Chimes of Freedom

24 Aug


One World Trade Center construction. Photo by DMT


Intransigence frustrates me.

The current controversy surrounding the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero has brought out the worst in a lot of folks in this country, and I wish there was some way to get all of the different sides to actually listen to one another. The problem is that the force of emotional fear and defensiveness has taken the place of the ability to rationally evaluate the situation and consider the options.

It’s certainly understandable why so many people are so opposed to the mosque. This is the physical location that quite literally trapped the painful memories of so many Americans in millions of pounds of concrete and steel. The site represents not only the destruction of the Trade Center itself, a feat of architectural engineering that many claimed was impossible and came to represent the “can-do” attitude of Americans, but it also represents the destruction of the hopes and dreams of the people who died in and around the Trade Center – and those of the countless numbers of people who loved and cared about them. No American has remained untouched by this staggering loss, so it makes sense to me why the emotions run high.

Globally, roughly 1.57 billion people identify as Muslim, and approximately 7 million of them reside in the U.S. The hijackers who carried out the 9/11 attacks numbered nineteen. Of course, this doesn’t include the people who helped them carry out the attacks by funding their activities or providing them the training they needed, but even if those numbers are in the hundreds – or thousands – they still represent only a small portion of the Muslims who wish to do harm to others. My p0int is that the people who intend to worship at the mosque are not the people who perpetrated the attack.

Those who oppose the mosque argue that to position it near Ground Zero is an insult to those who died because it allows Muslims to worship near the site. The fear is that since the men who carried out the attack [and those who later claimed responsibility for planning it] identified as Muslims, this mosque has the potential to be used as a “command central” for coordinating new attacks on the U.S. In reality, the mosque initiative is headed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a moderate Islamic leader who has written numerous books and who has consistently argued for tolerance and understanding on the part of both Muslims and Christians. His goal is to use the mosque as a place of worship for Muslims who support the Cordoba Initiative.

Imam Rauf has been criticized for a 60 Minutes interview following the 9/11 attacks in which he said that while the U.S. did not deserve to be attacked, the leaders of the U.S. needed to acknowledge that their economic and political decisions in the global sphere had helped create the conditions that led to the attack on the Trade Center. The reactions to Imam Rauf’s comments have been about labeling him “for us or against us,” when, in fact, the Imam’s thoughtful and complex discussion of the tragedy are exactly what has been needed. In order to prevent another attack, U.S. leaders have to be willing to openly and honestly acknowledge what has been done [in as much as any government can acknowledge their activities], and work toward a more peaceful resolution of the issues.

I’m not so naive that I think this will be an easy solution, nor am I saying that the U.S. is entirely at fault. What I’m saying is that the defensive stance has been proven to be detrimental to the societies in which it’s been taken [has anyone been paying attention to the situations in France and Britain?]. And this is not just a religious issue! Historically, the people who have felt that they mattered the least in a society have banded together – for better or worse – and worked to create change. Sometimes the results have been positive, but sometimes the levels of frustration have led people to believe that violence is the only way to get someone to pay attention to them.

My idealistic take on this issue is that hatred and fear, and the violence that is born out of them, are the result of ignoring the value of individuals as individuals. We all need to feel that we matter, and when we don’t feel like we do, we hurt. How that hurt gets played out in the future is the question.

What I see happening with the mosque issue is that as the debate grows more heated each side becomes less willing to even listen to what the other side has to say [and for the record, I believe that those who support the mosque need to listen just as carefully as those who don’t]. If each side is able to, at least, acknowledge the feelings and thoughts of the other side, and then there is hope that both sides can work together to figure out the solution that would have the greatest likelihood of ending in peace.

As I frequently say to my students, “Act as if what you do makes a difference because it does.” Wouldn’t it be nice if the residents of New York City were able to pull together and provide the template for the rest of the country on how to hurt…and then heal?

In the end, I think we can all agree that what we’d like most is to see the chimes of freedom flashing – for everyone.


2 Responses to “Chimes of Freedom”

  1. Lynette Hague August 24, 2010 at 8:29 am #

    Mary – Thomas Friedman had an editorial very recently on this issue as well. It was just as thought provoking as your writing is. -Lynette


  2. Mary August 24, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    Thank you so much Lynette!

    I love Thomas Friedman, and I absolutely *loved* “Invictus.” Friedman’s latest column is so right about what’s needed in order to orchestrate peace.

    Thank you for giving me a head’s up on this one!


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