9/11 Victory Mosque? No, A Victory Center for Our Values
By Sahar Khan, published October, 2010
I’ve been following the news on the Islamic center to be built in Manhattan for some time and have tried to contain my anger for some time as well. Of course the fundamental issue is freedom of religion. But some things become more than mere fundamentals, or reason, or things a rational mind can appreciate. Some things are about emotion. The pain of those who lost loved ones in 9/11. Maybe I have not been able to understand this pain. And I don’t understand why because I like to pride myself on being a compassionate person. So, let’s leave the politics alone. Let’s talk about “the people” for once.
I am a Palestinian mother whose son was run over by an Israeli tank. Can I be anti-Semitic now? I am also a Jewish father whose family was killed in Auschwitz. Can I hate all Germans now? I am also an Indian Muslim husband whose pregnant wife was raped and our barely born child killed by a Hindu “radical”. Can I be a Hindu-hater now? I am also a Kashmiri Hindu of the Pandit diaspora who was driven away from my home by “radical” Kashmiri Muslims? Can I hate all Muslims now? I am also an Afghani sister whose brothers were annihilated by American bombings in my village. Can I hate all Americans and hold Christianity accountable? I am also a New York widow, the mother of two, who lost her husband in 9/11. Can I be Islamophobic now?
I am the ultimate surviving victim and my sorrow warrants my hatred towards whomever I perceive to be the perpetrator. But how long and how many will I hate? At this rate, I’m going to end up hating everyone. I have already professed my hatred for the Jew, Hindu, Christian and Muslim. And there are some I hide because I am embarrassed that my hating quota is filling up without emptying any problems. But I know hate is futile because the world has tried and tested it. The Palestinian, Indian Muslim, Afghan, American and many more inside me have tried it. It only creates a vicious cycle of violence and, needless to say, hatred. It renders everyone the victim and the perpetrator.
I haven’t been able to understand the fear of Islam written all over the faces and placards of protestors. I am honestly saddened by the signs stating that the community center is “sacrilege and mockery,” “celebrates and glorifies 3,000 murders,” or is a “9/11 victory mosque.” They call Allah a monkey god and say Jesus hates Islam. Really, when I hear or read these, they are not just heard or read. They are felt like a stab in the heart. I always thought that the Islamophobia shown in movies and media was blown out of proportion and that people didn’t act in such a way. I didn’t mind too much that politicians or a few prominent commentators made discriminatory remarks, but images of protestors from recent days hang from my eyes like tears.
Perhaps I am taking this too far, especially over an Islamic center in Manhattan. But, it has become a big deal and I just want to understand why. Some things need to be taken that far for them to be understood. Some believe this mosque would be a desecration or that its supporters disregard the sensitivities of those who lost friends and family in 9/11. If this Islamic center is built and not torn down, it will definitely be a symbolic “victory mosque.”
However it will not be the victory of those responsible for 9/11. It will be the victory of values and a message that violent actions have not shaken a brick in the building of values. It will confirm that not a single leaf has fallen off of the tree of values. Values deserve to survive the onslaught of 9/11.
Imam Faisal who leads the initiative initially wanted to call it Cordoba House. Cordoba was the name of an Andalucian city where Muslims lived peaceably with other faiths. This has been revamped as “Islamic conquest” by some. Faisal said the center was conceived to promote interfaith dialogue. But, of course, this falls on deaf ears.
Before, I was lukewarm on the issue. Now, I want the community center to become a reality so that those 3,000 didn’t die in vain. It would stand proudly in Manhattan like the ultimate reformed surviving victim and scream: “The hatred that caused those deaths will not be allowed to bring more people into its fold. This is a gift for those 3,000.” The center would not celebrate 9/11, but commemorate those who died. It would not be sacrilege but shows commitment to values in the face of adversity.
Islam has also been hurt by 9/11. We should understand that when those American planes were hijacked, Islam too was hijacked. A very big blemish has been left on the Muslim reputation and it is only natural to want to present oneself differently. And, it is only right that such an opportunity should be present in a country like America.
The hijacker has been successful in making the hijacked (Americans and Muslims alike) quibble between themselves. The strife between the two hijacked parties is a victory for radicals, not the Islamic center, which would work to end the quibbling. “Muslims” have wronged you? Now let Muslims make amends with this proud symbol of interfaith cooperation. Symbols are beautiful in fiction. But sometimes they are more needed in reality.
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