- Posted August 30, 2010 by
New York, New York
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Islamic center near Ground Zero
Setting an Example
- katie, CNN iReport producer
Like many people, I have been closely following the events of the past few weeks, surrounding the debate over the more-controversial-than-it-should-be Park51 community center. My interest in the matter has grown to borderline obsession, as I observed this issue swell from community disagreement to n#ational divisor. The religious freedom points have been exchanged ad nauseum. I’m tired of hearing both sides use it as a crutch while they try to find better words to suit their arguments. It’s time to put that part of the debate to bed.
I’m 24 years old. I mention this because I have yet to hear any voices of America’s youth speaking up about their feelings regarding this matter, at least not beyond the frenzy of Facebook status updates and “tweets”. I have yet to see or hear anyone asking how my generation feels about this project. Of course, I imagine my generation’s age is the primary reason for this, but it’s also why I bring it up.
I’m not insensitive to those who lost loved ones on 9/11, but since I didn’t experience personal loss that day, it puts me in an awkward position when I express my views on this matter. I was 15 when the attacks occurred. The dust clouds I viewed from the Hudson River, enshrouding what would be a forever changed skyline, is an image that still haunts me. However, personal losses aside, my generation experienced another loss that day. We lost our innocence, because we knew this was going to be our fight in the years to come. We knew that this war would be carried on our backs. The politicians and pundits could wax poetic about their respective views, but the young adults of America would be doing the real heavy lifting. These are the young adults who are now getting ready to start families of their own, and to raise the next generation of Americans. That generation will inherit the consequences of this war. What kind of America are we making for them?
The 9/11 attacks were a gut-wrenching reminder of the hatred that exists in the world—hatred that has caused us great pain. But how long must we allow our pain to manifest itself in socially destructive ways? Across the country, protests are springing up against mosques being planned in other communities, spurred on by the protests surrounding Park51. The opponents of Park51 base their objections on the “insensitivity” of the location, but what’s the excuse for people wanting to stop a mosque in Temecula, California? Or Sheboygan, Wisconsin? Or Murfreesboro, Tennessee? If you read Laurie Goodstein’s August 7 New York Times article, you’ll see that some members of the opposition are quite clear in stating that their problem is with Islam itself. Despite the vast range of Islamic sects, it’s not uncommon for members of these movements to toss all Muslims into the same pot. Perhaps that’s why so many of Park51’s supporters feel there are undertones of bigotry in this case, despite the opposition’s denials. They need to do some honest soul-searching, and ask if their objections would really be this severe if a synagogue or church were to be built there.
If I may digress for a moment, my gripes with the opposition aside, I have my own axe to grind with my fellow supporters. I was at the August 22 rally in New York City, and among the supporters were people shouting slogans like "Free Palestine," passing out communist/socialist revolutionary literature, trying to get people to sign a petition to send a U.S. flotilla to Gaza, and holding signs saying, "Muslims are not the enemy...Big Business is." My friends, whether I may agree or disagree with your relative sentiments, these particular rallies are neither the time nor the place for these issues. This facility is not about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's not about revolution, and it's not about Big Business. Save it for a more relevant rally and focus on the issue at hand. For once, stop being the "professional left," as the right-wing pundits take such pride in calling you. It weakens us and makes us seem fractured at a time where we can ill afford to appear in such a manner.
Back to the main issue. What worries me is the state of mosques beyond Ground Zero, such as the embattled ones mentioned above. If Park51 were to crumble under the tide of mob pressure, what comes next? How would that empower the other anti-mosque movements in the country? Will it grant them a greater sense of legitimacy to say, “Of course you’re free to practice your religion…but we don’t want you to do it here.” If that were to happen, then by the same right should the Muslims of Dearborn, Michigan have the privilege to protest and try to stop the construction of a church or synagogue, and say that they shouldn’t be building there? Would Jews in Great Neck be right to try to stop a church or a mosque from being built there? What comes after that? What cycles of reciprocity could be spawned from this, and what kind of example does this set? Things have gotten to the point where the Tennessee center’s construction site was been subjected to arson. So what comes next?
Naïveté comes with youth, but sometimes it can allow us to be the best of bridge-builders. I was in Israel a month ago, with young Jews like myself. One night, we stayed at a youth hostel in the city of Arad. Also staying there was a group of Muslim teenagers, participating in a religious camp program. At first, our two groups stayed separate from one another, but when some of us went over to introduce ourselves, the atmosphere changed from one of distant observation to one of warmth and friendship. We kicked a soccer ball back and forth. We shared laughs over cell phone videos of these kids performing acts of teenage silliness, even in religious school. We may not have understood everything about each other’s backgrounds or religions, but we still built bridges and connected with one another. That’s what we need here: to be a nation of people who can make a concerted effort to connect with those different from us for the sake of truly peaceful coexistence, not who lash out against that which we don’t understand.
When I start a family, that’s what I’m going to teach my children. That’s the America I want them to grow up in.