THERE ARE TWO GENERAL schools of thought regarding the plans to open a mosque in a building two blocks away from the former site of the World Trade Centre.
There are those who still feel the traumas of the September 11 terrorist attacks. They say that the idea of opening a place of devotion to Islam – the same faith whose fundamentalist adherents were responsible for 2,976 civilian deaths – is an affront to those who lost their lives, or their loves, on 9/11.
Then there are those, including President Obama, who say that the United States itself is founded on pluralism: the idea that a single society can exist in spite of – and can indeed defend – a multitude of faiths and belief systems.
In between, however, there is a third group: the Muslim community of Manhattan that simply asks for a place to pray.
An unpopular population
“You know how many Muslims are in this area?,” asks Saad Madaha from Ghana, who prays in a mosque only four blocks from Ground Zero, in a basement beneath a nightclub.
“I would like to see a mosque that looks more like a mosque. I would like to go and pray and have full concentration in my prayers and not have music bashing me in my head.”
Madaha, in that case, is presumably not all that impressed with the plans for the proposed Corboda Centre, which will occupy a disused coat factory on Park Place. The glass-and-steel tower will not look much like a mosque at all: in fact, it won’t even have a crescent moon on its roof.
Some of his fellow Muslims, however, can understand why Governor David Paterson, among others, wants to move the new place of worship to a location with slightly less emotional baggage.
[caption id="attachment_12974" align="alignnone" width="544" caption="Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is the man behind the 'Cordoba House Initiative' that has drawn such controversy. Photo: Craig Ruttle/AP"]
“We need mosques, but anywhere but Ground Zero. It’s going to be a problem all the time,” said Sheikh Hossein, 42, from Bangladesh. ”We want to pray peacefully. I don’t want to pray and fight somebody else over the location.
“If this mosque is built here, every time there is terrorism, they are going to blame us.”
But while Hossein’s logic is also sound, Madaha say relocation would be an insult, saying an victory won by the mosque’s opponents would be “a slap on religion”.
A central focal point for a dispersed community
Another factor that muddies the waters is the fact that many New York Muslims simply don’t have the time or habit of worshipping in their own neighbourhoods, and are required to fit their prayer around their working schedules.
A downtown site in Manhattan suits their needs, therefore, because it’s well serviced by public transport and is in the heart of the financial district that employs so many Muslims.
Obama says he has “no regrets” about taking a controversial stance on the project, which has threatened to become a major issue in November’s mid-term elections which could see his Democratic party lose control of Congress to the Republicans.
Before that, however, there is a more pressing issue: the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and a protest arranged for that date, part-organised and to be attended by the families of people killed at the World Trade Centre.
The Muslim community – who will also hold an event of some sort, with the details yet to be discussed – is worried that the event may turn violent, particularly with the anniversary coming at the end of the holy month of Ramadan.
But it seems that no matter what the outcome, there is no way to please everyone. If the mosque is opened, it will almost certainly become a target for sectarian hatred; Obama will face dissent in November’s polls and beyond, and even some of its worshippers will not appreciate the ‘un-Mosque-ish’ look of the building.
If it does not happen, then the Islamic community of New York and beyond will have reason to feel marginalised and victimised in revenge for attacks they condemn and had no part to play in.
Proof, perhaps, that the work of the terrorists has been successful in removing a little of the freedom from the Land of the Free.