Discrimination by Inches: The Mistake of a No-Mosque Zone in NYC

Discrimination by Inches: The Mistake of a No-Mosque Zone in NYC


The public displays of discrimination continue against the proposed building of the Cordoba mosque and cultural center near ground zero in New York City.

Protesters for and against the mosque are a daily occurrence. Debates are heated in the press. Websites have been created by construction workers threatening to hold back supplies and labor if the building is built near “hallowed ground.”

Recently, Illinois Governor, Pat Quinn advocated a “zone of solemnity” near ground zero, restricting how close the mosque/community center should be built:

I do believe that there are special places on Earth that should have a zone of solemnity around them,” he said last week. “I would strongly urge those who are thinking of putting a mosque within that zone to rethink their position.

Former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich stated that he would approve the mosque if it were built near Central Park, several miles away.  Mayor Bloomberg shot back publicly and stated that there is already an existing mosque 4 blocks away from ground zero, and asked, sarcastically, should that be moved too?

Plainly speaking, proposing a “no mosque zone” near ground zero is racist. To even entertain the idea for a moment is to raise several unanswerable questions: how many inches, yards, blocks or miles should the zone be away from ground zero? How far should the mosque move from “hallowed ground” to satisfy the bias of people who take issue with the religion of Islam, with Muslims than with a proposed building?

The mosque is simply a proxy for deep seated xenophobia of Arab-looking Muslims (the majority of the World’s practicing Muslims are in fact from Asia and not the Arab world) and for a religion that we, as a country, know little to nothing about.

The level of anti-Arab harassment and violence rose after 9/11, especially in NYC, and it just didn’t disappear. Even Sikhs, who are not Muslim, were the target of violence because any turban, any elongated beard and dark skin became visual representations of “anti-American” beliefs, the enemy of the state after 9/11.

As time passed, as our fear of Muslims was redirected toward the televised “war on terror” abroad, we still did not shed our bias. It was simply lying dormant, emerging again when “symbols” such as mosques are supposed to be built near places where we believe only “true Americans” perished. In fact, Christian Arabs as well as Muslim Americans also perished in the World Trade Center disaster.

I actually think this energy toward the building of the Cordoba mosque should be redirected toward the owners of ground zero, the Port Authorities of New York and New Jersey and private landowners such as Silverstein properties.

The several years of “moratorium” on building at ground zero was not simply over the creation of a memorial to lost victims but over money and compensation to landlords. There were debates over how tall the next skyscraper should be, as well as the size the of commercial buildings in and around the footprint of the twin towers.

If there should be any “zone of solemnity” it should be the entire ground zero itself. No skyscraper should be built and no commercial shopping center should be allowed. It should be a public green space, with memorials, reflecting pools, parks and community gardens that reflect life and a shared memory of what was lost on the site.

Instead of targeting a particular religion and a people as the culprits of 9/11, this new “zone of peace” would be the site of public events and conversations on religion and culture, a real ground zero for educating the next generation about the benefits of loving humanity and the self-destructive nature of hatred. Now wouldn’t that be a remarkable legacy to leave on hallowed ground?


  1. Noel

    The whole thing is a red herring. The site is nowhere near 'ground zero' (which in fact is nothing but a hole in the ground at the moment. It's in Tribeca for crying out loud. But the right wingers from South Carolina have no idea where Tribeca is, and even if they did. They would not care. This is about white people 'taking back' what they have 'lost'. It's a bad sign man, and the beginnings of even worse to come. To even engage in the discussion is to give credence to their line of crap, unfortunately. And believe me, these things always end badly. This time will be no different. Maybe worse.