Square One at Ground Zero

Article excerpt

IN LATE JULY the controversy surrounding the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero escalated from a disapproving murmur into a pep rally of outrage. Politicians with much to gain (read: votes) and Christians with much to preserve (read: power) dedicated their voices to the protest and prevention of the mosque's construction. Their words, angry and blind, serve not only as a convenient campaign platform, but a dark reminder of the prejudice that continues to fester within our nation.

After the 9/11 attacks, Islam was forced under the microscope. Within a matter of days the United States defined an entire religion by the handful of extremists responsible for the tragedy. America was afraid, creating a climate in which one population had the most to fear: Muslims. In the weeks that followed a large number of Muslims remained confined within their houses, terrified of misdirected retribution and forced to wait out the hostility. An Indian friend of mine was one of the worried. "But you aren't even Muslim," I mused. She looked at me plainly. "They don't know that"

They--the rioters throwing bricks through Muslim-owned businesses and spray-painting houses with death threats. Their behavior was excused under the guise of pain, fresh wounds still healing. But their excuses didn't hold water then, and certainly don't hold water now.

Sarah Palin, a usual conservative suspect, recently pleaded with "peaceful Muslims" over Twitter to "refudiate" the construction plans, claiming the pain is "too real, too raw." Her statement was a shameful, shining example of the excuses made when oppression is supposedly warranted by hurt. Why expect support from peaceful Muslims when they're included among the oppressed? Newt Gingrich, now embarking on an anti-mosque campaign fundraiser, joined in on the condemnation, declaring the construction an act of aggression.

To many conservative Americans, an Islamic house of worship occupying the space where thousands of innocent citizens died at the hands of Islamic terrorists isn't just an act of aggression. It's a missile directed at their towns, their cities, the vacant lot for sale across from their grocery store, the empty building next to their child's school. In their minds, the mosque's construction would not only encourage a beehive of terrorist activity, it would signify change, a change most conservatives don't want to endure in the form of a new neighborhood religion. …