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Faith at Ground Zero

It takes faith to do this.

We may as well be honest and acknowledge that it takes a bucket-load of faith in the human capacity for tolerance and forgiveness to do what is surely the right thing to do, but the difficult thing to do, and allow construction of a towering mosque and Islamic community center just a few blocks from where Muslim terrorists murdered thousands of people in a perverted act of religious zealotry.

Some families of those who perished on September 11, 2001, have displayed great courage by supporting the proposal to create a 13-story hub for Muslim religious and cultural life, two blocks north of where the twin towers stood. But other families have not and — unlike some of the bigots who oppose the project for unjustifiable reasons — their qualms and resistance need to be respected.

“The pain never goes away,” C. Lee Hanson, whose son was killed in the attacks, reportedly said at a community meeting on May 25. “When I look over there and I see a mosque, it’s going to hurt. Build it someplace else.”

That’s why it takes faith to build it there, in the shadows of that pain, steps away from the holy but highly contested ground. The hate-filled rants of conservative bloggers and Tea Party activists against this project are to be condemned unequivocally, but a father’s lingering pain and confusion deserve some respect.

For this project to fulfill its promise, it also asks for a great deal of faith in Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam who is spearheading the effort. As our Josh Nathan-Kazis reports, Rauf is widely regarded as a passionate and effective leader in interfaith efforts, in New York City and beyond, and has won the support of rabbis and Jewish public officials. He envisions the $100 million Cordoba House to be a kind of Muslim version of the 92nd Street Y or the JCC in Manhattan, a cultural and recreational magnet for the general public as well as a place for Muslims to pray and learn.

He is an easy, unfair target for those who wish to discredit all of Islam, but in the end, it will be up to Rauf and his supporters to prove that the good faith exhibited toward their mission will be rewarded.

Some critics worry that placing an Islamic center within sight of the living cemetery that is Ground Zero will signal the triumph of the terrorists. Nonsense. It may hurt the deep feelings of some individuals, but it ought to be a point of pride for everyone else. This is how we respond to bigotry and hatred — by turning instruments of death into the building blocks of community.


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