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July 5, 2010
Somebody left a copy of the New York Post on the train seat next to me. The latest Ground Zero controversy is splashed across the front page -- the proposed erection of The Cordoba Center, an Islamic center, which will include a mosque. They can build a mosque here when we can build a church in Saudi Arabia, a WTC family member says in an interview. I fold up the newspaper, dispirited.

Never mind that the process for community approval of the mosque has been followed in this case, as it is for any proposed new building or even a new use for an old building -- nobody builds anything in New York without running that gamut. Never mind that religious leaders in the neighborhood are united in support of a mosque there. There's a Catholic church nearby, a synagogue and Methodist Church a few blocks away. St. Paul's Chapel, famously a center for relief and recovery workers after the bombing, is an Episcopal church. There are many places for many people of many different religious affiliations to pray together. But for Muslim workers and residents in the financial district -- the ones who must pray five times a day, if they are strictly observant -- there is no mosque in Lower Manhattan.

It's puzzling to me that some folks think the proposed Islamic center is a slap in the face of surviving families of those who died there. The same person who linked the new mosque to a fanciful Christian church-building mission to Saudi Arabia painted a picture of Muslims gathered in their mosque "gloating" about September 11th. He seemed unaware that many Muslims worked at the World Trade Center, and that some of them died along with all the others. Why would their families not want to worship the God to whom they surrendered their dear ones much too soon, in a place as near as possible to the place in which they left this world for the next one? And why should they not have that comfort?

To tar all Muslims with the terrorist brush is just wrong. It is not the American Way. It is like assuming that the Christian who bombs an abortion clinic acts with the approval of all Christans, or that the Ku Klux Klan -- which, by the way, considers itself a Christian group - speaks for all of us. It is like saying that the Jewish assassin of Yitzhak Rabin or the Jewish doctor who opened fire on a mosque in Hebron acted on behalf of Jews everywhere. It is like saying that Timothy McVeigh represented American conservatism. It is dangerous. It perpetuates the deadly tit-for-tat of religious war, the last thing we need, the very last. Sopmehow, we must learn to live together. We already know how to live apart.

To complain about moderate Muslims never raising their voices and at the same time to oppose a Muslim Center at Ground Zero makes no sense at all -- that's exactly what the proposed new center is for. And Gound Zero is exactly the place for it. I lost friends in the destruction of the World Trade Center, too. Parishioners lost family members. I did my share of funerals with no bodies to bury. I served as a chaplain there during the yearlong recovery operation that was its aftermath. The pile of blackened rubble smoked for days and days; the ground was hot for months. It was hell.

But it was also a place where love grew. As soaked with tragedy as Ground Zero was, it was a place in which New Yorkers and even visitors from far away rolled up their sleeves served each other gladly. The photographs in the paper every day, and the little biographies that accompanied them, reminded us of just how many different countries we have left behind to come here -- every nation, every race, every religion. Death and love, love and death -- they equalized us all in those days, and they united us. What a terrible legacy it will be for all those dead if now, after all this, they divide us.

Read about the goals of the proposed Cordoba Center at
You can read about my experiences at Ground Zero in my book, Mass in Time of War, available at
Copyright © 2019 Barbara Crafton
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