Mosque at Ground Zero Is Just the Latest in Long Line of Controversial Proposals

When the community board in lower Manhattan that controls the area near Ground Zero approved a plan to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center a few blocks from Ground Zero on Wednesday, the reaction was, sadly, predictable. Inthe words of the New York ABC affiliate's evening news program, "Critics view it as a slap in the face." Presumably, those critics are a bunch of atheists who would react exactly the same way to building a church or synagogue downtown, right? Why else would anyone be so offended by a house of worship?

Well, the plan does include a culinary school, performing-arts center, and swimming pool, so maybe that's the objection? No. The problem is that, as one protester put it, a Muslim edifice is a "shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attacks of 9/11." The distinction between the various strands of Islam practiced by the vast majority of the world's 1 billion Muslims, and the Wahhabist jihadism of Al Qaeda, was apparently lost on her. Another concerned citizen described the mosque as a "house of evil" that would be "the birthplace of the next terrorist event."

But New York City's 600,000 to 850,000 Muslims should take heart: it isn't onlyanti-Muslim bigotry that is stirring up controversy. Almost as soon as the dust of the Twin Towers had settled, alas, New Yorkers were fighting over the future of Ground Zero and its environs. Rudy Giuliani famously made an economically unrealistic plea to not build anything on the site of the former World Trade Center in his farewell address from City Hall.

The city and state have fought over control of the redevelopment process; celebrity architect Frank Gehry caused a furor by refusing to submit a proposal for the design competition, citing inadequate remuneration; Daniel Libeskind's inspired but controversial "Freedom Tower" proposal was accepted, then scaled back for financial reasons. The site, meanwhile, has become one of New York's most visited tourist attractions. While that seems appropriate, it can also be slightly disturbing: tourists ask locals for directions to Ground Zero with no more solemnity than they do for the Empire State Building.

New Yorkers have complicated feelings about the site of the worst terrorist attack ever carried out on American soil. This New Yorker thinks the proposed Islamic cultural center would be a testament to the tolerance, diversity, and vitality of this nation and its greatest city. Given that so little progress has been made on the reconstruction of the Ground Zero site, such developments in the neighborhood, and the message they send of New York's ability to constantly reinvent itself, should be welcomed.

Conservative writer Andrew McCarthy disagrees: he noted defensively on Fox News that there are 2,300 mosques in the United States, but no churches or synagogues in Mecca or Medina. Well, touché.