On Sept. 11, 2001, my daughter was on her fourth day at Stuyvesant High School, just a couple of blocks off the World Trade Center.
My wife and I lost touch with her for the entire day. Then, finally, at 10 at night, she came back home — covered with ashes and dust and asbestos off the towers. We’ll live for the rest of our lives with fear that she might get some horrible disease from it.
The attacks on 9/11 were all too real for us. So I deeply understand why people want Ground Zero to be respected. I share that sentiment.
But I do not respect the knee-jerk politics around the so-called Ground Zero mosque.
Republican presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich has said, “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington.”
There’s a huge difference here. Gingrich is implying either that all Muslims were behind the 9/11 attacks, or that the leaders of the proposed Islamic community center near Ground Zero are disciples of Osama bin Laden.
Neither is true.
President Obama initially said, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country.” He properly reminded us that “this is America.” Unfortunately, he later equivocated.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the midst of a tough senate re-election battle in Nevada, said that “the mosque should be built someplace else.” Election fears are real, after all!
It is disappointing that seasoned politicians like Obama and Reid did not anticipate ahead of time the exploitation of the issue, even though common sense indicated it was bound to happen. Now, even moderate Democrats are playing the compromise and catch-up game to placate an unsure electorate and an angry, unemployed work force. It’s not going well. Just a couple of weeks ago, a group of workers demonstrated at Ground Zero against building the Islamic center near the site.
A non-issue is suddenly an explosive election issue. That is bizarre, since we ought to be talking about the unemployment and housing crises, the BP oil spill and the war in Afghanistan.
Here’s a proposal for a new house of worship: What if we put our energy instead toward building an all-faith peace center on that sacred ground, where all Americans would be able to come and pray for global peace, inclusion, understanding and tolerance in America, and denounce bigotry and violence of any kind?
And what if we chose a less politically sensitive time to do it?
Today, our country is careening down a dangerous road.
This is not my America. This is not my daughter’s America.
Partha Banerjee is a college teacher and a human rights and media activist in New York. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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