Last night, the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission met to discuss possibly designating a building on Park Place, north of Wall Street, as a landmark. Of course, the hearing was not about architecture. It was about saving us from THE OTHER.
An Islamic group would like to build a mosque and community center on the site, which is a few blocks from Ground Zero. Naturally, blind anti-Muslim outrage—which has been building for months—is causing a hysterical reaction against this innocuous project that is, frankly, scary to behold. Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio is agitating against the project. Frantic, traumatized 9-11 survivors have latched onto it as an imaginary way to get back against the people who attacked us. And the project offers a cozy receptacle for the latent hatred of Muslims that has permeated this nation for the past decade.
"To deprive this building of landmark status is to allow for a citadel of Islamic supremacy to be erected in its place," said a typical opponent. In fact, I can think of no greater tribute to America, and to our ability to overcome an attack like 9-11, than to politely approve this project, and to uphold the right to religious freedom which has served us well for more than 200 years now.
We normally like to mock and derisively joke about the type of person who rages against a project like this. But in this case, we're too sad for that. (And, it occurs to us, that might not be the spirit we should embrace here). Instead, we'll just plea for everyone to take a deep breath, and realize that the greatest danger is that we become just like those that we fear: intolerant religious zealots, operating from fear and ignorance, demanding strict adherence to our own religious and cultural code, seeking to quash those different from us.
It's normal to be scared, traumatized, fearful, and angry after something terrible like 9-11. But none of us want to live in a world defined by those qualities. This is the greatest city on earth. We can do better than this.