Thursday, August 19, 2010

death by stoning, ground zero

By far the high point of the term (104) at least as far as weblogging is concerned was a comment produced by Mesfer's article report justifying Iran's right to follow its own laws without regard to pressure from the rest of us. At first I was surprised at myself, that I had read what he had written and merely corrected the grammar, without worrying that he would put it online and draw such a comment. He was, after all, saying that it's ok to stone a woman publicly; how callous I am, that I could read that, and basically say nothing. The commenter (Lovely and Talented) at least pointed out the obvious objection that the rest of the world might have to this situation.

In the situation I'm in, I've become so war-weary from the cultural battleground's missiles, that I often let this go by, and simply let my students face the music themselves; after all, they knew this was a public forum, and that anyone could respond; they know they are in the west, and that what they write can and will be read. I'm proud of that. I don't need to protect them from that.

My idea about Ground Zero is this: This is an important place, and always will be. This entire neighborhood should be opened up, and religious organizations should be encouraged to build here: all religious organizations. Make it a world center religious marketplace; make it a tourist venue. Our pride and our identity is that we are better than the narrow ideology that made this site famous originally.

I don't mean to confuse the issue; the Iranian government, though it may have supported terrorism in some cases, is not the same as the nineteen guys who actually blew up the World Trade Center and were responsible for the deaths of thousands. Nor are either the same as the people who plan the Ground Zero mosque, or my well-meaning student, who just feels that the west should stop telling Muslim countries how to run their countries. The mosque controversy has struck a nerve not because people feel they are the same, or because they don't care. It has struck a nerve because they feel instinctively that it is now sacred ground, and that we should move carefully with every step.

And this is why the mayor of New York has a huge problem. On the one hand, he cannot deny the Mosque funders, and still maintain that we are a free country, open to all religions and faiths. But he can annex land, declare it part of a national sanctuary, systematically negotiate to annex all land nearby, open it to all religions, the highest bidders first, charge annual rent to maintain city-run, open-to-all-faiths religious tourist facilities, and create a world-famous area that would draw millions. Actually, New York draws millions anyway; it does this because it is, by itself, a diverse collection of cultures and beliefs all placed in close proximity.

Whenever cultures come together, there is conflict; I speak from experience. New York City is living proof that this conflict can actually make us stronger and better. We cannot back down from accepting the diversity that makes the fabric of our city and our nation. Instead, we should embrace it, implant it in our heart, and then invite the world to walk in our streets.

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