‘Ground Zero Mosque’

In 2010, in New York City, the construction of a mosque is being halted under the guise of sensitivity. Since when has “It’s a sensitive issue” been a legit reason to deny someone their rights? I keep hearing “They have the right to build the mosque there but we’re asking them to be less insensitive.” What? Since when do feelings and sensitivity matter so much? Here we are, the same country that watched New Orleans rot in the days following Katrina- but we’re justifying stopping a mosque/community center from being built two blocks and nine years removed from 9/11 because it’s insensitive?

If you need an example of the venom and ignorance people are exhibiting, watch and listen to this crowd.

I’m amazed at the grace this guy showed here. Turns out his name is Kenny and he’s a carpenter…working at ground zero. Maximus would probably say “There was a dream called New York City. This is not it! THIS IS NOT IT!”

This mass hysteria has reminded me of events in India circa 1992. Here’s a brief recap. In 1528, the conquering Mughuls defeated the Hindu kings and enforced Mughal rule over the population of Uttar Pradesh among other places.  The story goes that the Mughals then chose to build a mosque in the place of the temple in Ayodhya. The temple had special significance in the eyes of Hindus because legend has it that it was built on the birthplace of Rama, a Hindu God. The mosque was built, named Babri Masjid and there it stood for over 400 years. India became independent of the Brits in 1947. By the mid 1980s, Hindu nationalists spoke out about the mosque and how it stood on sacred ground. This culminated in the events of 6 December, 1992 when the government granted permission for a “non violent protest” at Babri Masjid which  turned out to be 150,000 people storming the mosque and reducing it to rubble.

Hindus "non-violently protesting" Babri Masjid

This incident resulted in the death of 2000 people at the site as well as escalating Hindu-Muslim violence across the nation. For weeks, or maybe months, people fought and died in the name of Ayodhya. I clearly remember school closing for weeks because buses were being burned and stoned. With people in them.

We didn’t talk about it much. I didn’t bring it up with my Muslim friends. I didn’t bring it up with anybody. An elephant in the room, in India no less. I certainly thought about it but I brought it up only once. I was staying at my uncle’s place in Kerala and we used to wake up early and read the newspaper in the garden. After reading of Ayodhya violence yet another time, I asked my uncle what he thought about it. He was a religious man. He smiled his huge smile and I sensed that he hadn’t spoken to anyone about it either. He said to me “Maybe Hindus are at fault, huh? Maybe we could try to forget what happened hundreds of years ago?” I was so relieved when he said that. It gave me faith that people could put aside their own beliefs and fears and focus on the bigger picture -the question of what’s right and what’s wrong and what’s best for the future. Of course I was a little kid so for the most part, I was just happy he agreed with me.

The “Ground Zero Mosque” issue reminds me of the Ayodhya issue. Once again, more than 17 years later, people are protesting the construction of a mosque on sacred ground (btw 4 blocks from an existing mosque). It’s even more ridiculous this time. In India, there have always been high tensions between Hindus and Muslims and it all exploded under the storm of circumstances that was Ayodhya. Also, as amazing as India is, it’s never been known for freedom.

Here and now, what is our excuse? The USA has been synonymous with freedom my entire lifetime but how can we claim to be protecting freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq if we don’t protect freedoms right here in New York City?

I’m fully aware of the tragic events of September 11th. I’ve met people who lost parents in the towers. It’s heartbreaking. Still, Islam as a whole is not responsible for that. Blaming an entire religion is like blaming an entire region or state or country for an individual’s actions.

The first I heard of any of this was Mayor Bloomberg’s very well-written speech in front of the Statue of Liberty. He delivered it here because of the symbolism involved. Today, the Statue maintains it’s status as a symbol of freedom but for how long? How long can we call ourselves the land of the free and the home of the brave if we surrender our principles at the first sign of fear? America used to carry itself with strength. Since 9/11, a lot of Americans have felt vulnerable for the first time and our strength and confidence has given way to paranoia and ignorance. And people seem proud of it sometimes. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nT0OqHr3wHQ It’s as if being attacked by terrorists gave us the right to stop holding ourselves accountable. Nothing could be further from the truth. ‘An eye for an eye and the whole world goes blind’ as the saying goes.

Not only are we discriminating against Islam by making these organizers jump through hoops to build something that is their fundamental right, but we are also now using ‘Muslim’ as an accusation/insult. This obsession with “Is Obama a Muslim?” is one of the most pathetic stories I have ever seen. I remember being disgusted by “the accusation” during his campaign. It was a pathetic attempt to attack him by specifically appealing to those who would hold it against him whether true or not. Today, according to polls, 1 out of 5 Americans believes he is a Muslim. This belief is of course attached to the belief that this must be the Apocalypse what with a Muslim President and all. Impeach him! He’s a secret Muslim! Impeach him and then deport him! This paranoid fear is pervasive. Protesters cite 9/11 as their reason to fight the “Ground Zero Mosque” but what about all the other mosques being protested across the country at this moment? What are they two blocks from? I recently heard a talking head on TV say that mosques give terrorists a place to meet up and plot. Really? They can’t do that in a hotel room? Perhaps they’ll deny Muslims hotel rooms next. What about parks and restaurants after that?

In the days after 9/11, the media popularized an expression. It stated that post 9/11- if you behaved differently in any way- then “the terrorists have won.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_terrorists_have_won If you stopped shopping, they won. If you stopped eating out and drinking and hooking up, they won. If you didn’t go to Daytona Beach for Spring Break, they won. It was a stupid, overused jingoistic expression. Well, on a serious note, if they prevent this “Ground Zero Mosque” from being built, those terrorists won.

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door."

1:25 – 2:40 mark: Our old friend Chris explains how discrimination disguises itself as patriotism.







One response to “‘Ground Zero Mosque’”

  1. Chitrangada Maitra

    Agree with a lot of what you have observed!

    While we talk about letting everybody practice their religion of choice, a data point to note:
    Such courtesy, such a recognition of the right to worship is flagrantly denied in many Muslim countries. Non-Muslims are not even allowed to set foot in holy cities like Mecca and Medina. It is a crime to possess a Bible or any other Christian or Jewish paraphernalia in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim theocracies. There are no Christian churches or Jewish synagogues there: they are forbidden, against the law.

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