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Located a couple of blocks from the former World Trade Center, this site in question is partly occupied by a building that until 2001 was leased to the Burlington Coat Factory. On September 11, the building was damaged by airplane parts falling from the stricken towers. After that, it stood empty until 2009, when it was purchased by a Muslim-owned real estate and development company and began to be used for prayer services for lower Manhattan’s growing Muslim community. Services at the site are led by Imam Rauf. The project will span the lot for the present building and an adjacent building to be purchased.
Opponents argue that the presence of a major Islamic landmark so close to Ground Zero represents an unconscionable affront to the local community, especially to the families of the 9/11 victims. It has been argued that the mosque is intended and/or will be taken as a monument to the triumph of the terrorists at Ground Zero.
Critics of Cordoba opponents have made hay of the site’s distance—a couple of blocks—from Ground Zero. How far, they ask rhetorically, is far enough? Is there some algorithm governing a respectful distance from such sites?
This objection, though, is considerably blunted by the fact that the site in question, while does not belong to the World Trade Center footprint, is not only within the blast radius of the 9/11 attacks, but was actually damaged by wreckage from the planes. Indeed, it was because of the damage incurred in the 9/11 attacks that the buildings were evacuated by the Burlington Coat Factory and were thus available for purchase in 2009. The current building stands condemned because of the 9/11 attacks; had it not been for the 9/11 attacks, mutatis mutandis, the Burlington Coat Factory would be there to this day and we would not be talking about an Islamic center on the site.
Imam Rauf himself has not only acknowledged the “iconic” status of the place he wants to build, he has stated that the site’s link to 9/11 is the draw for him to that particular spot:
“New York is the capital of the world, and this location close to 9/11 is iconic,” said the 61-year-old cleric, who is known for being a longtime critic of radical Islam. Being in a building “where a piece of the wreckage fell,” he added, “sends the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11 … We want to push back against the extremists.”
Revealingly, this paragraph from a NYTimes.com article seems to have been altered some time after publication, with the potentially damaging bit about the “iconic” status of the “location close to 9/11” deleted. However, the equally damaging bit about being in a building “where a piece of the wreckage fell” has so far been retained.
One can take at face value Rauf’s wish to “send the opposite statement to what happened on 9/11,” yet demur that this “iconic location close to 9/11” is an appropriate place for such a message—or that building there actually sends that message at all.
To raise a major Islamic landmark on a site actually hit by 9/11 violence, especially precisely because it was hit by 9/11 violence, is at least proximate if not equivalent to building directly on Ground Zero itself. Scratching one’s head in incomprehension saying “Just how far should it be?” misses the point. Another location would not be the site of 9/11 violence.
Next: How Close is Too Close?