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Terry Gardner Headshot

Please Locate Your Mosque Farther Away From Ground Zero

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Photo of Yosemite Falls with blue tint - While I may see Yosemite Falls tinted blue, others might view it in black & white or other shades. I wish I could see the Mosque site through its congregation's eyes. (Photographer: Terry Gardner)

I'm a pushover for equal rights, freedom of religion and rescuing puppies from puppy mills. Name a liberal cause, and I'll be there.

But I hope Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his congregation will reconsider where they build their mosque and locate it at least a mile away from Ground Zero.

I am simultaneously shocked and embarrassed to find myself in agreement with Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh. I hate disagreeing with President Obama and Mayor Blumberg, two men I truly admire. But when it comes to building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, my heart and emotion are on the side of my polar political opposites -- the thought of a mosque that close to a spot whose embers still burn in my memory simply cuts me to the quick.

This brouhaha has taught me something, aside from learning I'm not as tolerant as I thought.

I had not realized 300 Muslims were among the 3,000 Americans that perished in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Their memory should also be honored at Ground Zero.

If Imam Rauf wants to hold a prayer meeting in my apartment in Santa Monica, he will be welcome (as long as he gives me a month's notice to clean up some of my clutter).

His congregation has the right to locate their mosque wherever they desire, but I ask him to consider the location from my perspective. On 9/11, a group of radical religious Islamic zealots hijacked two planes and forced the pilots to fly into the towers of the World Trade Center. If those hijackers had been Baptist, Mormon, Jewish or Catholic, I wouldn't want a church or a temple representing those faiths built two blocks from Ground Zero.

I realize that radical jihad-seeking terrorists pervert Islam in the same way I believe Christianity was misused and abused during the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. Horrible crimes have been committed throughout history in the name of God. And most religions have some screwy zealot skeletons in their closet.

I want to better understand the Islamic faith, and I have friends that are Muslim. My request that you locate your Mosque a respectful distance from Ground Zero is not meant as an insult to your faith. I would never wish to deny you the freedom to practice your religion wherever you see fit. Religious freedom is one of the basic tenets of American democracy (along with separation of church and state).

Please simply consider the horror many Americans like me experienced that day.

A friend woke me up with a phone call telling me to turn on my TV "a plane just hit the World Trade Center." I said: "I don't know how you can think that joke's funny" -- and she insisted she wasn't joking and kept telling me to turn on my TV. I did, and I could not believe my eyes. What I was seeing was not possible. Half asleep in LA, I thought "What kind of weird movie are they showing on "Good Morning, America." But it wasn't a movie. As they replayed the first plane striking and then the second one striking over and over I asked myself: "How could someone hate us so much?"

I understand hating or disliking someone I know, but blind hatred was something new to me.
I had never understood why the first attack on the World Trade Center happened. And on 9/11 and for many days after, I remained in shock that the hijackers could be so filled with hate for America and Americans that they just wanted to wipe us off the face of the Earth. And that they could believe killing innocent people was Allah's will. (I imagine there was similar thinking in the Crusades except Jesus would reward them rather than Allah).

I remain puzzled and confused by terrorism. Again, my feelings have nothing to do with your mosque, but I have felt wounded by people who abused your faith.

Please consider how some Americans feel. Building a place of worship the celebrates the same faith the hijackers twisted offends me. Intellectually, I know they perverted Islam, and your mosque was not involved. But the thought of any mosque so close to Ground Zero hurts my heart, and I cannot fathom why you would choose this spot.

I was raised Methodist and have wound up Presbyterian (Protestants sometimes move around a bit). If a group of crazy Presbyterians leveled a mosque, I wouldn't think you would welcome a group of Presbyterians showing up nine years later saying: "Hey, there. If ya'll don't mind, we're going to build a new Presbyterian Church here. It's time to heal."

Perhaps if this was 2020, I would feel differently. Perhaps many Americans are slow healers. All I know is that my feelings remain raw over 9/11. I don't understand terrorism and blind hatred of an entire Nation. I don't think I'm a bigot, but I remain bruised over 9/11.

Please consider building your mosque in Brooklyn or Times Square or the Bronx or any place other than two blocks from Ground Zero.

I wish I could wrap my brain around your mosque like I did the rebuilding of office buildings at Ground Zero. Perhaps because that rebuilding began with developing a memorial to those killed that day, I never protested "Why can't it be a park?"

I realize there are many things I'd hate to see built so close to Ground Zero. A fried chicken or burger franchise seem inappropriate too. A gun store or any shop that sells merchandise of a destructive nature would be an affront to the victims of 9/11.

My opposition to erecting a mosque so close to Ground Zero made me realize what I wish could be located there -- a beautiful park (like a miniature Central Park or a place of contemplation like the Japanese Garden in Portland, Oregon). If the site must hold a building, wouldn't a hospital, a medical center, an educational center or a public library be a great way to bridge the gaps that divide so many of us? If the real estate could be used to create a place where Americans, immigrants and foreign visitors come together to learn about different faiths and find common ground, our unity could become stronger than Al Qaeda's hatred. Perhaps the Red Cross, the Peace Corps, Habitat for Humanity or a similar nondenominational organization needs a new headquarters?

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Portland's Japanese Gardens - an oasis for contemplation (photo: Terry Gardner)