Last year, the madness surrounding the possibility of a mosque at Ground Zero shocked, scared and offended people from all political, social stripes. Then the facts came out. It wasn't at a mosque. It wasn't at Ground Zero. Strip clubs were in the area. It was an abandoned Burlington coat factory, and most importantly the center was centered around interfaith dialogue. There would be a 9/11 memorial built-in even to soothe people's pain about the events of that day. Then things got nutty, a pastor down in Florida threatened to burn Qurans and we saw the reasonable people in the middle caught in a crazy place where the fear of terrorism almost became a form of terrorism. A threat to disrupt our military's efforts abroad in Muslim nations. The streets of lower Manhattan 9/11/10 erupted in chaos, screaming matches, and a raging street battle that far exceeded any disrespect of a community center being built.
(Recently, Park 51 (along with SOMA Architects) revealed preliminary renderings of the proposed mosque. The $100 million mixed-use community center showcases a contemporary, honeycomb-like structure (perhaps to signify the complexities within the religion). The use of all white is an interesting choice as the color tends to symbolize purity and innocence. Compared to neighborhood buildings, Park 51 will establish a dominance with its structure. Another element we found interesting is how the asymmetrical lines throughout the mosque converge to create organic, Stars of David (maybe it is just our eyes).
Now with developer and CEO Sharif El-Gamal making a new push for the center, the question comes whether America is ready to let go of the issue as they did during most of the past year, or if a 9/11 tenth anniversary is enough to spur that rage and hideous misinformed rioting we saw last year.
Will people this year understand that it's quite a distance from the site? Will a budgetary crisis in Washington distract us from feeling a need to fear "the Muslim next door?" Clearly some will continue to push this as an issue. One where a fear of an "victory mosque" supersedes any kind of rational thought. Where a scar of fear and pain dominates the very ideals of what this country was built on. But if in a second year in a row, with Bin Laden dead, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars wrapping up and serious domestic issues at home, what kind of message do we send to the world if we still want to blame our problems on a mere community center in one of the most diverse cities in the world?
Granted, Park51 has not made huge inroads in explaining their case to the American people. That essentially, to move is to validate the idea that the entirety of Islam is responsible for 9/11, and is actually a victory for terrorists that would love to see the US engage in a holy war more than watch us actually live side by side, looking beyond the labels of religion and into the hearts of each other's beings. To not judge until someone has actually done something wrong. To not see someone as evil or devious just because they're different.
Certainly Islam has been a topic of discussion and radical Islam a fear in many American's minds. Breivik in Norway shot up kids on an island because of his of Muslims. Bloggers like Pamela Geller claim to have Muslim friends, but rant about the evil nature of the religion on her site daily, and plans to host a huge Anti-Islam rally on 9/11. Presidential candidatel, Herman Cain got thrown under water for statements about how communities should be able to prevent mosques from being built to somehow protect freedom of religion - one of the most oddly contradictory statements of the 2012 election. Yet his popularity hasn't completely waned. Strong hardliners, deeply afraid of a change in this country have to ask themselves what are they afraid of? Because ultimately, they are not afraid of a community center with Muslims, swimming pools, and culinary classes. They're afraid of something bigger. They fear a changing nation,a multi-cultural nation. A place where your president can have a name that sounds like a terrorist, but we're mature enough to separate Obama from Osama. For many this is a scary new world, and in scary economic times, sometimes instead of blaming those in power the masses look for a scapegoat. My hope is that this year will be different. More importantly, the moderates, the reasonably minded people who don't label someone by faith, race, or ethnicity need to speak up. If the voices of reason aren't heard, they will again be drowned out by the voices of fear, and America, the supposed shining beacon of freedom will gradually give it all away because of what might happen. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, "He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither."