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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The WTC Mosque, Racism, and Extremeism

So the following are not my words, but are reprinted with permission from my dearest friend.  Her take on it is exactly what I would have said.  I removed a few typos, but have basically reproduced spot on.

I feel like I've been waiting almost 10 years for people to realize what assholes they were after the WTC fell - all the rhetoric, the fundamental misunderstanding of what this religion is or isn't, how different it is from region to region, the US' role in sowing the seeds in Pakistan/that the guys that sit in caves and plan this shit are a step above the avergae fundamentalist - they see everyone as a legitimate target. Nothing doing - I'm still hearing this crap. Maybe I'm a weirdo, but I've really enjoyed the influx of muslims into the cities that I've lived in. I grew up in a pastey white [town]. Nothing wrong with that, but there is something kind of cool about seeing a guy pray on a mat one the sidewalk or at work. There is something kind of homey and pleasant about seeing someone who hasn't been here for very long (generationally speaking) make their home in the same town, go to the same stores, take the same trains, get pissed off at the same traffic, suffer the same nasty heat or bad snow clearance. People should be embarassed about this discussion, the way that any of the rich right wingers over here tossing around fascist rhetoric in or eugenics sentiment in the 1930s should have been embarassed by 1939.

Ultimately, what really bothers me about this entire discussion is that there was a hostage taking across the street yesterday. I walked by this girl around 7 am. She was dressed in evening clothes, clearly uncomfortable, no shoes...on the phone. When strolled back around the corner a 1/2 hour later the entire street was filled with cops - 50 cops maybe. She was being interviewed. Some guy in this virtually abandonned building had held her for hours. I saw her right after she escaped. About a year ago, I found a human tooth in front of this building. Not to distract from the clear nastiness that this girl went through, but this is my reality. This is where I live. That I can rhyme off local terror plots and attempted attacks that have been uncovered/happened over the last 5 years casually and it's no big thing is a little fucked up. Yesterday day a guy was sentenced for "The Subway Terror Plot" and I have to admit, I can't even remember him being arrested. I have no idea what this plot was about. Add in this guy who was in time square, the JFK gas line bomb plot, the 23 guys out in Queens, and the other guy with no game who tried to buy explosives from an undercover agent, and that's a lot of plots to uncover since 2007. Those are just the ones I know about.

Since living here I have worked beside a building when it was hit by a plane, ran to midtown to find [a friend] after a steam pipe exploded on his block and shot boiling hot water hundreds of feet into the sky, smelled maple syrup scent wafting over the city for no particular reason, watched ConEd lines explode on my block , heard a ConEd manhole explode right after I entered a building- and then there is just the shit I've read - the guy walking down the UWS with two electric hack saws attacking people, the guy that chopped up the postal worker on the subway platform while MTA employees ignored him, the cops sodomizing a drunk guy in the Bronx with a radio antenna, the cops firing hundreds of rounds at this guy leaving a strip club the night before his wedding, the persistent threat of dying in a ConEd street shock. I'm sure there are many more things - but the point is I live here. I have to deal with the persistent threat of being blown up on purpose or by accident. I'm so tired of hearing about 9/11 measures in places that will be lucky if they are mentioned in the national news this year.....or next 5 years. I'm tired of hearing people recount to me where they were [on 911], like I could possibly relate - I wasn't here. I'm especially tired of people who will never see a day of the sort of shit that goes on everywhere else in the world use the phrase "well, since 9/11" in reference to security, or their vacation or their job. I don't like to use the phrase, and I live here. I really am all for empathy - I think everyone should strive to be empathetic - but every time someone says it I just want to shake them by the shoulders and say "get over it. this didn't happen to you".

As for the Mosque: There has been a plan in place for many years to develop a friendship center of sorts on the WTC site. The Mosque is a small part of a larger educational institution whose entire purpose is Islamic outreach and community good will for non-muslims and the NYC arts and education scene. My understanding is that it is supposed to be like an Islamic 92nd street Y/Symphony Space. I have to tell you - the 92nd street Y sometimes brings people like Alan Dershowitz - promoting torture as an anti-terror technique and anilation of Islamic states, but most of their programming is actually things like Jane Goodall talks chimpanzees, followed by Yo Yo Ma discusses his love of cooking. It's more or less an inoccuous setting, with some religious services, a fantastic gym, lots of great educational programs, some with a Jewish tilt- but everyone is welcome. That's the model [that] has been used to set up this Islamic education center. No one had a problem with this group moving into the WTC when they were one of the very few (and let me emphasize this - very, very few) groups to actually lease or buy property within sight of the WTC. This is a right wing political complaint, in part.... A big part of this battle has to do with basic NYC-to fed my view anyway.

I'm not sure if you have seen the WTC site. It is enormous. This center could be close to the center of that area of Manhattan and still be on the corner of this site. Fact is, the city can't afford to not lease any area around there. We need the taxes. The entire downtown area around the WTC is a skeleton and has been since I got here. There are few restaurants, no cultural sites and most of those banks moved to Midtown. This was an area that was really hard to find affordable space in 10 years ago. [My friend's] firm just moved down there because the rent is cheap. They can't give space away and the place is desperate for anything of any cultural significance. How it is that these people are not kissing the feet of this NGO is beyond me. That said, most people registering a negative opinion fall into one of two groups as far as I can tell - a) Europeans (the BBC will not shut up about it) and b) small firey contingents within the 911 victim groups. The latter still feels that nothing should be built on this site at all. The subways have only just been rerouted to this area and foundation work on this buildings only just started because this group of people have routinely sued the city over site designs, water access - private viewing areas to mourn, architectural firms...and it just goes on. The arguers in that group, in my view, are really holding up what is in the best interests of all of us - development, taxes and moving on.

Therein ends my friends piece.  I have just a couple of things to point out.  First of all, as a minor correction, I know that churches are typically tax exempt, so I'm not sure that the city gains a tax benefit.  They would certainly gain a benefit from the 120 million in jobs, materials and construction.  Given the money multiplier in spending, it's probably more on the order of 200 million for NYC.  Particularly in an area, where she correctly notes, has been moderately depressed for the past eight years.  Moreover, the city has been trying to make over the Financial District into a living breathing community for a dozen years now, with only moderate success.  An outreach center such as this would add a lot of value to the community.  On an economic note, such edifices would usually add property value.  Given the racist concerns of Americans, I think there might be a moderate dip in property value, but, this would eventually net out as people moved on to the next outrage du jour.  A couple of other things.  As someone intimitely familiar with the area.  The Burlington Coat Factory slated for the site, is not even visible from the WTC.  Granted, when both buildings are up, they may well be viewable.  But for the average tourist, you probably wouldn't even know where to look.  The present building is an exceedingly ugly piece of property, empty, home to vagrants and physical refuse.  That sure celebrates American enterprise.

Finally, let me put it in blue and white.  If you are Anti-Islam, you are racist.  The protestors should be honest about this one thing.  They are not protecting the sanctity of anything.  They have veiled their blaring racism with vague talk about "honoring the victims."  We as a people have a greater responsibility to humanity, and that is protecting one of the central tenets of democracy:  freedom to worship.

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