08/18/2010 12:54 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Happened to the 'World' in World Trade Center?

Newt Gingrich put his opposition to the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" in no uncertain terms yesterday: "The folks who want to build this mosque... are really radical Islamists," he insisted on Fox News, before comparing Muslims to Nazis and the Axis-era Japanese.

The former Speaker of the House went on to assert, "Those folks don't have any interest in reaching out to the community. They're trying to make a case about supremacy."

Many of Gingrich's Republican peers have taken similar stands, turning the area around the Ground Zero site into "hallowed ground." All this political back-and-forth makes me wonder: what happened to the "world" in world trade center.

As hard as it may be to recall, Ground Zero wasn't always "hallowed ground." It used to be a complex called the World Trade Center, and has always been in international affair: first in 1946, as the United States consolidated its political and economic power, the World Trade Center was always meant to be a hub for global business, one that would help shift international trade to lower Manhattan, which had been neglected in the city's expansion.

It wasn't until 1961, however, that the plan really got off the ground, with both New York and New Jersey eventually agreeing to terms and the Port Authority overseeing what supporters saw as an "urban renewal" project with massive public benefits. With the location and logistics squared, officials hired architect Minoru Yamasaki, a second-generation Japanese American, to design the twin towers.

By 1969, both towers were under construction and by the time of their respective completion, 91 countries, came together to form the World Trade Centers Association, which helped construct similar complexes around the world. None, of course, were as iconic and beloved as New York's Twin Towers.

There's no way of knowing just how many people passed through the Twin Towers' famous halls. Whatever the number, no doubt many, many more were aware of the structure's significance.

"The World Trade Center is a living symbol of man's dedication to world peace," explained architect Yamasaki. "[It's] a representation of man's belief in humanity, his need for individual dignity, his beliefs in the cooperation of men, and, through cooperation, his ability to find greatness." Gingrich and company obviously didn't get the message.

Though right-wingers would like to claim Ground Zero as sole, spiritual property of the United States, it is and always was an international endeavor. Remember: 2,995 people from over 70 countries died in the September 11 attacks, statistics that illustrate the terrorist attacks' international impact.

Gingrich and others who call the "Ground Zero" mosque an affront to the United States and maintain that it's led by "radicals" should remember two things: First, Ground Zero isn't just an American shrine, it was and remains a global epicenter for community building and commerce.

Second, the proposed community center has been spearheaded not by a "radical Islamist," but by an Imam named Feisal Abdul Rauf, who previously worked as part of President Bush's Middle East peace team.

If the right wants to call a Republican president's ally a "radical," go for it, but such proclamations betray an extremely narrow world view, one that neglects the international importance of not only the Twin Towers, but September 11th itself.

A version of this article also appeared at Death and Taxes Magazine.