Sensitivity Zero

Lately, it seems like a lot of the Italian feasts and processions I perform at with various bands have been celebrating 100 year anniversaries. At the close of one procession a few weeks ago, a society leader spoke for a few minutes on the occasion, relating a story from 1942. Due to Italy's involvement in World War II, the town objected to any ethnic celebration by people from a country we were at war with. They argued back that it was a religious celebration, not an Italian one, but were still outvoted. The celebration was held anyway that year, in the society hall rather than the local school parking lot. And the procession went on as well. The town could keep them off the streets, but they couldn't keep them from walking on the sidewalk.

Things like this seem silly in hindsight. In the year 2010, it's hard to imagine anyone taking issue with an Italian Catholic celebration. Everyone loves zeppole too much! In all seriousness though, time heals many wounds, and with each generation removed from any disagreement, the tension fades if the flames aren't fanned. As a melting pot of many cultures and religious beliefs(or lack thereof), America is often faced with unique challenges. It is human nature to condemn an entire group for the actions of any portion. Intellectually, people from the World War II era might have realized that because the Nazis were German did not mean that anyone who was German was a Nazi. But intellect and emotion may be two different things. Racism can arise when someone looks and acts like others who've committed heinous acts. From the ‘80s on, kids thought Japan was awesome because of their cartoons and technology. Kids who grew up when Pearl Harbor was attacked had a very different opinion of the Japanese. Japanese-Americans who had nothing to do with the attack were rounded up. It came from a place of fear and security concerns, though it was unjust.

Lately, I've been pondering the issue of the ”Ground Zero Mosque”. People have had very strong feelings for and against the construction of an Islamic center so close to the site of the former World Trade Center, destroyed 9 years ago when Islamic terrorists flew planes into the buildings. It was a horrible, horrible day that we won't soon forget, especially those closest to the event. I still remember the reports that morning, the people at my office concerned for loved ones who worked in the city. I remember an e-mail from an ex-girlfriend, who recognized a name among the missing as the husband of a girl we worked with, whose wedding we had attended. They had a little girl, and she was pregnant with their second child when he was killed. If you're a soldier or a cop you know death is a risk when you go to work. If you work in an office, you definitely don't expect to be attacked.

People continue to be affected. First responders who went in to save as many people as they could now suffer from respiratory diseases. I spoke with a music teacher at a gig over the weekend who lived and worked a few blocks from the site, breathing in the air as the wreckage continued to smolder and burn. He attributed a cancerous ailment to that, and recounted several coworkers who had similar problems. Parents lost children, and children lost parents. My friend's daughter will never know her father. These are the physical and emotional realities.

The harder issue is the intellectual reality. The terrorists were Muslims, manipulated by their beliefs into thinking they were dying as martyrs for a sacred cause when they crashed those planes. But all Muslims are not terrorists. In America, we have the freedom to retain our cultural and religious traditions, to practice and worship freely so long as we don't harm others or encroach on their rights. Intellectually, and legally, there should be nothing wrong with building an Islamic center anywhere in New York. If it's about faith, and peace, and not the destruction of the Western world, then they have as much right to be there as Christian or Jewish or any other group.

The problem is, 9/11 is a very fresh wound. Bodies were never recovered, the intense heat and pressure scattering ash and human remains for blocks. One mother described the area as her “son's grave” and opposed a mosque being built over it. Supposedly, a mosque is only one part of the center, which will also include a 9/11 memorial. Healing is needed. German-Americans, Italian-Americans, and Japanese-Americans don't face the same opposition they once did when their original nations fought America. That didn't happen overnight, though. In the end, I guess I can conclude that the building of this structure isn't wrong, but it does seem insensitive. It's too soon. It's too close. And if I've read correctly, the groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for September 11th of this year, the anniversary of the attacks. Of all places, and of all days, why there and then?

It's a difficult issue, and I know I'm too close to it to be entirely objective. It will be easier for my children, and for their children, if history has taught us anything. The terrorists are the bad guys, not Muslims, but people are going to have a hard time making that distinction. Sadly, ignoring that will only make that misconception stronger, and there are so many compromises and options that would help avoid such an increase in tension. I just don’t get it. Do you?


Blogger Spockgirl said...

I have many thoughts on your post, but I will stick with the most pertinent. I remember where I was when the 9/11 attacks happened and I remember getting home from work every evening after that day, waiting anxiously for news of survivors being pulled out, because there just HAD to be...It didn't matter that I was so far away or that I didn't know anyone in the buildings, on the planes nor on the ground.
As for the "mosque". What I don't get is how a wealthy Islamic investor can buy a property to build a revenue generating condo complex and then CHANGE his mind and instead opt for a "philanthropic" community center and Mosque. I'm sorry, but that would be like building the condo complex with the hull of a plane sticking out of it. I apologize if this is too blunt. Feel free to delete my comment if you wish.

8/24/2010 1:38 AM  

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