9/11/01 -- a terrorist attack by al Qaeda kills 3,000 people in New York. Families reel from the loss of loved ones, trying to make sense of this senseless tragedy. 9/11 reshaped the world, resculpting our national and global psyches. But it's not finished. Nine years later, people heatedly contest building a community center/mosque in a neighborhood that has strip clubs, but is also near Ground Zero. What's this all about?
Post-9/11, friends and acquaintances zeroed in on my Muslim identity. I felt like I was on the hot seat explaining Islam, as I was earlier in my career, defending reproductive rights while working at Planned Parenthood in San Francisco. Early on, the FAQ's were basic: Why are Muslim women repressed? Why is Islam so militant?
A couple years later, shock gave way to a new curiosity about Islam and my friends were devouring books to understand the faith better. People were striving to understand each other, looking at the inter-faith and cross cultural issues, searching for commonalities even as we lived side by side, regaining our old rhythms.
But today it seems to me that Muslims in the US are suspect, profiled and harassed. Arsalan Iftikar, writer and commentator, argues that islamophobia has burgeoned and become the accepted form of racism in America. Pastor Terry Jones planned a bonfire of Qurans on the anniversary of 9/11 in Florida. A mock pig is flung into a mosque in Madera, California, and a mosque is burned in Tennessee. These battles engage me at home. I see myself evolving into a new kind of Muslim, helping to shape an American Islam imbued with democratic values, constitutional rights, women's rights and religious tolerance, a role model for the world.
And it's happening. The credit goes to my heroes men, women, and key non-profits.
My first hero is my nephew Eboo Patel, executive director of the Inter-faith Youth Core, a member of President Obama's council on faith-based partnerships, who provides context for the community center/mosque in Lower Manhattan: The core argument emerging from the anti-mosque protests is that Muslims are not and can never be full Americans. Eboo draws on Rosa Parks: Freedom does not mean you can sit on the bus here, but not there. And further, Muslims did not bomb the Twin Towers; evil terrorists did. This is not a Muslim issue; this is an American issue.
Second, to the ACLU for its indefatigable defense of constitutional rights and freedoms -- even for alleged terrorists. That's what keeps us from becoming like the terrorists.
Third, to Mayor Bloomberg for his heroic support of the community center/mosque at Park51, especially given his family's Holocaust history.
Fourth, to my friend and heroine Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Feisal and co-founder of the center/mosque, for her steadfast approach, her patience, and her ability to move slowly.
On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I am trying to understand why the community center/mosque at Park51 has become such a hot-button political issue. It is understandably a sensitive and emotional issue for families who lost loved ones in the 9/11 attack and for some New Yorkers. But, it seems to be hitting a deeper emotional nerve with the broader American public. Is the center/mosque equated with the 9/11 attack and by extension with Bush's costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, high unemployment, the housing, mortgage and economic debacle? Is the community center/mosque conflated with Muslims and Islam in America so that all Muslims in America are now being held responsible for this terrorist act? Or is this issue being used to displace anxiety about the unraveling of the American dream -- prosperity and security -- that this country enjoyed for 50 years with few hiccups?
In December 2009, when Fox TV's Laura Ingraham first interviewed Daisy Khan, Ingraham blessed the benign concept: I can't imagine anyone could object to this idea. Yet, Park51 has become a political football. Rick Lazio seized the issue for his governor's race in New York, Palin and Gingrich are using it to whip up right-wing Republicans. The Tea Party has embraced it. The essence of this anti-Muslim frenzy is expressed by Rush Limbaugh who proclaims that our president is, Imam Hussein Obama -- probably the best anti-American president we've ever had.
Almost a decade after 9/11 we are left with a toxic fire storm -- ignited by terrorism, fueled by two Bush wars, a deep recession -- even as a new world economy emerges. The US must become part of a multi-polar world economy, sharing the stage with Brazil, Russia, Turkey, India and China. Inclusion of immigrants, innovation and tolerance will be key to future prosperity.
Why would we want to launch a clash of civilizations just as we become inextricably bound together as an interdependent world?