Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stuck On Stupid About Ground Zero

The President of the United States spoke out in support of the right to build a mosque near Ground Zero yesterday - or was it Obama/Andy of Mayberry, giving yet another remedial civics lesson to his benighted townspeople, whipped up into a frenzy over some darn thing:
 “This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are.”
Much has been written about the opposition to a mosque-muslim center two blocks from Ground Zero. My favorite was this one on Twitter:
I want to know the exact distance from ground zero, in feet, beyond which we're no longer allowed to be ignorant bigots.  I want the number ~ @HunterDK
While all this was raging, we moved into our new home in a newly-built apartment building in lower Manhattan, just blocks from Ground Zero and the proposed Muslim center.  This is a return to the area for me. About ten years ago I toiled for long hours in a law firm near Wall Street.  At that time, it was a neighborhood that you did not want to linger in if you didn't have to. When I came in on weekends, the place was deserted.  I spotted one or two other beleaguered and tired-looking lawyers on the street, but that's about it.  There was a small residential population, but not enough to merit even a single grocery store.  You couldn't buy a fresh tomato in the area even if you had a million dollar Wall Street bonus burning in your pocket.

Now the place is flourishing. The residential population is booming, along with the amenities.  In addition to groceries, restaurants, schools and shopping, several farmers markets have popped up to add bursts of color contrast - red peppers and tomatoes, bright green and yellow zucchini - to the brown-grey cobblestones and historic buildings.  Ground zero is active with construction, not only of the long-awaited but over-produced memorial, but also of buildings promising modern, new office spaces wired from head to toe for the 21st century.  It seems like every day a business announces it's packing up and moving to lower Manhattan.

Ten years was enough time to get over the psychic trauma lingering in the neighborhood from my law firm job, and I moved back with great enthusiasm.  We're gradually getting used to the new digs:  My husband loves the seven-minute walk to work, we're both in awe of our tremendous high-rise view of Manhattan, including the Empire State Building, and our dog Darwin is slowly coming to grips with the fact that there are no grass and dirt facilities nearby.  Our walks turn into historic and architectural tours:  There's Federal Hall, where George Washington, in a low tone so as not to appear overreaching, took the oath of office. The broad steps under Washington's statue are ideal for eating a sandwich on a sunny day while watching people go by.  There's Wall Street, so reviled by America today for running the country into a near-depression and almost ruining the middle class, but still central to the economy of the world and buzzing with excitement when the NYSE bell rings in the trading day. There's the old, revered Delmonico's restaurant, which taught our founding generation how to eat a meal in a civilized fashion.

Then there's the site that is of more recent, and still painful, history, and that is Ground Zero. When I came home from work for the first time after we moved, while ascending the subway escalator at Wall Street I flashed back to the morning of September 11, 2001 when I made that same trip to work, emerging from the subway about 9 am.  I went to the small kiosk as I usually do to get a bottled iced tea. It was run by a Muslim man who knew me as a regular.  He was the one to tell me that morning: "Two planes just hit the World Trade Center Towers." I went out onto the street, looked up, and saw flames shooting out of the towers.  It was alarming and disturbing, but I didn't know what to think, so I went to work.  But soon after I got to my office there was a low, disturbing rumble that suddenly became louder and the sky went out. I didn't know then that one of the towers had collapsed, and the wave of debris thundering past my windows was a crushed mass of building and people. I rushed up to the law library, where many had gathered to watch the news on television, and watched in horror as I realized what was happening.  Then the second tower roared past in a demented black cloud of dust and debris. A nightmare from hell.

Luckily, I was not showered with debris like others who were on the street when the buildings fell, and I did not know anyone personally who may have been in the Word Trade Center towers, the place where I'd get my flu shots every fall.  Still, it was an unthinkable experience - my mind couldn't process it.  My husband saved the voice message I left him to tell him I was okay and that I loved him - the voice was stoic, not hysterical.  The phones went dead but I was able to send an e-mail to my family, letting them know I was still here.  Remarkably, and rather too-conscientiously, I sent a message to our local counsel in Mississippi, attaching the draft legal brief I had been working on, telling him that we were under terrorist attack and that if something happened to me he was to get this brief filed on time.

A partner at the firm came by my office about 1 pm and suggested it was time to evacuate in small groups.  The debris cloud had settled and there hadn't been any new explosions.  One of my friends, eight-months pregnant, had a long walk back to Brooklyn ahead of her.  Some of us going north went out together, handkerchiefs at our mouths.  What we saw was truly that of a science-fiction movie.  Nothing but thick ash and debris and no one around but the national guard and police speeding in on buses and jeeps.  We slowly made our way up the East River. I saw the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge still standing and my heart leapt with joy that they hadn't destroyed it. Looking back we saw the giant plumes of black smoke against that pristine blue September sky.  Still no tears or cries - we were silent.  Finally, just past Canal Street in Chinatown, the subways started to run again, and I was able to make my way home to our apartment in Times Square.

I somehow had the wherewithal to go shopping for water and supplies in case the island of Manhattan was shut down.  But after I got home, for two days all I did was stare at the television, reliving the collapse over and over.  My husband told me this was not a good thing and that I should go out.  The museums in New York, in an act of grace, opened their doors for free that week.  I went to the Museum of Modern Art and sat in front of the large panels of Monet's Water Lilies, immersed myself in the wash of deep blues, greens and pale pinks, and began to feel restored.

That was my experience, and each New Yorker has his or her own story. I won't even go into how I had to return to work the next Tuesday, computers working on generators as our only lights, trying hard to churn out urgent legal work in the midst of a pungent, choking haze of burning plastic, metal and bodies. We all got through it.  Well, some of the secretaries in the firm decided to never come back.  To take a break, I'd walk the six blocks from my office to Ground Zero and gaze upon the remains of the twin towers, reaching upward like a skeletal hand.  Sure, I hated the stark architecture of the twin towers and wished they hadn't been built - but I didn't want them to be taken down this way, and now the remains are deeply beloved.

With all that past still very much present within me, I have no problem welcoming a mosque to lower Manhattan, just as I welcome any other place of worship to service and give comfort to the people who live and work in the area.  Those of you on the outside who have long disdained New York, who are you to suddenly dictate what should be built in our neighborhood?  And those family members of 9/11 victims opposed to the mosque, I'm sorry for your loss, but don't lecture me about loved ones dying.  I've lost both parents and several other loved ones, but I'm not going to claim the location of their death as a personal cemetery.  All New Yorkers suffered a huge loss that day, when the government failed to protect us and we as Americans finally learned what it means to be under attack.  No New Yorker or American will ever be the same.

We are building a memorial for those who died and we will always honor the incredible sacrifice of the first responders and the ordinary people who became heroes because they died simply for going to their jobs.  But those few who would appropriate the whole area out of a misguided sense of self-righteousness or to advance narrow political objectives are wrong.

As you can see, New York, and especially lower Manhattan, is moving forward, thriving in our country's freedom and the comfort of knowing that our country's ideals of equality and justice govern.  There's much to do.  If a mosque can attract capable and productive residents, go ahead and build it!  All who are smart, talented, skilled and forward-looking, you are most welcome. We do not discriminate based on religion, but rather on skills, intelligence and a broad worldview.  Those who are stuck on stupid, who have, in effect, let the terrorists win by forcing us to abandon our core constitutional values, please get out of the way.  We're too busy for this nonsense.

Read George Washington's magnificent, brief speech given in 1790 to a Jewish community in Rhode Island on the subject of religious freedom.


  1. Amen! Well said. Your neighborhood is lucky to have you folks back.

  2. Great post, Ms. H. I was trying to explain this very point to someone the other day but found it impossible. Sadly, Muslims are "the Other" to too many Americans.

    This is also one more example of the way the current crop of right-wing "Constitutional scholars" are all for states rights except when they want to control the rights of some other state or community or ethnic group. At times like these I wish we could sever NYC from the U.S. and float it into international waters.

  3. This is a very touching report. Though, I believe (!) that (institutionalized) religion is the real nonsense. As long as it does exist a silly, misled mankind will fight and destroy each other in its name. People should be too busy for this (shit).

  4. Such a well-said piece.

    And you've nicely defined what "the other" should be -- people with no tolerance, who fall back on prejudice, who treat freedom with intolerance.

    There's no question that Obama has more than enough things to focus on, but there's a speci integrity and courage that comes with making a statement of conviction without using the Twin Towers as a backdrop for political theater.

  5. This recounting is a truly powerful statement, and the truest of rebuffs against all this fervid anti-American buffoonery I have seen.

  6. I am Muslim and live on the other side of the world, and I very much remember watching on tv what happened that fateful day. I do not know anyone who died, or suffered, but I grieved for the loss of lives, as did my family and friends. It always saddens me that we as human beings are divided in certain aspects when we should be striving to live in peace and harmony. And although I have come to terms that there will always be people who will see Muslims (regardless of their color--be Asians or MidEastern or such) as terrorists or the enemy, I shall never lose hope that there are also people like you who see beyond religious beliefs and would like to move on and move forward. Thank you for this post, I hope others will see it the way you do too.

  7. I think there are many who do feel the same. It is just that we are not as loud. Perhaps more should speak up and respond civilly as Hudsonette did.

  8. Perfect. I don't want to ruin the moment by blathering about how great a piece this is, but since I already have. I will just say - What azsky13 said, ditto. Thank you for sharing your 9/11 memories with us. You are right, we will never be the same, but we should hope and aspire to the ideals of our country, including protecting religious freedom. What happened to us - was perpetrated by a small group of misguided terrorists, not Muslims, I wonder when we will all understand this.

  9. Moving piece - very well written. (And I loved "stuck on stupid", too.)

    I appreciated your digging into some painful memories to write this, and more importantly: for sounding a clear and sane note in what is turning out to be a torrent of intolerant blathering noise.

    Fresh air to blow the crazy cobwebs away... thanks.

  10. Awesome diary. It was linked to a story from a Tamapa paper about Democratic candidate for governor Alex Sink, who says she also thinks the mosque shouldn't be built. Appealing to bigotry and against the First Amendment wouldn't be the way to get my support. I'm from Virginia and have clear memories of hearing and feeling the plane hit the Pentagon and smelled the burning. You could smell it all over Arlington County. Later that evening I drove past the scene - as close as I could get to it - and watched in horrified awe as the black smoke billowed from the building. Later I attended the funeral for a friend's son who was killed in the crash. Guess what? There are Muslims who work at the Pentagon and space has always been set aside for them there to do their daily prayers. Yep, every single day of the week there are Muslims IN the Pentagon praying their prayers. I think it's wonderful.

    Thank you for striking a blow against ignorant bigotry and the expansion of stupidity. Thank you for supporting the First Amendment.

  11. Hi, Hudsonette. Thank you for this wonderful diary. It's funny - I live in Ohio, and I just researched the mosque issue today in response to a Facebook status one of my friends posted (who I have defriended since). What struck me is that NYC approved this community center (which happens to include a mosque). When you get down to it, I really don't think it's anyone else's business to tell New Yorkers what is appropriate or inappropriate when NYC itself approved construction.

    And I think this goes without saying, but my heart goes out to you and everyone who experienced the hell of 9/11 firsthand in NYC, DC and PA.

  12. Wonderfully written passionate and poignant.
    I worked at Windows on the World from 2000-2001 and left shortly before that horrible day. It could have very likely been myself. I know muslims who worked there and died in the attacks, I know Asians, Latinos, African-Americans, etc. Jews, Christians blah blah blah.
    The ignorant bigotry that catzmaw speaks of cannot win out over rational minded Americans like Hudsonette.

    This blog needs to be spread to everyone we know.

    Reading this blog made me feel proud to be in the so-called 30 percent(if that number is even accurate) of sane people left in this country who believe in freedom of religion.

    The hatred directed at Latinos, Arabs, Muslims has to stop now. If we allow it against one group it will happen to another.

    Thanks to Hudsonette for this great blog!!!

  13. Very well said. I am a professional tour guide who takes people to the site on a regular basis. I try to stress the balance between the need to honor those we have lost -- and one of the victims was, in fact, a personal friend, a college classmate -- and the need to bring life back to Lower Manhattan. I am disgusted by the totally bogus "Ground Zero Mosque" debate. I would be happy to grill Rupert Murdoch on by barbecue.

  14. Thank you for the beautiful thoughts.

    As one who strives to keep an open mind, I've been trying to find a compelling argument against the Islamic Center - but without caving in to prejudice and somehow equating Muslim with "terrorist," I cannot do it. How sad that one of the purest and deepest foundations of our country has become cheap political fodder for upcoming elections.

    Again, thank you for some of the sanest and most touching words I've read on the subject.

    - Matt Casarino

  15. For shame! Equating the death of your parents with those who died on 9/11. Your parents lives were not forcibly taken from them. The thousand of lives of those who were violently ended are not in the same context. Like President Obama, you are also out of touch with the majority of Americans on this subject.

  16. Well said! And thank you for linking to the Washington letter: a great reminder to us all!

  17. Strong co-sign to this, and I'm retweeting it. I was not in NYC on 9/11, but a lot of my friends were, and I lived there for three years, moving there less than a year after Sept. 11th. I don't know a single one who's opposed to the community center being built.

    You're far more patient than me, Hudsonette. I'm more along the lines of:
    You know what? If you don't actually live in NY, and you're babbling about the EEEVL MUSLINS, just fuck off. And shut the fuck up. I'm so fucking tired of being civil.

  18. Great work. A wonderful voice of sanity in this idiotic debate.

  19. As an American Muslim, THANK YOU SO MUCH.
    For those who do not understand, those who can not empathize, may whatever you believe in guide you to be aware that we are all "Americans".
    There should not be a debate!
    I do not agree with the location, it was STUPID! Now it is SO obvious to the whole world, we do not really value what we say we do, we are just as bad as those who succeeded to put our values to the test!
    May it be the final lesson

  20. @TY - If that's honestly the only comment you can make about this entry, that's ...for lack of a better word, sad.

    Talk about missing the point completely.

  21. I cannot possibly comprehend how you can not be opposed to a mosque being built near Ground Zero. I don't pretend to know how you felt being there that day. I only remember seeing what was unfolding and heading into work on my day off because I felt I needed to. You see, I'm a firefighter. I reported for duty not knowing what else to do. Three hundred forty-three of my brothers and sisters, along with many other public safety officials and civilians died that day at the hands of religious extremists. And now, religious officials with ties to the VERY SAME organizations that perpetrated these attacks, want to build a mega mosque nearby. Let me ask you this: If a Christian group organized and carried out an attack on a predominately Muslim city in a Mideast country and then wanted to build a giant church and "community center" near the site of that attack, how do you think it would be received by the citizens of that country? I am not saying that there should be no mosques on American soil. I am a very tolerant person. I believe in religious freedom, and the principle that ALL men are created equally. I also am a proud American. BUILD YOUR MOSQUE SOMEWHERE ELSE. It offends me that they insist it be built there. It is inflammatory, cruel and highly insensitive.

  22. What kind of person moves somewhere that doesn't have any parks nearby for their dog? Seems very cruel and selfish!

  23. The idea that we should base our behavior on how we believe other people with less-tolerant societies would act is foolish.

    We are Americans. Regardless of how other countries behave, we support freedom, respect, and equality. We should stand up for those beliefs, whether they be about Christians or Muslims or anyone else. We should not remove our standards because we think other countries would behave in a less ideal way.

  24. Excellent use of "wherewithal."