Hate-filled worms invade Big Apple

Peter Jackson
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My wife and I visited New York’s Ground Zero in April 2004. It was a big open hole surrounded by a tall chain-link fence. The fence was still covered in mementoes — posters, photographs, prayers and tributes.

It was a weekday, and only a few people lingered by the fence to peek inside at the open pit where the World Trade Center buildings once stood. Cleanup operations had long since ended, and little else was happening while planners were still debating what to erect in its place.

Nearby, a young choir visiting from the U.S. midwest started singing “O Danny Boy.” It should have been a poignant moment, but it seemed to get swallowed up in the urban drone. This was downtown Manhattan. The city that never sleeps.

Further along the block, I paused to take a photograph. I stared at the camera and fiddled with the lens. What am I doing? What am I taking a picture of? My wife wasn’t about to pose by the fence, as if posing at a tourist attraction. It seemed intrusive, morbid; it seemed sacrilegious. I put the camera back over my shoulder and we walked on.

In those first few years after the terrorist attacks, New Yorkers were still in shock. They were like a family, coming together to absorb the unthinkable horror visited upon them. The mood was mixed  — deep sorrow and confusion combined with defiance, of wanting to forge ahead, get out to the theatres and restaurants and reclaim civic pride.

And in those first few years, in New York and beyond, politicians and community leaders — including then president George W. Bush — drove home a critical point: don’t blame peaceful Muslims for the actions of a few radicals.

So, what happened?

Why do polls show that 10 per cent more Americans feel animosity towards Muslims today than in the days following 9/11? Back then, there was a difference between ordinary Muslims and violent Islamofascists. Now, the pitchforks are coming out.

Let’s ignore Mr. Burning Dove for now. Florida pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach flock were just an aberration. Their planned  “Burn a Qur’an” bonfire didn’t materialize. The Qur’anflagration was called off.

Centre of controversy

The “Ground Zero Mosque,” however, is another story.

It’s not a mosque, it’s an Islamic community centre. And it’s two full blocks away from Ground Zero.

In fact, the planned centre first hit the news in December 2009, when it was widely endorsed by political and religious leaders. Even Fox News conducted a polite interview with the imam’s wife that ended with the host wishing them well.

But the narrative changed. Now, the “mosque” has become the jihadists’ victory symbol erected near the ruins of their conquest. The notion only hit mainstream news this summer. Before that, it was fodder only for crazy conspiracy nuts on the Internet.

And Fox couldn’t resist churning the septic tank forever. The network soon started fanning the flames of intolerance, as it usually does.

Almost overnight, the community centre became a “command centre for terrorism” (Fox contributer Dick Morris).

Fox host Bill O’Reilly, unswayed by the logical chasm in his words, berated one of the centre’s proponents: “The killers on 9/11 were Muslims. Now you want to build a mosque two blocks away.”

Ironically, most Muslims in North America are actually loathe to become embroiled in such controversy. Yet they are caricaturized in terms of the militant minority. Their silence and restraint is sometimes what gets them in trouble.

Speaking on Al Jazeera’s English news show “The Listening Post,” Islamic reformist Asra Nomani said Muslims do themselves no favours by avoiding the spotlight.

“I feel very much that Muslims aren’t quite ready for prime time in America. We are so scared oftentimes of getting out there in front of the media, that we cower there in the back, and people are able to then demonize (us) that way.”

Symbol of tolerance

And so, what started out as a symbol of tolerance and peace — an Islamic centre in the south end of Manhattan, where it would become part of the neighbourhood — has become the powder keg for a religious war. It has, in short, become a Ground Zero itself, where non-Muslims rally outside and shout insults and threats.

Will the madness die down? Not if networks like Fox News continue to peddle intolerance and ignorance. It is astounding to hear TV hosts coddling extremist views on air, then recoiling in innocence when the mob starts acting on their message.

Why should we care what goes on in New York City? What does it matter to us?

It matters because Canada, like it or not, is often an echo chamber of developments in the U.S. We have similar conflicts, although they may differ slightly in tone and character.

And there are Newfoundlanders serving in Afghanistan, soldiers who must deal with the delicate complexities of relating to their hosts. Their mission and safety is jeopardized by provocative events in North America.

History has proven that no man is an island. And the heightened spread of hate and intolerance in the U.S. should be troubling to us all.

Its consequences threaten to be far-reaching.

Peter Jackson is The Telegram’s commentary editor. He can be contacted by e-mail at pjackson@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Big Apple, World Trade Center, Fox News

Geographic location: New York City, America, Manhattan Florida North America Ground Zero Canada Afghanistan North America.History

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Recent comments

  • Eugene from Town
    September 15, 2010 - 06:52

    9 years of mourning for some 3,000 innocent lives lost. I'm sick and tired of the "celebration" of 911, what about the hundreds of thousands of innocent dead that resulted from the supposed backlash? 9 years later we are no more wise about either the causes (perpetrators) of 911 or the state of the world today. P.I. makes excellent points, the crimes of christians (world wars, crusades, colonization) and jews (illegal occupation and settlements, ethnic cleansing of non-jews in Palestine) are swept under the rug, because we shouldn't paint all with one brush, unless they are of the declared enemy: Islam.

  • William Murphy
    September 14, 2010 - 09:33

    You need to investigate your facts. Timothy McVeigh was an avowed atheist.

    • Margo
      September 15, 2010 - 08:57

      What an inane comment. Do you have any idea of what's being discussed here? No? Go away.

  • Politically Incorrect
    September 14, 2010 - 08:45

    That’s exactly the kind of comment I'm talking about, Tim. You are suggesting that we mollify the bigots and tolerate their hatred. To equate Islam and Muslims to the terrorist attacks in New York is like associating the child abuse scandals at Mount Cashel to all Catholics... better yet, Christians. One might ask how appropriate is it to have a childcare centre in the YMCA or building a church next to a school. Imagine all those Christians hanging around school children! Should they allow a church near the site of the Oklahoma City bombing (Timothy McVeigh was a Catholic)? Also, bring in the policies of Islamic states (a FOX News staple) has nothing to do with this. These Muslims are Americans and do not need to answer for the policies of other states any more than Jews must be made to answer for the crimes of the Israeli state or Christians, the Inquisition, and to suggest that they do so is to hold them to a different standard based on their background. As I said before, if you want to apologise for and appease the racists you might as well light up a Quran along with them.

  • M
    September 14, 2010 - 08:20

    Tim, "Many innocent hard working people were killed there and the death and destruction that took place there will ring home for many years to come".....The muslim community who is trying to build a community center are probably hard orking innocent people as well, but here they are being punished because they share religious views with people who took those religious views and bastardized them. There is absolutely no reason why there should not be a muslim community center built wherever. We as a citizenry cannot punish innocent people for the acts of others. The states dropped bombs on iraq and killed countless innocent children. does that mean that everyone in the states should be associated with those acts? no. The germans killed an atrocious number of human beings, with no regard to their lives at all. Kept them in camps that were designed to make them weak, and tortured them. Should all german people be held accountable for this? Absolutely not. Get a clue.

  • Tim
    September 14, 2010 - 08:02

    It is just a bad idea to build anything Muslim related near ground zero. People are just looking for trouble. Unfortunately it's human nature to judge,and sometimes get angry. To build a Muslim community center near an area that was destroyed by Muslim extremists is just instigating a ruckus. Many innocent hard working people were killed there and the death and destruction that took place there will ring home for many years to come. People in North America are always expected to be tolerant of others, but what if a North American woman wore a sleevless dress, and let her hair down in Afghanistan, how would that go over? Or what if a Christian church, or Buddist temple were built near Mecca, how would Muslims feel about that? I know that 'two wrongs don't make 'a right', but Tolerance needs to be a 'two way highway', not just a 'one way, dead end street'.

  • Politically Incorrect
    September 14, 2010 - 08:01

    Yes. “Hate filled worms” is the perfect description. I seem to remember something like this in the 30's in Germany. Even the wishy-washy well-meaning liberals who suggest that the community centre should be built elsewhere might as well join the Quran burners.