It was a day we will never forget. It was a day that changed the course of this nation forever. It was a day that permanently bruised our hearts, with the potential of healing almost seeming impossible. Yet, with love, faith and compassion, we showed the world and showed ourselves through the promotion of one of our nation's greatest values -- tolerance -- we can overcome fear and hate.
Today, ten years later, I peer through the front windows of my apartment and still see a large gaping hole that once was the home to the World Trade Center. I pass by the firehouse on my block and say hello to the firemen who lost almost all of their guys on that day. This is my neighborhood, my backyard. And in my backyard, I have no tolerance for a new fear-mongering, hateful rhetoric that has sprung up over the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center that they plan on building blocks away from Ground Zero.
It is not insensitive to put a cultural center of any sort, that has a place of worship, anywhere in our city. This is what makes our country and our city great. As a nation that was founded by men and women who were being persecuted for their particular faith, we should know that the best path to finding freedom is finding freedom for others. We were formed as a pluralistic society and this means we welcome all religions. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, sick and twisted men did, who not only hijacked four airplanes but also hijacked a religion. Let us not stereotype the over one billion Muslims around the world because of the evil acts of a few. A decision like this one, to support or not support the construction of this center, defines who we are as a nation. It's at the essence of our values, our freedom of expression, freedom of religion and religious tolerance.
As the Chairman of The Foundation Of Ethnic Understanding, my partner Rabbi Marc Schneier (also the Vice President, World Jewish Congress; Chairman, World Jewish Congress United States) and I have worked tirelessly to promote dialogue among different ethnic groups all over the world, particularly Jews and Muslims. We have witnessed the power of the fostering of this dialogue. We know that we must fight Antisemitism and Islamaphobia together and at the same time. We welcome and support this cultural center, as it will continue constructive conversations around a moderate approach to co-existence between all people, regardless of religious preference. In fact, we strongly feel that this center will bridge the divide that many of our nation's citizens have with the Islamic faith.
There are moments that define our nation. There are moments that test the strength of our character. There are moments that test the essence of our freedoms. Let this be that moment and let us pass this test with grace and dignity. As I will not stand for any sort of Islamaphobia in my backyard.
More:9/11 Ground Zero Mosque Rabbi Marc Schneier Russell Simmons Foundation For Ethnic Understanding
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