and forced marriage.
The Articles of Faith give a general view of what Muslims believe in. These are faith in one God, or Allah, faith in God’s angels, faith in God’s prophets, especially Mohammed, faith in God’s books, especially the Qur’an, faith in the Day of Judgment, or the afterlife, and faith in God’s will.
Those beliefs don’t sound vastly different from the common beliefs of any other world religion. There is an obvious disagreement between Al-Qaeda and the
majority of Islam, yet the idea of putting an Islamic church near the site of 9-11 has gotten a lot of people talking.
Almost every media outlet has covered this topic in some way and the views differ greatly; some say that the Mosque is a slap in the face to the 9-11 victims, some say it is a sign of religious freedom, and some are staying on the fence.
Last spring, nine Agora students traveled to New York to attend the College Media Advisers Spring National Convention journalism conference. On their
first day, the students got a chance to see Ground Zero.
Marissa Beste, the new Agora Editorin- Chief, said it was a surreal experience.
“It brought back all those memories and feelings I had the day it happened, and even though the people in New York were used to seeing it every day, it still had this solemnity about it,” she said.
However, Beste said she really couldn’t see how a mosque built a few blocks away could take that solemnity and sacredness away.
“If the mosque had already been built when the Agora staff had been in New York last spring, I know that when we were visiting Ground Zero our focus would not have been on the mosque nearby,” she said. “It still would have been on the grounds we had intended to see in the first place.”
Joanna Sabo, professor of Political Science, is the head of the International Studies club and has taken students and faculty to the mosque in Dearborn.
Sabo said there is nothing against the law about either building the mosque or about protesting it, but it would be illegal to stop its construction.
“As a scholar and a believer of the U.S. Constitution, I believe that our country’s laws about religious freedom are clear,” she said. “Changing our wonderful,
working constitution to constrict more rights would be a mistake.”
Sabo said she understands the sensitivities about the location of the mosque, but blocking its construction leads to many questions, including how far from
Ground Zero is far enough?
“Religious divisiveness breeds war,” she said. “It is imperative to national security that we promote religious tolerance.”
Most individuals or media outlets that are opposed say it would be courteous to simply move the mosque to a different location. I agree that moving the mosque would cause much less controversy, but I think it is absolutely unnecessary.
Park51 is neither lawfully or ethically wrong, because the overlooked, simple fact is, the Muslims wishing to build Park51 are not the terrorists who caused Ground Zero. They are free, innocent Americans with the same rights to land and courtesy as any other U.S. citizen.
They have the freedom and the right to place their religious building wherever they want. If the site happens to be two blocks away from a tragedy caused by
disturbed people of the same, yet misconstrued, religion, so be it.
U.S. citizens were challenged on 9-11 to face terrorism, not the Arabic community or the Islamic religion. We were challenged to work together and defeat a common enemy, not cast uninformed, religious judgment on innocent people.
I just hope tolerance and freedom will be enough to fight against the conflicts to come, and I personally applaud the creators of Park51 for making a stand towards their religion, freedom, and equality.