Unless you have a terminal fear of calendars you will no doubt be aware that yesterday marked the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and (less notoriously) the White House. You might also be aware of the rather disturbing threats by some fervent anti-Islamists to honour this anniversary by burning Qur’ans. Fortunately these threats were largely hot air, but they are indicative of a dangerous attitude held by many Americans, and indeed people of other nations, towards the Islamic world.
Yesterday was a day of mourning in The Big Apple marred by a rather unfortunate protest. The epicentre was a proposed Islamic Cultural Centre and Prayer Room only a few blocks away from the site of that most terrible of attacks. While it is, perhaps, somewhat insensitive to build an Islamic Centre so near such hallowed ground, especially when the wounds inflicted on that September day are still painfully fresh, it should be seen as an opportunity for reconciliation and to heal the wounds inflicted by Islamic Extremists. To protest against these proposals does nothing to repair the damage done on 9/11, indeed it only serves to further drive a wedge between America and the Muslim world; even the more liberal end of it, which holds many similar ideals to those upon which America is founded.
One of those ideals is tolerance. America was once a melting pot which accepted people from all walks of life and of all creeds into its society. The ‘land of opportunity’ is in part a myth, but it is built upon a genuine openness and acceptance which is now, as with many of the ideals upon which America is built, sadly forgotten by many Americans. If America is ever to fully recover and move on from 9/11 it needs to change the policy that caused the fierce resentment of America that was held by even relatively moderate Muslims at the turn of the millennium. Over-aggressive foreign policy towards the Middle East made America the enemy; American support of the state of Israel being indicative of this attitude. The radical views of the few influenced the majority of the Muslim world, turning all of them against America. The way to solve this problem is to stop being the enemy of liberal and moderate Muslims; stripping the extremists of their popular support.
The thing is that the proposal is being put forward by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a liberal American Muslim who has condemned the 9/11 attacks as ‘unislamic’. He has the very reasonable aim of promoting tolerance in his Centre by facilitating all religions and promoting reconciliation and respect between religions. Rauf is exactly the kind of man that America should be welcoming with open arms and this proposal would be a huge step in the right direction towards pulling the rug from beneath the feet of terrorism. Yet people protest against this proposal, displaying the same attitude that caused the almost world-wide resentment of America that existed in 2001 and still exits to this day. It’s almost as though people don’t learn from their own mistakes.
The real tragedy of this protest however is the timing. Yesterday should have been a day of mourning and introspection, not a day of protest and anger. 9/11 may have been an international disaster which has changed the face of world politics and triggered at least 2 large scale conflicts, but it was also a human tragedy that tore apart literally thousands of families. Its 9th anniversary should be a time to mourn the loss of all the people who died that day and to try to make sure that such a tragedy never happens again. It is truly sad that a group of people feels the need to undermine such a day by voicing hate and prejudice against people striving for such reconciliation.
There is another side however. Opposite those protesting against the Centre was a group on favour of it. A group of Americans who believe that they have every right to build an Islamic Cultural Centre a few block away from ground zero. A group who think that to blame Islam as a whole for the tragedy of 9/11 is a complete misunderstanding of the situation and is also deeply harmful to international relations between America and the Muslim world. So maybe this other group is indicative of the fact that there is some hope. That in the future America might be able to put the resentment and the hate of 9/11 behind them, to recover from that terrible wound inflicted that autumn. Or maybe it’s just indicative of the fact that America is divided on almost every political and ethical issue.