Why is it called Ground Zero Mosque
The attacks of September 11, 2001 left a deep wound in the city. That was nine years ago. But instead of slowly closing, it seems to be tearing open again and again: That the construction work is progressing so slowly that there is still no memorial, that the high-rise planned as the Freedom Tower can no longer be called the Freedom Tower for commercial reasons, all of that for example, not only upset relatives of the victims. But now there is new trouble, and this time the rift between the fronts is deep.
"Racists and hypocrites out of New York", shouted some at a demonstration, "no mosque, no mosque!" the others answer and ask "Did you forget 9/11?"
The subject of contention is the planned construction of a Muslim cultural center two blocks away from Ground Zero, on Park Place, hence the name "Park 51". Superficially, the point is that for many the location of the house of God is too close to the location of the attacks carried out by terrorists in the name of Allah. That is an insult to the victims. But there is much more to it than that.
Xenophobia and fear of economic insecurity mixed in with the defense of the core values of American society that both sides claim to be their own. Who owns America's freedom, who owns its tolerance, who's its founding myth? It is a controversial topic that extends far beyond the city of New York: the opponents rail against an impending jihad at Ground Zero, against a triumphant memorial of the terrorists who want to celebrate their murders, against the alleged spread of Sharia law in the USA - it is A hit for the conservative election campaigners like Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich, who inspire the voters with regular slogans
"Nazis are also not allowed to put up any signs at the Holocaust Museum, so we shouldn't accept a mosque at the World Trade Center!"
They form a reservoir for dissatisfied groups, like those of the indignant construction workers, who say: If this is being built, we won't lift a finger
"You don't have to have lost a loved one to object to the pain affecting the whole country."
On the other side are the initiators and supporters of the project. They welcome the center called Park 51 at demonstrations, they carry posters around the area: A Big Apple with a peace sign in it, YES! to a mosque in my neighborhood. They want to build bridges and are looking for reconciliation
"This center should be a place where people can meet; Muslims should be able to pray here and welcome Jews and Christians, so they can talk to each other and so can heal wounds,"
says Daria, a young New York Muslim woman.
"Tolerance and Openness!"
It's about American values, it's about tolerance and openness that shape this country and this city, says Mayor Michael Bloomberg:
"America was born out of the principle of religious freedom. Why should Americans, descendants of those who escaped religious persecution, now pursue Islamic teachings?"
Charles Wolf thinks - he too lost relatives in the attacks.
"The advantage of doing it right here is that it helps us to step up efforts to integrate - part of our problem was getting our work out to the public,"
says Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the project. Its aim is to improve relations between the Muslim world and the West. To do this, he repeatedly goes on lecture tours through the Arab countries. The New York Times recently reported how he had to defend himself in Egypt from the impression that he was an American agent because he was trying to give the Middle East a positive, conciliatory image the USA to convey. Here, on the other hand, he has to keep asking himself whether his cultural center is sponsored by terrorists.
"Where does the money come from?" "
Until a few months ago, nobody had been upset about the plans for the cultural center; A prayer room has been available at the address in Park Place for some time without bothering any of the residents. The building was a shell factory until it was hit by falling airplane parts on September 11, 2001. The factory was closed. The provisional point of contact for Muslims who want to practice their faith is quickly overcrowded, as are other mosques in the area. So expanding it seemed like a good idea - until it suddenly became a problem.
"" Suddenly it became a political power game, "
says Daria, the young New Yorker.
"It started with people like Pam Geller who are racist and extremist and they made it a global discussion through the media. But we will hopefully show America stands by the values of its Constitution."
Many politicians from the moderate camps are silent in order to prevent the discussion and thus the podium of the ultra-conservatives from growing any further. But in doing so, they often achieve the opposite. Others suggest nuances: Many say it's just "insensitive to build it here," like Caroline Hunt from Manhattan. "In a certain way it would be a victory for them" - in other words: Islam, from which terrorism is said to arise, you don't have to be poked at it with your nose.
Many people now think like them. While New Yorkers were initially undecided - if they even bothered with the issue - that changed after Republicans put it on their agenda. The majority are against the building of the cultural center, at least at this point. The conclusion of people who reasonably argue against this and who nevertheless do not want to be accused of intolerance is something like: "Nobody has anything against Japanese cultural centers, but nobody would build one directly in Pearl Harbor", the place where the Japanese during World War II have inflicted an eternally festering wound on the pride of the Americans.
As New York State Governor David Paterson said:
"These are the conditions of a Greek tragedy in which both sides are right and yet clash."
He understands the impulse to find another location for the cultural center with a mosque, says Mayor Bloomberg, and also the terrible pain many people experience, which nobody can understand.
"There are people of all religions who believe that a compromise will end the debate. But that will not work. Then the question will be: How big is the mosque-free zone? There is already a mosque four blocks from Ground Zero This is a test of how committed we are to our American values, and we have to have the courage to stand by our beliefs. We have to do what is right, not what is easy . "
This attitude, with which he is pretty much alone in this determination, has earned Bloomberg a lot of admiration from people who previously found him fickle. The man knows what he is talking about, it is also his story, it is a typical story for the USA: His Jewish parents could only buy a house in a suburb in Massachusetts through a straw man, their Christian lawyer, in order not to face hostility . Michael Bloomberg then became one of the richest people in the USA and now wants to fight as a committed mayor to ensure that his city does not lose the values that are so important to him personally.
"You have every right to build this community center,"
says Brian from the Bronx.
"I don't understand the riot. It seems like they are building Freedom Towers on one side, but then they are taking away the freedom of others to practice their religion - that's so hypocritical!"
Elaine is a community center advocate. In the pouring rain she marches through the streets towards the planned location of Park 51. Religious freedom and tolerance are among their innermost convictions; she herself is a Catholic of Italian descent. Your son has been to Afghanistan and Iraq and is now asking:
"What did I fight for to defend the constitution? Why did I risk my life? Why did my friends die? So that the opponents now destroy religious freedom?"
Together with like-minded people, she organized protests within a very short time. Those concerned, the Muslims, have so far been very reluctant. You certainly don't want to provoke anyone. Which is good to underline their concern to show Islam as a peaceful religion. On the other hand, in this way, at least in the public perception, the debate is mainly left to the opposing loudspeakers.
Few of them express themselves as clearly as Daria - she feels attacked because
"It boils down to the fact that this is not my country - I was born in New York - this is my country like any other; not only do we have the right to pray there, but we should be as welcome as they are all other churches and synagogues in the neighborhood. "
Muslims who were actually proud to live in this tolerant city are now afraid. Some representatives of the Muslims gathered last week on the steps of City Hall, the venerable town hall, not far from Ground Zero. They demonstrated in scorching heat for their right to exercise their religion freely - and because they followed the commandments of the fasting month of Ramadan, they were not even allowed to drink anything. One of those who support this cause is Abdul Bakih, Imam from Queens borough:
"If you stop this project, you will also forbid all other religious communities from building places of worship, including Jews and Christians. This is not a mosque, it's a cultural center."
Park 51 is planned as a 13-storey building, similar to a YMCA or a comparable Jewish cultural center, as a contact point for believers, also of other religions, with youth work, swimming pool, theater and next to all this a prayer room. But there is also a memorial for September 11, 2001.
"Did you know that there was a prayer room in the World Trade Center? And that up to 300 Muslims died on September 11th? But that's not the point."
Comparisons of Muslims with Nazis are on the one hand, the fear of a kind of pogrom night on the other. The dispute is instrumentalized and harshly simplified: For example, the community center is only called "Ground Zero Mosque" by the opponents. It is clear to them that the Sharia law is to be preached here and the 9/11 attacks are to be celebrated.
"They see it as a triumph for the terrorists, a monument to them."
The comparisons are becoming increasingly outrageous: "Building a mosque at Ground Zero is like building a Hitler memorial in Auschwitz" is written on the opponents' posters or: "Building a mosque here is like building a mafia headquarter right next to it Police set up. " If only it stayed with such sayings. Or with comparatively harmless songs like this:
"We got to stop the mosque at Ground Zero." "
The protests are becoming more and more radical and actually more and more hostile towards Muslims: In New York State, teenagers drive wildly around mosques to disrupt Friday prayers. A taxi driver was attacked with a knife in Manhattan. His passenger allegedly asked him beforehand if he was a Muslim. The construction site of an Islamic Center in Tennessee was set on fire. Radical opponents said that if Park 51 were built, there was a risk of attacks. Friday prayers are already taking place there under police protection. A fundamentalist Christian group in Florida is calling for the Koran to be burned on September 11th. And for the same day, the action alliance called "Stop the Islamization of America" invites you to a protest rally near Ground Zero. Newt Gingrich wants to speak there and the Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders has also announced himself.
That has nothing to do with the silent remembrance that otherwise dominated this day. The discussion becomes more and more extreme and malicious, hostile and downright inflammatory. That's pretty far from what Park 51's opponents are trying to preserve:
"" This is a cemetery, "
says firefighter Tim Brown. He lost his best friends here on September 11th, he survived when the tower fell on his head, saying that his whole world was destroyed by radical Muslims.
They wanted to celebrate their murders on "holy ground". Opponents often call it holy ground. Nonsense, says advocate Elaine,
"Then why is Century 21 open?"
The huge department store for discounted branded goods is directly opposite Ground Zero. In contrast, two blocks are the world in New York. There are also betting shops or clubs for men, with all inclusive arrangements - not a sacred area.
"I understand the pain and loss people still suffer from."
The New Yorker Kristabelle thinks.
"It just wasn't that long ago, and who was here that day can still remember exactly - I still remember walking past my neighboring houses and there were missing posters. But for me the most sacred thing is that people can practice their religion. "
It's a bad mix: The enemy is not only potential terrorists, but also those who the opponents consider to be proponents:
"Do you want to give up your freedom?" they shout, "Anything that defines us as a nation just for a few cocktail parties on the Upper West Side with some elite New York Times editors? Nooo!"
A great feeling of inferiority becomes evident here. The noise continues:
"" Do you want to give up everything for two big boys? Nooo! "
One of them is said to be Mayor Bloomberg, billionaire and advocate of a tolerant attitude, a red rag for the opponents
"" People feel pressured and scared, "
says Islamic Studies Professor John Esposito,
"They feel threatened by the bad economy, by terrorism and so on - the risk is that Islamophobia will become the new form of discrimination, after anti-Semitism and racism against blacks."
Hostility seems to be spreading across the land. The distrust of Muslims is by no means limited to a radical minority. Many moderate citizens admit such tendencies in themselves. The reasons are varied: Fear of economic uncertainty or a lack of differentiation: Muslims offer terrorists a base, a common assumption like this New Yorker:
"It would be better to build the center ten blocks away, otherwise terrorists will use it as a starting point for a new September 11 against a new World Trade Center."
Wisam Sharif, a Muslim clergyman, wonders when faced with such statements:
"What happened then? Did 19 men, the terrorists of 9/11, destroy everything? We have been part of this society for so long, I ask the Americans: what was the decisive factor that made it upset? We were your doctors for so long , X-ray technician, takeaway seller. "
Muslims are the weakest part of society, without any noteworthy social and political lobby, say sociologists; therefore, they offer the simplest destination - they represent change for the worse in the eyes of many Americans.
What makes this anniversary of the attacks particularly tricky: The end of the fasting month of Ramadan falls on this weekend. Because of the aggressive mood, many communities recommend not to celebrate a boisterous festival on September 11th, as this could too easily be interpreted as a celebration of triumph by ill-minded people.
"He has never been so scared as he is now,"
says Eboo Patel from an interfaith youth organization. Still he remains confident
"Because America's power to integrate has always triumphed over intolerance and it will now."
If not, America will have a growing problem. That may now only be attached to a single building. But Park 51 is the center of a storm that can sweep across the United States. It has a symbolic effect, for better or for worse. And symbols are especially important in America. A house or two towers in New York move the whole country. As a New Yorker says:
"Denying Muslims the right to build their mosque wherever they want does more injustice and harm to our society than the atrocities of 9/11."
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