Hawks and Hawkers

Some might see it as a great move. I think it is one more sissy attempt at tolerance and reaching out. Religion is the culprit.

There is the World Trade Centre and two blocks away is the Burlington Coat factory. On 9/11, one of the planes crashed through two of its empty floors. For eight years it lay deserted. Things are different now. As the New York Times reported, “But for months now, out of the public eye, an iron gate rises every Friday afternoon, and with the outside rumblings of construction at ground zero as a backdrop, hundreds of Muslims crowd inside, facing Mecca in prayer and listening to their imam read in Arabic from the Koran.”

I would truly like to take some quotes from the NYT to display just how puppy sweet can be bone-chewing wicked. Look at the catch phrases: ‘out of the public eye’, ‘hundreds of Muslims crowd inside’, ‘facing Mecca in prayer’, ‘listening to their imam, read in Arabic from the Koran’.

Of course, they will face Mecca and the Koran is written in Arabic and hey, dude, you can’t get an investment banker to preach and if he does so in his spare time it would be in his capacity as imam. I thought the NYT would know.

Apparently, this Friday ritual has a greater vision for “an Islamic center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land that would stand as one of ground zero’s more unexpected and striking neighbors”.

Most hallowed? And why is it unexpected to have a Muslim centre in the neighbourhood? The answer regarding the proximity “where a piece of the wreckage fell” comes from Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the cleric leading the project, when he says it “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11. We want to push back against the extremists.”

These clerics ought to realise that in their enthusiasm to work up this pusillanimous business of peace they are further giving credence to stereotypes. What was the statement of 9/11 that can have an opposite one? Terrorists also pray and take the name of god, whichever stripe they are of. How can anyone push back extremism as an ideology? Will this apply to any sort of dissent? Or any sort of bludgeoning?

The idea is as sick as those selling bits of wreckage soon after the 2001 attacks. It is sick to use a space as a statement. It is frightening that people of religion force those who practise their faith privately to become answerable to society even as citizens.

Acknowledging the possibility of a backlash from those opposed to a Muslim presence at ground zero, Joan Brown Campbell, director of the department of religion at the Chautauqua Institution and former general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ USA, said, “Building so close is owning the tragedy. It’s a way of saying: ‘This is something done by people who call themselves Muslims. We want to be here to repair the breach, as the Bible says.’ ”

Oh dear. What does this mean? Why should New York Muslims, who probably lead regular lives, have to own up to a tragedy? Far worse is her quoting from the Bible and making the differences more palpable, a ‘you show me yours, I’ll show you mine’ kind of juvenile attempt at religious one-upmanship.

A few years ago when Benjamin Matthew Williams killed a gay couple outside a town in California he used the Bible as his inspiration: “I’m not guilty of murder, I’m guilty of obeying the laws of the creator.”

The proposed centre is basing itself on a Jewish centre, and they want an interfaith dialogue. It is supposed to convey that these Muslims are willing to play ball with anyone who’s able. This rubbish about cultural give and take just does not work. What is cultural about people getting together under one roof and praying and everyone commenting about how they face Mecca and learn Arabic? Culture is what you do and not which holy book you read.

Chances of this place becoming one to avoid are high or one that will be seen as another zoo where wild animals look kind of sweet behind those cages.

This is fairly prime real estate and the Centre might end up making quite a bit of money by getting brainwashed devotees to pay up and own up the tragedy and feel good about being, well, good. Sharif El-Gamal, chairman and chief executive of Soho Properties, of course, says, “What happened that day was not Islam.”

So? Why does it have to be stated everytime? Almost 3000 people were killed by a handful. There is absolutely no reason to be on a permanent guilt trip.

Think about the 30,000 troops being sent off to Afghanistan. Think about the complete lack of guilt. They will be back by 2011 because President Barack Obama believes the US cannot shoulder an ‘‘open-ended commitment’’.

How does America know that by 2011 it will be fine to move out? What are its plans? It is time Mr. Obama stopped talking as though it is a magnanimous gesture and the US will suffer. How can he promise to bring “this war to a successful conclusion”? Which war is he talking about? The one that has US drones? Or the one that is a civil war in which the US has no place? Or the one it is fighting in its mind?

Defence secretary Robert Gates said, “It is neither necessary nor feasible to create a modern, Western-style Afghan nation-state. Nor does it entail counterinsurgency from one end of Afghanistan to the other. We will not repeat the mistakes of 1989, when we abandoned the country only to see it descend into civil war, and then into Taliban hands.”

Just who does Mr Gates think he is? Does he know that Afghanistan has a long history and has survived many marauders? What does modern mean? Iraq was a modern state. Iran was a modern state until the interference started and the religious guys decided to take over control. The insurgency is not from Afghanistan but from outside, so the counter-insurgency will come from them.

The US abandoned the country and left it in the hands of the Taliban? The Afghans were fighting alongside the Russians against the Mujahideen, the holy warriors, who had the help of the United States of America!

Mr. Obama should know that history is inconvenient truth. We just have to live with it.

FARZANA VERSEY is a Mumbai-based columnist and author of A Journey Interrupted: Being Indian in Pakistan, Harper Collins, India. She can be reached at kaaghaz.kalam@gmail.com






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