I went to northern Jersey this weekend to visit a sick relative. When I realized I could view the Manhattan skyline from her hospital window, I decided to take a side trip and see for myself the project that has stirred so much controversy over the past few weeks. A bus and subway ride later I was standing outside the Burlington Coat Factory on Murray Street, home of the proposed lower Manhattan Mosque and Community Center.
I was expecting the building to be locked up, but the door was open and a stern looking man in a black suit stood guard outside. When I asked if I could enter, he told me I could take a look. I did so, and saw a room to my left with several dozen Muslims and a table filled with food. I had arrived just at the time of Iftar, the breaking of the day's fast during the current month of Ramadan.
The guard followed me inside, and when he realized I was interested in stepping into the prayer room reminded me to take off my shoes. He wouldn't have needed to tell me, as I knew from previous visits to Arab and Islamic countries that Muslims always take off their shoes before entering a mosque. I removed them, walked down into the room, and greeted a young man there. He said they still had two minutes to wait before Iftar, and invited me to join them. Since I had just eaten and had other places to go, I thanked him but declined the invitation.
As I was putting on my shoes, a young woman sitting alone on a chair asked me if I were Muslim. I replied I was not, and asked what had brought her here. She said she was a Christian from a southern state, and wanted to just sit a few minutes to pray for our country. I commented that the proposed mosque seemed to be stirring up a lot of anger, and asked if she felt angry. She said she wasn't, and I said I thought that was good. She then asked if I thought the people inside believed that 9/11 was God's will. I replied, as I have discussed here and here, that Muslims and Christians have different ideas of what constitutes the divine will. In Islam everything that happens, whether good or bad, is part of qadr, the will of Allah. Christians, on the other hand, believe that God allows bad things to happen that are not in his will.
From Murray Street I turned the corner and was facing the empty space that had been the World Trade Center. I couldn't believe this was my first visit; any reader who has not been there but possibly can should go. As I walked around the chain link fence separating spectators from the actual site I had the thought, "Why don't we build the World Trade Center again, higher and mightier and stronger than ever? Isn't that how America replies to threats? What could be a greater blow to our enemies than to see those two buildings (why not three this time?) standing taller and more proud than before along the skyline?"
I know the idea has been discussed and rejected, but I wish I had the influence to put it back on the table. A few minutes later, I struck up a conversation with a late-night security guard on the corner of Broadway and Rector. Like many local residents, he was a treasure trove of knowledge about the immediate area. When I asked what he thought about my idea of rebuilding the towers, he replied one problem was they would have to turn all New York City into a no-fly zone. Every crazy in the world and his brother, he said, would take a small airplane and fly it into the World Trade Center.
I don't think that would be the case. It could occasionally happen of course, as this desperado proved earlier this year in Texas, but why allow that fear to stop us? After all, the old adage still is true that 95% of FEAR is simply False Evidence Appearing Real.