In 2003 my family went to New York City for the first time. I wanted to attend NYU, and so I visited the campus. We saw a broadway show. We went shopping. Because our trip fell just before the 2nd anniversary of 9/11, we went to ground zero. I remember the silence started several blocks away. On the wall near the site of the attack, people had written messages; one message stuck with me. "We gave peace a chance," it said, "and this is what we got." At the time, a senor in a high school that didn't teach world history much past WWII, I couldn't explain, exactly, why this bothered me. Overcome by the despair in these scrawled letters, I snapped a photograph, and did not give it much further thought. What struck me, next, were the rows and rows of vendors selling Ground Zero merchandise, some blaring that awful Enya remix from stereo systems, tugging at the heat and purse strings of tourists. It did not feel like a memorial site, so much as an open wound, still raw and oozing, still ambivalent as to what kind of scar it would become.
Now, years later, the debate over the sacred nature of this place has taken an ugly turn. An Islamic community center, proposed too close to the site, for some, has sparked objections based solely in hatred and ignorance. I don't know what Ground Zero is; shrine or grave or tourist trap, it is only one thing that every one can agree upon, and that is American. Our values have a place here, as anywhere, and those values would not allow us to keep Muslims out because of their religion. Mr. President, I think you should speak out about this. I think you should show that Americans stand with our Muslim communities, that we do not think there are any places in this country where one particular religion is not welcome. Whether or not we had before 9/11, we cannot, now, make the mistake of dividing our country along religious lines. American Muslims are just as American and American Christians, or Americans of any religion. Welcoming them into communities, encouraging them to participate in the stewardship of their communities, and even to bear witness to the healing of the great trauma that they, as Americans and as New Yorkers, undoubtedly shared, will only help us move forward a stronger nation.
Were we, in fact, punished for giving peace a chance? I'm not going to comment on what actions or inactions may have contributed to 9/11. In my opinion, whatever legitimate grievances the attackers may have had with our country became irrelevant the moment the hijacked those planes. Whatever reasonable points of criticism they might have made were silenced forever in the roar of engines and impacts and fire. I do think that if we allow these acts to change us into something unrecognizable, to a place where some religions are simply not accepted, than we surrender far more than they ever could have taken from us by force.