Walter Rhett

Building Love at Ground Zero

In National Affairs on August 5, 2010 at 9:27 pm
Believers in Islam should not become America’s whipping boys, and nor should the guilt from the attacks on 9/11 be assigned as collective guilt to all Muslims. As an African-American Southerner, I live and work near monuments that celebrate the Confederate legacy, hailing as heroes and valiant soldiers men who died for states’ rights to continue the cruel and inhuman practices of slavery, including the December 1864 massacre of men, women, and children at Ebenezer Creek, outside of Savannah in Newt Ginrich’s Georgia. (The loss of life by some estimates may have exceeded the 9/11 attacks.)I attend church with the direct descendants of those who once owned slaves. But I assign no collective or historic guilt to those whose current wealth and status derived in large part from this abominable practice.

The parallels are very similar–as are the lessons. I do understand the pain and deep hurt and viceral anger at the attack carried out by extremists who killed innocent friends and family members in the name of Islam. I pray often for those who hold in their hearts the heavy and unrelieved weight of their personal loss and sarcrifice.

But I know the path of reconciliation and personal healing requires a strength of spirit rooted in love. The best way to honor the brave and wonderful souls we loss on 9/11 is to show the victory and triumph to that love. Sharing that love shows and affirms the very reasons we miss them so much and experience the loss so deeply.

Malcom X Mosque, Harlem, New York 
It takes special courage to face those who share faith with those who struck such a devastating blow. But our collective and personal losses should not become a shrine to anger, resentment, hostility, or civil revenge. If the lives loss are to have full meaning, we cannot let ourselves become hostages to scorn and silent hatred. We cannot allow our hearts to be pulled along the same path as those who initiated the attacks. If we do, the terrorists have won.

On 9/11, my daughter worked in an office building directly across the street from one of the Towers, and was in the subway when the first plane hit, but was able to evaluate safely. I think often how glad I am to have her, and feel the guilt of the survivor for those who loss so much. Still, with due respect and honor to those who experienced the direct losses, I do not believe their memory is served by assigning collective guilt.

The politics of those angered by the request to build the mosque on Park Avenue are asserting that proximity is policy and are making an unspoken equivacy between the “hallowed ground” and the Giza settlements. “Location is power; seize and preserve the ground at all costs” is the mantra for supporters of both issues. Strength and might are being equated as “feel good” territorial imperatives.

The fact that this creates a subjugated class of citizens and rights is overlooked and disguised by arguments framed in emotional (insulting, demeaning, provocative, goading) and security (new source of possible attacks) terms.

Please leave a comment!

Park Avenue, circa 1922, when the avenue consisted of a park.
Top: Malcolm X Mosque, Harlem, New York. Images in the public domain.


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