This Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, yet there still remains a hole in the ground where the World Trade Center was desecrated, and many of the courageous rescue workers from this tragic event still go without adequate healthcare for injuries caused. Instead, we appear to be concentrating all our energies on two blocks around the corner at a site where one can’t even see Ground Zero. It is ironic that we have failed to memorialize by corrupting our memories with the rhetoric of hatred and fear.
The construction of the Park 51 Muslim community center in Manhattan is not just about an established legal right to build the site, nor is the issue solely one of preserving multicultural values. Rather, in addition to both of these rationales, it is imperative that the site be built in order to engage Americans in a dialectic of what it means to be American and how to best preserve our future security.
If the 9/11 attacks are seen as the culmination of an era of terror imposed upon the United States, then it is crucial to ensure that such an event never occur again. The best place to curb the hatred that provokes terror is at home. There is no definitive reason why a Muslim living in America would wake up one morning and decide that he is no longer an American, but instead, a jihadist fighting a sacred war against his newly perceived enemy. Nevertheless, there is a post-9/11 trend of American Muslims converting to terrorism. In 2009, Fort Hood witnessed American-born army major Nidal Malik Hassan kill 13 of his comrades in a shooting spree. On May 1 of this year, Faisal Shahzad, a naturalized American citizen, attempted to detonate a crude car bomb in Times Square.
The very act of terrorism is an act of generalizing on the basis of ignorance. Innocent people are attacked because they are labeled and hated for the policies of a larger and more powerful entity. Islam is much bigger than the extremism that pollutes and degrades its name. Therefore, we must not generalize on the basis of such fear or resentment, because to do so would cause a retreat from our goal of inclusion. The logic of former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, that “there should be no mosque near ground zero so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia,” again reduces America to values that don’t define to our inclusive state.
It is for this very reason that President Obama followed President Bush’s rhetoric that the war on terrorism is not to be perceived as a war on Islam. In May, the White House published its national security strategy, which outlines that one way to guard against radicalization at home is to ensure diversity as a strength of America, not as a source of division, insecurity, tension, or fear. Perhaps it is due to the extensive religiosity of the United States, or perhaps due to the principle of separation of church and state, but America has throughout history been a nation of welcoming embrace to followers of Islam, and it must remain so not only for the sake of its values but also for the sake of self-interest. America is safer if its Muslims feel included, incorporated, and overall American, instead of isolated and polarized because of their identity.
Any argument opposing the Cordoba House inherently leans on the false notion that all Muslims are implicated in the atrocities of September 11. To argue that this site is “insensitive” is to contend that Islam, over anything else—crude or whatnot—that resides in Manhattan, is offensive to the American ideal of the preservation of freedom. This is to generalize and target Islam, as well as to forget all of the innocent Muslims that died on September 11, 2001.
The community center is inspired by New York’s 92nd Street Young Men’s Christian Association, a Jewish community center that also reaches out to other religions. Its site was selected precisely as an attempt to deal with some of the wounds caused by the attacks on the Twin Towers and the events that have since followed. To be hurt by the construction of this site makes sense only if one buys the false idea that Muslims in general were perpetrators of the atrocities.
The best way to commemorate the victims of September 11, therefore, would be to honor them rather than to create an enemy. We must maintain the values that made these people American, and we must build the Cordoba House.
Shalini K. Rao ’12, a Crimson editorial writer, is a government concentrator in Winthrop House.