by Bret Nelson
There has been quite an uproar in recent months over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan. It is intended to replace a storefront mosque that is 12 blocks away from Ground Zero.
The new cultural center will be two blocks away. The Imam (teacher) who heads the mosque, Feisal Abdul Rauf, is a Sufi Muslim (a mystical Muslim sect) and advocates for inter-religious dialogue and tolerance. Imam Faisal has decried the violence of Muslim extremist groups.
Many opponents of the construction of this facility are viewing its presence as a “slap in the face” to the victims (and their loved ones) of the terror attacks of September 11.
No one will ever forget that day, nor should they. Nearly 3,000 people were heinously killed and many more bear physical and psychological scars resulting from the horrors of that day. However, let me introduce a few numbers that are not as well known as the number 3,000.
According to a study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point Military Academy, between 2004 and 2008 there were 313 terrorist attacks perpetrated by Al Qaeda, nearly all of which took place in Muslim-majority countries. In these attacks, 3,010 people were killed, 452 of them Westerners – likely non-Muslims. This study suggests that in a four year period, Al Qaeda killed over five times as many Muslims in those countries as they did non-Muslims. This is just one study conducted over a four-year period out of the nearly nine years long “Global War on Terror.”
9/11 marked the beginning of a chain of events that, all things considered, has killed far more Muslims than it has Americans. My point in bringing this up is not to quantify suffering or tragedy, but rather to point out that Muslims, too, have cause to view the World Trade Center site as a turning point in how they view the world. If the site is to be a place for reflection, a place for trying to process the sorrow that the events of 9/11 created, then I think that Muslims have a place in that healing process, particularly if we are to overcome the hate that has been bred on both sides of the perceived cultural divide.