Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Cordoba House Blues

Posting has been light here lately. There's a lot of things I wanted to write about, but either couldn't find the time or just was unable bring myself to sit down and type away at my keyboard.

One of the hot topics in the NYC area right now, and which has gotten a lot of attention nationwide, if not worldwide, is the so called "Ground Zero Mosque." As someone who lives near and works in Manhattan, and who knew people who died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, this is a subject that is personal to me.

But before I could write about this in an informed way, I felt it was important that I went to see for myself the World Trade Center site and the location of the proposed Muslim community center and mosque two blocks away on Park Place. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to do so, as I was going to downtown Manhattan to see a showing of an independent film that featured one of my friends from high school. I decided to take the No. 2 subway line down to Chambers Street before heading to the theater.

From Chambers Street, I walked south for five blocks down West Broadway, passing Park Place along the way. The site of the former Twin Towers is still cordoned off with a chain link fence, with most of the fencing covered, making views of the ground difficult. I took the picture below through one of the openings.




I then headed north up Church Street. I took the shot below from the corner of Church and Vesey Street, the latter of which runs from east to west on the north side of the WTC site.

The next shot is on Church Street between Vesey and Barclay Street, with the Federal Office Building to my left.

Below is the intersection of Church Street and Park Place. To reach the section of Park Place that will house the proposed community center, one must turn to the left.


Below is the 51 Park Place building, which is to form part of the Cordoba House. It is located on the north side of Park Place between Church Street and West Broadway. One thing that should be noted is that while the World Trade Center site is very close by, it is not visible from this location. On the south side of Park Place directly opposite is a large building, and the next block down, between Barclay and Vesey is the imposing Federal Office Building.


On one side of the proposed center is this Amish Market, which is on the corner of Park Place and West Broadway.


In order to be able to see the WTC site, one has to stand on the corner of Park and West Broadway looking south.


Now I know some people have put out snarky proposals like opening gay bars or strip joints next to or across the street from the proposed Cordoba House. However, as the (blurry) photo below shows, there already is a bar called the Dakota Roadhouse that stands next to the proposed center. So, if the Cordoba House, or Park51, does eventually come to fruition, pious Muslims coming and going will have to pass by an establishment that serves alcohol.

But it gets even better than that. The next block north after Park Place, on the north side of Murray Street, is a "gentlemen's" club called New York Dolls. If Cordoba House will have a rear entrance on the south side on Murray Street, Muslim men leaving their prayer services will find themselves facing the temptations of the flesh.

Now, onto the matter at hand. What do I think about the proposed community center and mosque? As an atheist and someone who knew or was acquainted with people who died at the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, it would be easy to reflexively bash Cordoba House. But while I think all religion is basically superstitious nonsense, as an atheist, I also understand that an important barometer for any nation is how well it treats its minority populations, including religious minorities. I can cynically join with some American Christians in condemning a Muslim center near the World Trade Center while knowing that some of those very same Christians view me as un-American because I am an atheist. I'm sorry, but I just can't do that.

As I wrote in a post recently about proposals in some countries to ban the wearing of the veil, often what we think about certain issues says a lot about us and how we choose to view them. Some opponents of the community center/mosque claim that it is a symbol of Muslim conquest because it is being built close to the site of buildings that were destroyed by Muslim terrorists who believed they were carrying out the will of Allah. But in order for that to be true, one would have to provide evidence that the organizers behind the center provide moral, physical and/or financial support to al-Qaida. Absent that, why choose to frame the issue in this way?

One can certainly ask the developers of the center why they chose the location. Here is what Sharif El-Gamal, a Manhattan developer and owner of the property has to say:

"Prior to purchasing our current facility at 45 Park Place, there were two mosques in lower Manhattan, although Park51 is not affiliated with either of these mosques. One was Masjid Farah, which could fit a maximum of approximately 65 people, and had to hold three or four separate prayer services on Fridays just to fit the crowds.

The second mosque, at Warren Street, accommodated about 1,500 worshippers during Friday prayers - people had been praying on sidewalks because they had no room. They lost their space around May 2009. We made the move to buy 45 Park Place in July 2009 in part to offset the loss of this space. Currently, our space at 45 Park Place, accommodates around 450 people every Friday. We are also easily accessible from many different parts of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island, which was an important consideration
."

Warren Street is four blocks north of the World Trade Center site. So, until May of 2009, over a thousand Muslims had been praying at a mosque on Fridays a mere four blocks from "Ground Zero" and apparently nobody noticed or cared. But somehow, the prospect of Muslims gathering to pray two blocks away from the WTC constitutes some kind of national crisis.

Lest anyone forget, some of the people who perished in the Twin Towers on 9/11 were themselves Muslims. You can look them up on any list of the victims. To name a few, there's Shabbir Ahmed, who was a waiter at Windows on the World. Tariq Amanullah was a vice president at Fiduciary Trust International. Mohammed Salahuddin Chowdhury, also a waiter at Windows on the World. Mohamed Jawara, a security guard. Khalid M. Shahid, a systems administrator at Cantor Fitzgerald. Mohammed Shajahan, a computer administrator at Marsh & McLennan. There are others, but I believe I made my point.

Another argument thrown out by opponents of the center is that Saudi Arabia, which contains within its borders the Muslim holy city of Mecca, does not permit churches or synagogues. But as Jon Stewart said on the Daily Show, "Is that going to be our standard now? Saudi Arabia?" To be fair, it is a legitimate issue that Saudi Arabia should permit people of all faiths to worhip freely in that desert kingdom. But by permitting Cordoba House to be built so close to the World Trade Center site, doesn't that give us the moral highground to condemn lack of religious freedom in some Muslim majority countries?

As I wrote above, one measure of a nation's worth is how it treats its religious minorities. Since we find ourselves locked in a conflict with jihadist terrorists, an important part of winning that conflict is to win the hearts and minds, or at the very least, not incur the hostility of, the majority of Muslim people who form the sea in which the terrorists swim. How we treat our own Muslim-American population is an important component of winning this conflict. I fear that when a number of our politicians whip up hysteria over Cordoba House, along with opposition to mosques and Muslim community centers in other parts of the country, it damages our moral authority. Furthermore, if we are to treat Muslim-Americans as part of some vast, mindless Orc horde who just want to kill us, we can create a self-fulfilling prophecy as numbers of them conclude that America will never accept them. Why should Muslim-American citizens and legal residents, a large number of whom are African-Americans who have ancestors in this country going back several centuries, be tarred with the same brush as foreign jihadi terrorists?

One thing I have noticed from my readings of history is that nations that whip up hatred towards their religious minorities do so when they are in decline or suffer a loss of confidence. A society that embraces tolerance and pluralism is a confident and strong society. If we capitulate to the Sarah Palins and the Newt Gingriches and the other fearmongers, I believe it will show that we are weak and fearful.

Would I have preferred that the Cordoba House not be at Park Place? Yeah, I guess so. But if they own the property and they received the approval of the local community board and the zoning authorities, then it doesn't matter what I think. And if Cordoba House finally gets built and opens its doors, I think I'll celebrate the occasion with a beer at the Dakota Roadhouse.

17 comments:

Sparrowhawk said...

Thanks for showing us exactly where this place is. You'd think, given the way some people are talking about it, that it was teetering right over the pits of the towers themselves.

If this place isn't breaking the law and there is no good legal reason to block them doing this, then they should be allowed to do it. That's it.

Anyone who is upset by it has the right to voice their opinion or protest.

Tommykey said...

Thanks Sparrowhawk. To me, the real outrage is that after nearly 9 years, the site of the former Twin Towers is still just a hole in the ground.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

People who believe in superstitious drivel (OK, I'm taking about ALL religion here) tend to also attach far too much significance to symbolism. So they object to the Mosque/cultural center as a symbol of Muslim conquest? Give me a break. It's a fuckin' building that one sect of theists will use to worship their god.

There are probably dozens of other places of worship within blocks of that one, I'll bet, for many different religions. Are they symbols of our resistance to Muslim aggression? If so, why don't we tear down all the building and build churches. Christian churches. Better yet, let's replace the WTC with the biggest fuckin' cathedral man has ever built.

You know, it's just a bunch of grown ups arguing about who's got the biggest dick.

The world is going to warm up to catastrophic levels in our kid's lifetimes, and they are arguing about a god damned building.

Stardust said...

Thanks Tommy, after seeing your photos (which are conveniently left out of most media reports), I see now that this mosque is not actually "in the face" of the American people as even most news media sources make it seem. The location doesn't seem to be that big of a deal to me anymore.

What concerns me more than this one mosque being built is what is being taught in thousands of mosques across the land. As most people who have studied about Islam know,it is a Muslim's goal to make one world united under Islam. To deny that is their goal is as naive as saying that Sarah Palin and her ilk just want what's best for everyone and they just want to "get along". Baloney.

I did some investigating a few years ago about Chicago area mosques and many of them need to be watch-dogged just like we keep an eye on the Christians who believe it is their mission and religious duty to take over politically via the election process in the name of their imaginary friends Jesus and God.

So far, not many Muslims have been elected to public office. But, I have read that is their intention. To train their kids to grow up to be good citizens, become elected and then once they get into government then they can initiate the "will of Allah" (Sharia Law).

I realize there isn't a damn thing we can do about churches and mosques being built within the laws of our land. And our laws are based on freedom of/from religion. But will this come back to bite us all in the ass one day? I hope not.

As the mosques continue to multiply, and the mega churches continue to multiply, we need to be just that much more vigilant in our keeping an eye on what these superstitious folks are up to politically.

Stardust said...

Tommy, have you been able to make friends with any Muslim people?

When I worked for a company that employed a couple dozen Muslim, mostly women, they would not socialize with any of us "westerners". At break time and lunch time they just disappeared somewhere. We would see them in the hallway and I would try to make friendly eye contact and say hello and their eyes went immediately to the floor and they kept walking. Those who sat next to them could not get any conversation from them.

Then I try in stores too, as an experiment, I smile and they look away. I have had very few Muslim women, even ones in just a headscarf and jeans, smile back. They shy away. And I am a very friendly and nice person and get smiles in return from most everyone and even some nice conversation sometimes.

This is a part of Islam I am trying to understand.

the chaplain said...

Thanks for a balanced view on the issue. Do I think the Muslims involved in this project may be behaving a little insensitively? Perhaps they are, but, then again, I can't read their minds. In the end, their motives and my thoughts don't matter - they have as much right to build there as Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists...whoever. Their right to build is more fundamental than my right to feel comfortable about the matter.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I know a woman, a barista at Starbucks, who I believe is Muslim, (but seriously, only because she wears a head scarf all the time - I couldn't tell you her hair color) that is very friendly, outgoing, jokes with the customers, etc.

Tommykey said...

Thanks Tommy, after seeing your photos (which are conveniently left out of most media reports), I see now that this mosque is not actually "in the face" of the American people as even most news media sources make it seem. The location doesn't seem to be that big of a deal to me anymore.

Thanks, Stardust. I felt visiting the actual site was a must if I was going to make an informed commentary on the issue. How can people argue over it if they haven't seen it?

As most people who have studied about Islam know,it is a Muslim's goal to make one world united under Islam.

I am sure a chunk of Muslims do feel that way, just as Mormons want everyone to convert to Mormonism, or Baptists want everyone to become Baptists. And we atheists would rather that everyone becomes an atheist.

As with members of any other religion, Muslims are going to run the spectrum from hardcore fundamentalist to the Muslim equivalent of a "Palms and Ashes" Catholic. I am skeptical that most Muslim-Americans are just biding their time for the right moment to force sharia law on all of us.

If you look back throughout American history, you see manifestations of this with other groups. In the 19th century, Catholic immigrants were agents of Papism. I remember seeing some of the cartoons of Thomas Nast that were virulently anti-Catholic. During WWII, all Japanese in the United States were viewed as possible agents of Japan, and Japanese on the West Coast were even interned.

I have no reason not to think that most Muslim-Americans are mostly focused on trying to make a living like the rest of us.

Tommy, have you been able to make friends with any Muslim people?

I can't say at this time that I am friends with any professed Muslims that I see on a day to day basis. When I was in my twenties, a Pakistani family bought the house next to my parents house. I would chat with them once in a while and they were amicable.

When I worked for a company that employed a couple dozen Muslim, mostly women, they would not socialize with any of us "westerners". At break time and lunch time they just disappeared somewhere.

My Indonesian friend Sandra, who is Indonesian Chinese and religiously Roman Catholic, told me that over the course of time, some of her Muslim co-workers in the Jakarta office became more religious and would no longer go to lunch at certain restaurants.

One of my Facebook friends, Yuri, still works at the office where Sandra worked (Sandra is now living in Canada) and is Muslim but rather liberal. She doesn't wear a headscarf and from my interactions with her, she strikes me as a nice, sweet person.

There's also Karat, a female blogger from Malaysia who is of Malay Muslim background who has commented here from time to time and on her own blog has railed against misogynist behavior by some Muslims in her country.

One of the things that is easy to overlook is that there is no unified Islam seeking to dominate the world. There's the divide between Sunnis and Shia. There are different schools of Islam within each. There are the Ahmidiyas, who are considered to be heretical by other Muslims. There are Wahhabis and Sufis. And then one must take into consideration the racial and ethnic diversity, from Arabs, black Africans, white Europeans, Indians, South East Asians and so forth. There is no united monolithic Islam and there never will be.

Tommykey said...

Thanks for a balanced view on the issue. Do I think the Muslims involved in this project may be behaving a little insensitively? Perhaps they are, but, then again, I can't read their minds.

Thanks, Chaplain. I am thinking of maybe taking this a step further and contacting the people behind Cordoba House to see if I can attend Friday services there (as a lot of people don't seem to realize that prayer services have been held there since before this controversy even broke out) and maybe even see if I can get some of the congregants to talk to me. If that happens, I will let everyone know.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

I am skeptical that most Muslim-Americans are just biding their time for the right moment to force sharia law on all of us.

One other thought: It seems to me that Islam is the new Communism. It's the bogeyman we've conjured in our head that's going to get us if we don't stay on guard. Apparently, we don't do well, we don't stick together as a nation, unless we have some "ism" to fight, some common enemy. Islam is that, now. But it's an ephemeral enemy. Like Communism.

Stardust said...

It's the bogeyman we've conjured in our head that's going to get us if we don't stay on guard.

So, are we conjuring the bogeyman in our head when we consider Christianity? Is all this blogging a paranoid waste of time? Why is Islam exempt from being watch-dogged same as Christians? While many Muslims may be slipping away from the traditional ways, many more still adhere to it. Britain is already making accommodations for what they call the "more mundane" aspects such as marriage, divorce, and financial disputes. But will it stop there? Or will they, like the Christians, want more? Only time will tell.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

So, are we conjuring the bogeyman in our head when we consider Christianity?

Perhaps, but that's not what I was equating. My personal bogeyman is different than the one politicians conjure up to scare the population into thinking and doing and electing. Present a caricature of Muslims and convince the majority of people that that is what all Muslims are, and you can scare them into following you like lemmings. That's what Newt Gingrich and the other Republicans are doing in this mosque controversy.

Do you think we atheists actually differentiate between Christians and Muslims in our atheism? Yes, we might specifically point out a stupid Christian trick, or decry a Muslim suicide bomber, but in the end, it's theism we object to. We don't believe in god(s), not God or Allah specifically. God(s) in general.

Tit for Tat said...

Would I have preferred that the Cordoba House not be at Park Place? Yeah, I guess so(Tommykey)


Why?

Tommykey said...

Sheesh! Out of that lengthy post I wrote, that's what you harp on? Well, for one, we would have been spared all this shit that's been stirred up.

But what's done is done and now we have to choose between our principles and our fears & prejudices. I choose principle.

Tit for Tat said...

I wasnt harping, I was genuinely curious why you added that. Afterall, you didnt need to. I stand on principle too.

Tommykey said...

Yeah, that was a poor choice of words on my part. Sorry. Meant "focus on."

Renshia said...

I think one point that is missed in this is that it isn't just islam that holds responsibility for the destruction and lost lives of those involved on 9/11, it's religion. The religious beliefs that propagates a debt to some superior being for nothing more than allowing fertile sperm is the root cause of this. Because of the socially acceptable traditions of encouraging belief in things that there is no evidence for. The creating of a social system that fills people with guilt, fear, and futility without any possible way to fix it or atone for it. All religion is the same, all religion needs to be held accountable for the effects they have caused and the costs incurred.
As far as cordoba house is concerned it is just one more piece of shit added to the cesspool of religion.