People say you worry more as you get older. I am wondering if it is that exact sentiment that is resonating in me now. It's 10pm on Friday night, September 10th, 2010 and I am on the Long Island Rail Road on my way back home from work in Manhattan and I am worried. ...I am worried about what is happening to this country.
Nine years ago 19 men hijacked planes, toppled towers, stole lives, ravaged families, and derailed what some thought was an inexhaustible American way of life. In the wake of their actions were multiple retaliatory military actions that took the lives of hundreds of thousands more people, destroying even more families. When the wounds that so many of us prayed would mend appeared to finally be healing nine years after the attacks a handful of selfish pundits, wing nut pastors, birthers, and ambulance chasing talking heads (most of whom are not even from New York) hijacked a national debate surrounding the construction of Park 51, a former Burlington Coat Factory scheduled to become a multi-level Islamic interfaith center and used it to perpetuate an anti-Islamic message. America watched as the stitching popped on the wounds that we worked so hard to heal.
Any educated individual understands that the Park 51 Islamic Interfaith Center is not a Mosque, nor is it an exclusively Muslim space. Anyone who took a few minutes to research the project would find that as recent December, 2009 Fox News reported favorably on the center. They would also learn that Feisal Abdul Rauf the Imam behind the proposed plan has been traveling since the years of the Bush Administration in concert with the U.S. State Department speaking to Muslim communities around the world about moderation and peace. However, fringe conservative elements wish to hijack this narrative and make you believe otherwise. This violent anti-Muslim narrative launched against the Park 51 proposal has stoked flames of hatred across the country culminating in bias attacks against Muslim Americans, vandalism, arson at places of worship, and a New York city cab driver almost losing his life. Hateful sentiments like these if left unchecked to grow and become commonplace are like petri dishes filled with virulent cultures as they fester and become toxic.
This perverse narrative and it's uneducated sloganeering needs to be countered with equally simplistic and strong speech, stating that we, as New Yorkers & Americans, embrace the religious freedoms of all groups; no matter how large or small their constituency is. We support their freedom to assemble and worship when they choose and wherever they choose to do so. It was for this reason that on Wednesday night that my friends & I decided to print these t-shirts, paying homage to a classic New York aesthetic while still sending a strong message that New Yorkers will support Park 51 despite the debate. Additionally we hope to send a message that whether people call it an interfaith center or call it a Mosque, whether it's in New York City, Hudson, Phoenix, Nashville, or Murfreesboro, TN, compassionate freedom loving Americans will declare that "they love their local Mosque."
What New York and our nation cannot afford to do is allow any hateful, ethnocentric, xenophobic or violent narratives to influence our thoughts or our actions. On 9/11 when buildings started exploding we did not cower ...and this resolve holds true now.
Alissa Walker, an architecture and urbanism writer for GOOD put it best in her recent article titled There's a Ground Zero Mosque in Every American's Backyard when she wrote,
"I challenge anyone who has spent even 15 minutes reading about a proposed community center run by a religious group in a city far, far away to turn your focus back to where you actually live. Maybe check out some of the far more disturbing distances in your own neighborhood. How close is the liquor store to the nearest elementary school? How far is that farmers market from the lowest-income part of the city? And what are you doing about it?"
New Yorkers are a resilient lot ...in the days immediately following 9/11, charity was at an all time high, cooperation was wearing it's Sunday best and the phrase "love your neighbor" took on a whole new meaning. This is evidence that New Yorkers are strong enough to heal even the deepest wounds.
We won't back down when a handful of fear mongering bigots try to tell us that Park 51 should not be built. We will not turn our backs on our Muslim neighbors. The Park 51 Center is about unity, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence ...the cornerstone of the spirit of New York.
"I <3 The Mosque" shirts are designed & produced by The Sparrow Project and distributed by MerchDirect, 50% to the proceeds from the sales of this shirt will benefit victims of hate crimes. Andy Stepanian is compensated for his work as a publicity agent and coordinator for The Sparrow Project.