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Conquering grief and bigotry.

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

It’s not always easy to separate  personal  grief from collective good. In his weekly audio essay, Chris Satullo, says that’s especially true when it comes to the legacy  of 9-11 and New Yorker ‘s desire to move on and rebuild.

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Controversy rumbles on over whether an Islamic center should be permitted to be built a few blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City.

One school of thought, much vented in the Twittersphere, is that allowing this center amounts to typically weak-kneed, politically-correct kow-towing to radical Islam.

This point of view is pretty easy to, well, “refudiate” – as Sarah Palin would say.

When a nation holds firm to its core values, even when it’s difficult, even when it’s emotional, that shows strength, not weakness.  And religious freedom is a core value.

Here’s what’s weak: Tossing aside your values and your constitution every time you feel any sense of threat or emotional discomfort.

On a practical level, the folks who want to build the mosque are precisely the kind of moderate, anti-terrorist Muslim voices we should celebrate.

Still, it would be wrong to dismiss all opposition as ill-informed and tinged with bigotry. Just because some bigots flock to a position does not mean everyone who holds that position does so out of bigotry.

The World Trade Towers site is sacred ground to millions, especially the families of the dead.  Many of those relatives haven’t like much of what’s been discussed, or done, in terms of  uilding anew around what is in fact the burial place of their vanished loved ones. For some, opposition to this mosque continues a long record of opposing anything that smacks of returning the area to big-city business as usual.

So what do we owe the grieving?  It’s tricky.  Does the comfort they are due extend to granting them an emotion-driven veto over public policy? My view would be no.

Deep grief is an inflicted form of derangement. In grief, you are literally not in your right mind.  That’s why we rely on a dispassionate court system, driven by rules and process, to decide what do with a murderer; we don’t leave up to the grieving family.

I say this precisely because I know if my wife, child or brother had died on Sept. 11, I would still be mad with grief, consumed by dreams of vengeance.

It’s OK if the grieving are stuck; there is no way to come out of grief but to go through it.  But it’s not OK for us to let them insist that the rest of a vibrant city, a complex society stay stuck with them.


  • Paul Simons says:

    It was pointed out to me that I’m wrong about this for a simple reason – this is America and by law we do not discriminate for or against anyone based on religion. Whether or not a mosque or a church or a temple goes up or comes down is no ones’ business except the congregation’s. I recognize that a church or a synagogue wouldn’t get very far in Riyadh or Kuwait City or Doha or Mogadishu but this is America.

  • Dogyeller says:

    Well said, Chris. Muslims died on 9-11. Muslims fight in our armed forces. Muslims are part of our national fabric.

    The Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, was raised a Catholic. Should Catholic churches be banned from the area around the former Murrow building?

    I mourn for all those lost on 9-11. Their deaths will have been in vain if we use that tragedy to justify a betrayal of our national values of tolerance and cultural harmony.

  • nevin mann says:

    Chris Satullo’s editorial today about building a mosque near Ground Zero included a gratuitous referral to a Sarah Palin gaff, creating a new word “refudiate.” I think this remark diminished Mr. Satullo’s point about the proposed mosque and generally detracted from the great quality of WHYY. Too bad for WHYY.

  • jean says:

    i do not agree with chris on having a mosque so close to ground zero. i also notice he never has an opposing view when he pontificates. it is an insult to america to put a mosque there.i do not think it belongs there. they may have a right, but social thinking is that it does not belong there. it is time america protects its own, not enlarges it to those who wish to hurt us. have any of you read the koran about their feelings toward infidels (christians)?

  • Paul Simons says:

    After thinking more about this I have to add that the enormity of what happened there, the horrific ways that lives were destroyed and the bogus religiosity offered as justification, makes me wish that the whole place could be left as a reminder that the positive, creative, loving, joyous parts of the human spirit that are independent of any sect or denomination, that do not need deities or martyrs, are vulnerable and deserve respect and protection from the people and ideologies that have trampled on them from the start.

  • David James says:

    Thank you, Chris. Your statement is an excellent admonishment to us Americans and for worldwide democracy-lovers.

    No one has suggested building a mosque at Ground Zero. That is a simple fact.

    The fact is that the mosque being proposed and any buildings at Ground Zero would not be visible to each other, because they would be several blocks away from each other. That is why there is no way that the presence of a building 2 whole city blocks away could reasonably give offense to any offended group, regardless of whether it is, for example, the KKK vs. the NAACP, Holocaust survivors vs. the Nazis (or a convent of Polish nuns), a Japanese Shinto temple 2 city blocks away from Pearl Harbor, etc., especially if other religions’ centers are already there closer to Ground Zero than that would be.

    I can understand and sympathize with some being offended if they do not yet know that no one has suggested building a mosque at Ground Zero. And I can also understand and sympathize with someone still mad with grief being offended by almost any idea. But I do not and WILL NOT understand those who do know this fact about what is actually being proposed, and who nevertheless persist in this malicious hate-mongering, especially if it is for demagogic political gain. SHAME ON Tea-Party bigots for doing that!

  • Ilan Chaim says:

    Ground Zero is indeed hallowed ground, like similar historical sites, and will remain so for all Americans, not just the immediate victims. The mosque issue is not one of freedom of religion and the right to worship, but the wisdom of exercising this right precisely there. Those who champion the right to build a mosque at Ground Zero despite what such an act would mean to the feelings of others just don’t get it. They probably would not object to a Japanese Shinto temple at Pearl Harbor nor to a Catholic convent at Auschwitz. It’s not only the right to do something, but the need to do the right thing.

  • Paul Boni says:

    I appreciate this piece. Too often our elected officials are guided by the electorate’s emotions, which are not always a good basis for public policy. The case of 9/11 is particularly difficult because so many people (even those who did not lose a loved one) are still grieving and feel traumatized. Of course, that is the goal of terrorism; and, to that extent, the uproar over this proposed project might be a reflection of how inexperienced we are as a Country dealing with terrorism, thank goodness. I wish we had better (and more leaders) who could speak to the need to keep terrorist acts in context. We’re a strong country, after all.

  • Paul Simons says:

    That mosque could be either a repudiation, an accusation aimed at the 9/11 terrorists – a way of saying “We respect those who died here and not you. We want this to remind you of the atrocity you committed”. Or it could be a subtle way of saying, as Julius Caesar said, “We came, we saw, we conquered”. It all depends on the ideology driving it. It appears that the Imam behind it, Faisal Rauf, is something of an apologist for hamas, a radical Islamist terror group if there ever was one. I think if this sad reality is taken into account, the conclusion might be that this particular construction at ground zero is a bad idea. There may be “moderates” in the New York area, but it appears that something other than “moderation” might be planting itself in what I can only call hallowed ground.

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