Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Ground Zero Mosque Would Heal Old Wounds; Building a Place of Worship for Muslims near the World Trade Center Site Sends the Right Message to Extremists

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Ground Zero Mosque Would Heal Old Wounds; Building a Place of Worship for Muslims near the World Trade Center Site Sends the Right Message to Extremists

Article excerpt

Byline: James Fenton VIEW FROM AMERICA

GROUND Zero mosque supporters," tweeted former Alaska governor Sarah Palin the other day, "doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." And so she coined a new word to go with George Bush's "misunderestimate". But what was or is the mosque that she was asking peaceful Muslims to refudiate? Walk down West Broadway in the direction of the great Ground Zero building site. A couple of blocks north of the great void you come to Park Place, a commercial street of no great interest, still featuring just a few of the 19th-century metal-framed factories and warehouses for which Downtown Manhattan is well known.

Most of these buildings, in this part of town, look doomed to be replaced by the kind of gigantic office development that will in due course replace the World Trade Center. But Park Place is not itself a part of, or indeed attached to, the Ground Zero site, except by a tenuous sentiment that both sides in the current row have sought in different ways to exploit.

Number 45 Park Place, to my eye a handsome structure, with a row of rusty Corinthian pillars at street level, was once home to the Burlington Coat Factory. On September 11 2001, this building was hit by a piece of detached debris, the landing gear of one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center. For years afterwards it lay empty and was for sale, until a Muslim group consciously chose it for a well-meaning project of their own. They wanted to build an Islamic centre along the lines of one of the Upper East Side's familiar old institutions: the 92nd Street Y. The Y -- the Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association -- is familiar, for its gloomy auditorium, to generations of writers and their audiences. It is described as "guided by Jewish principles but serving people of all races and faiths". The idea of the new owners of 45 Park Place is to pull down the existing building and put up in its place a similar sort of institution, guided by Muslim principles, and including facilities for prayer.

Already on Fridays the old factory serves as a prayer space, and has done without exciting comment since its purchase. It's not the only Downtown mosque, and in a city where store-front churches and other improvised places of worship are exceedingly familiar there's really nothing odd about it. New York has a large Muslim population, and they have the right to worship somewhere.

To be on the periphery of the World Trade Center site was a part of the attraction for Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the guiding spirit behind the project. To be "where a piece of the wreckage fell" would itself be a part of the message. An estimated 60 Muslims died on 9/11, but that is not the only reason why he would find such a symbolic choice of site attractive. "We want to push back against the extremists," he says. …

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