May 23 06:23 PM
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Misunderstanding feeds mosque rhetoric

To the Editor:

As a Tri-City native and a New Yorker of ten years, I'd like to take this opportunity to weigh in on the recent controversy surrounding the so-called "Ground-Zero Mosque." This issue will no doubt be given added attention this week, with the anniversary of the September 11 attacks.

It should first be noted that the term "Ground-Zero Mosque" is a double misnomer. Park 51, a.k.a. Cordoba House, is neither a mosque nor on Ground Zero. The term "Ground Zero" is used by New Yorkers to refer solely to the footprints of the World Trade Center, while the surrounding area is known as "Lower Manhattan" or "The Financial District." The proposed Islamic community center includes a swimming pool, auditorium, and art studio along with a mosque space for quiet prayer and meditation. It will not be built on the WTC site, but blocks away on Park Place.

In this neighborhood, equally near to Ground Zero, are a variety of residences and businesses including "New York Dolls" strip club, an off track betting branch (for horse race gambling), and a Burger King. Perhaps the opponents of the Park 51 project should also call for the closure of these businesses. It should also be mentioned that there already exist a small number of modest mosques in the Financial District. Surely these prayer spaces should not be required to move after peacefully existing here for decades.

It would seem that the term "Ground-Zero Mosque" was a label invented by those persons who preemptively opposed Park 51 due to its association with Islam. I was likewise surprised to hear certain politicos and news outlets refer to the name "Cordoba House" as incendiary. The project is named after the city of Córdoba, Spain, which was one of the most scientifically advanced and culturally sophisticated cities of medieval Europe. It was a place where Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together in relative harmony for centuries, and it is for this reason that the organizers of the community center chose this name.

Part of the misunderstanding stems, I believe, from a general lack of familiarity with the layout of New York City—a dense, crowded place full of curious juxtapositions. The island of Manhattan alone contains 1.6 million residents within 34 square miles. Because the city is so cramped, it simply doesn't make sense to forbid development in large portions of the island. In a sense, everything in Manhattan is close to the WTC site. We must carry on with our lives, allowing New York to be the thriving commercial and cultural center it has always been, and honor the dead appropriately with the proposed World Trade Center memorial at Ground Zero.

Ultimately, forbidding the construction of an Islamic cultural center in downtown Manhattan seems akin to banning church construction near the site of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The news outlets are always able to track down and interview New Yorkers who oppose this project. But in all my conversations about this issue, I have yet to come across a single friend, neighbor or colleague who is against it. I am lucky to count Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and atheists as my friends here in the city. The residents of New York appreciate living in a culturally rich, diverse city, and I believe that Park 51 is an exciting opportunity to foster constructive dialogue between the faiths.

—Shannon Wearing

Sunnyside, NY

September 07, 2010

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