So controversy continues to swirl about building a mosque in lower Manhattan and, like most people here in the NYC area I know, I have an opinion. Popular it may not be but the whole idea of this proposed building is not terribly popular either.
For many years, I worked at 7 WTC, linked by a beautiful glass walkway to the plaza where Towers 1 and 2 stood. I had a spectacular view from my office window of the plaza and the 2 buildings and spent many a happy lunch hour sitting on the plaza or shopping in the many stores and boutiques in the underground mall directly below the towers. Like any national treasure or monument – or for that matter, your own personal view of nirvana – you tend to take it for granted when you see it every day because you assume it will always be there and you will always be there.
When my company relocated us across the Hudson a few scant months before 9/11, I took one final picture of the towers from my window and said to my co-worker and friend, “I’ll never see this view again”. I know how I meant it when I said it but, in retrospect, it’s a little chilling to know that the view would vanish from the skyline in the blink of an eye.
I remember driving to work on 9/11 on the New Jersey turnpike, listening to music, when I spotted a fire and a cloud of smoke coming from one of the towers. Trying to find an all-news station, I called my mom – who was at work in NJ directly across from the towers – to see if she knew what was going on. And then she and I saw the second plane coming at the same time. We both saw it hit the second building and I could hear the screams of the people in the office building. “I’m coming to get you”, I told her. And, being the wonderful, selfless mother she is, she said, “I’ll be fine. Go get Brendan”.
And I did. I made an illegal u-turn on the New Jersey turnpike and headed off to get my great kid, who was only 9 at the time, to make sure he was safe and secure and to try to shield him from this nightmare we were all about to live through. I honestly don’t remember driving there, or getting off the road, or paying the tolls, or stopping at red lights. One minute I saw the plane hit, the next moment – it seemed – I was at his school.
I ran into a teacher in the parking lot who told me one of the buildings had collapsed. I thought she was crazy, imagining wild things, spreading rumors. Of course, she wasn’t and by the time I got my great kid and got us home, the other building was gone as well.
My building – my beloved 7 WTC – collapsed about 5:00 p.m. that day, ablaze from the debris coming off the towers and unattended by firefighters who were giving their lives to try to rescue people from Towers 1 and 2. I was sick watching it – my building, my floor, my desk – all gone. People I had worked with, spouses of colleagues, brothers of friends – all dead in the destruction of the day.
I tell you all this to give you some context as to what I’m going to say next. I love my country deeply and truly. I love it for many reasons, but certainly because it allows me – it allows each of us – to worship the being we believe in freely and without fear of harm or recrimination. It is a principle that our founding fathers built this great nation of ours upon. And I would never deny anyone the right to worship or pray to the power that they believe in.
But this is not about worship or prayer. This is about honoring what I consider sacred ground in America.
NYC is filled with many, many empty buildings and spaces that could be used to house a mosque. The building this has been chosen for this mosque was formerly a discount clothing store and I know exactly where it’s located and it is astonishingly close to Ground Zero. I know that the Archbishop of the Diocese of New York is looking to broker some kind of compromise and I hope he will be able to do that. Our former mayor – who, despite his many flaws – led our city and even our nation to some extent in the days and weeks after 9/11 has come out vehemently against this location and his opinion – and the opinion of many, many New Yorkers – cannot and should not be discounted or dismissed.
America is a country of religious freedom, absolutely. But we are also a country which suffered a terrible loss on 9/11 and, for many people, the presence of a mosque this close to what is sacred ground in this country – the burial site of many people – not only Americans, but other nationalities as well – whose remains were never identified is not acceptable. If someone suggested building something similar at a place like Arlington National Cemetery, or the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion. Yet we are having it in NYC – and the nation, I assume – and I don’t know why.
I am truly concerned that – if this project goes forward – it will only invite anger and aggression directed towards the site and the people building it. None of us wants that, and NYC certainly does not need that. The crafts people – plumbers, electricians, constructions workers – are already saying they will not work on this building. People who do that kind of work are the bread-and-butter of this country, hard-working citizens who have strong feelings about issues that they are concerned about. They are putting their beliefs ahead of their potential income in this, a true case of “Put your money where your mouth is”.
That we are even building anything on this site is abhorrent to me. We don’t need another tall building in NYC when the city is filled with empty real estate. And exactly who is going to occupy this new skyscraper? Would you work on the 100th floor of a building after what happened on 9/11? I didn’t think so. We need this site to remain a memorial for the victims, their families, NYC residents, US citizens and peace-loving people of the world. I realize that that ship has already sailed but the idea of this new building, within clear eye-sight of the WTC, is upsetting.
Things got accomplished in our country by our founding fathers, and by many leaders since then, because the words “compromise” and “the good of the country” were not considered dirty words. We live in a time where we’re a nation divided, with mudslinging and name-calling and viciousness and mean-spiritedness towards those who do not agree with us. That is not America and that is not what our founding fathers envisioned when they formed our country, nor is it what our men and women in the service put their lives on the line for every day, many times without the proper acknowledgement or thanks by us.
Finding a compromise that respects all Americans’ right to worship while also respecting the feelings of Americans who view the World Trade Center as hallowed ground would be in everyone’s best interest. And wouldn’t a compromise be a great step in healing the divisiveness that permeates our political discussions these days?
I can only hope and wish for it to be so.