The Ground Zero Debate — A disappointment to the Founding Fathers

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Cultural & Political

The word is final. A skyscraper. But there has been huge debate around what should be built on Ground Zero. The mosque which was originally proposed has moved two blocks away to the so called Park51 site in Lower Manhattan where the debate continues unabated (two blocks is ‘too near’…how about three blocks, ten blocks or indeed Mecca…). Some of the less inflammatory analyses claimed that although is was a provocative measure, it was also well meant and apolitical. I disagree.

 I’m not in favour of using state funds to build any religious centre, given that whether one chooses to build a church, a mosque or a synagogue, such measures maintain and perpetuate division. Religion is your own personal belief system and by definition becomes a set of rules and a mandate when broadcasted beyond your own conduct. You are recruited into an ‘us’ or ‘them’ position and whilst monotheist religions are supposedly comparable (Jehovah, God and Allah being ostensibly the same deity) the way in which each ‘set of guidelines’ perceives him is very different.  Necessarily this will give rise to a ‘my interpretation is right, yours is wrong’ perspective. This is not a government’s role unless you are living in 1984.

Thus the powers-that-be mistakenly thought that one step of reconciliation was to propose and promote an interfaith place of worship promoting ‘acceptance of’ and giving ‘validity to’ each religion in order to bring the communities closer together. As if acceptance of the existence of two opposing sides does anything to eradicate it. Delineation, negotiation and compromise between two sides all being paradigms of division as opposed to teachings of one-ness. Humanity is only divided by belief. And if acceptance is a sticking plaster that protects the split, it still does nothing to heal the core wound.

What brings us together are our universal needs…the need to be loved, the need to be accepted, the need to be free, the need to feel valued. Religions remain strategies of how to achieve these needs and these strategies are what put people at loggerheads with one another. Luckily the authorities reflected upon this and decided on the skyscraper instead. But does this harbor even more subversive tendencies?

Representative of the neutral, but defiant ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down’ spirit so admired by Americans. The One World Trade center is under construction and set to be the tallest building in Manhattan. A grand representation of the so-lauded fighting spirit and a proud middle finger (or something else) to the Muslims who tried to knock it down. Was it truly an apolitical gesture?

Fuck You Osama

Fuck You Osama

And in place of the other twin tower, a memorial. Can this promote division?  As usual, it depends. Because a memorial allows us to recreate anger and grief at actions past created by the initial division.  Having a focus for our emotions will, in many cases, prevent us from working through them and letting go. It is not so much a memory of those who were killed, but a tribute to our grief and anger surrounding the event; a locus for our hatred. That’s up to us…

But Ground Zero could have been a metaphor for our future intentions. We Westerners could have been ‘the bigger person’. As the name so aptly suggests we could have started to communicate from zero. The playing field was – literally – level. It was the time to create a center of learning and education about the way we communicate with one another. 

To speak of universal value and needs in non combative terms. To finally eradicate the division we feel due to our religion; and stop our desperate justification of why one is better than the other. To stop the us and them and to live up to the words of the founding fathers… in finally acting as if all men – and their beliefs – are created equal.

“I am for freedom of religion and against all manoeuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”  Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

“It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [of The American Governments] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” John Adams (1735-1826)

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?”  James Madison (1751-1836)