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From the Editor
Perhaps you have been following the issue in the international news media about the proposed Islamic cultural community center that supporters want to build in Lower Manhattan (New York City). Detractors argue that such a center should not be built because the location is too close to “Ground Zero”, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack that destroyed the World Trade Center buildings. More than 2,700 people – not just American citizens, and not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims as well – were killed. The lists of the dead included executives, clerks, secretaries, food service personnel and office cleaners who were just going to work that bright September morning, and police, fire, and emergency service personnel who had responded to that terrible event in an effort to help people to safety.
September 11, 2001, to borrow President Franklin Roosevelt’s line referring to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, is “a day that will live in infamy”. For many Americans, the reality and memory of September 11, 2001 still stirs up feelings of horror and helplessness, rage and confusion.
The controversy about whether or not to build an Islamic cultural community center at this particular site in Lower Manhattan has caused great agitation among both supporters and opposers. Everyone from American President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich and former U.S. Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin have weighed in on the project. Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of other religious traditions, and of no religious tradition, have jumped into the fray. Relatives of those who died on 9/11, as well as people who experienced those frightening and fearful days, have all had something to say. American media figures from talk radio and talk television have and are contributing to the cacophony of voices expressing strong opinions one way or the other.
One thing is certain: there is confusion, bad feelings, and nasty comments from all sides and from all constituencies (in and outside of New York City); from those who are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim; from those across the political, economic, and social spectrum; and from 9/11 family members as well as “ordinary Americans” about the proposed Islamic cultural community center.
One of the sanest voices to enter the fray was that of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of New York, Timothy Dolan, who offered to “mediate” in the dispute. In his August 20, 2010 blog (http://blog.archny.org), he had this to say:
We want to be careful not to frame our discussion about the proposed Islamic Center in New York as a choice between religious freedom, on the one hand, and completing our own healing, on the other. Both of these duties are good and both are equally necessary… Although I have no strong sentiment about what should be decided about the eventual where of the Islamic Center, I do have strong convictions about how such a discussion should be reached: civilly and charitably. The hot-heads on either side must not dominate.
I agree with Archbishop Dolan that such a discussion should be conducted “civilly and charitably” – but how do we do that?
  1. How should we ordinary Americans who are not part of the power elite – whether political, religious, economic, or social – think about and discuss this volatile issue (the building of an Islamic cultural community center “in the shadow” of “Ground Zero”)?
  2. How should we “frame our discussion” so it is more than simply “a choice between religious freedom” and “healing” (from the trauma of 9/11)? How do we do this in a way that is understandable to “ordinary Americans” of whatever religious or political persuasion?
  3. What are the issues? What are the “choices”? What are the values we want to preserve and encourage in ourselves, our students, our friends, neighbors, and co-workers – in the body politic, in our synagogues, churches, and mosques, and in the media, secular and religious?
  4. How can we “ordinary folks” think about and discuss this very messy issue of the proposed Islamic cultural community center in Lower Manhattan? What one, or two, or three ideas/values should “frame our discussion”, and why?
I asked several people – women and men, Jewish, Christian and Muslim – to respond to some of these questions.
For one reason or another, the women were unable to meet my very unreasonable deadline (it was very, very tight!), but the four people who did respond have written thoughtful, sensitive, and wonderful essays. I hope you will find them helpful as you think about and take part in this difficult dialogue about a very difficult issue for us Americans, which has implications far beyond our shores.
Carol Rittner RSM,
From the Editor
Carol Rittner RSM
Return to Cordoba
David N. Myers
Are We Asking the Right Questions?
Tariq Adwan
Making a Choice
Robert Gardner
Interfaith Dialogue at Ground Zero
Patrick HenryEssay%201%20Sept%202010.htmlEssay%202%20Sept%202010.htmlEssay%203%20Sept%202010.htmlEssay%204%20Sept%202010.htmlshapeimage_3_link_0shapeimage_3_link_1shapeimage_3_link_2shapeimage_3_link_3shapeimage_3_link_4
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