This is no humble prayer center. This is a monument to Islam -- two blocks from where America's greatest terrorist atrocity was committed in the name of Islam.
There ought to be no controversy over a planned Islamic center two blocks from ground zero, where Islamist radicals murdered more than 2,700 Americans, because there ought to be no plans for an Islamic center there.
A lot of New Yorkers, and Americans generally, are understandably incensed at this unnecessary and thoughtless poke in the eye. The force behind the project is New Yorker Sharif El-Gamal, who according to The New York Observer was born in Brooklyn and has been praying in Manhattan for five decades. If he's been in New York City that long, he should instinctively know the anguish such a center so close to ground zero would cause.
The Islamic Center is not to be a small prayer center tucked inside the current building, which dates to 1858 and was damaged by falling landing gear on September 11, 2001. El-Gamal plans a grand structure that will itself become a tourist attraction. "We're looking to build something that's never been done before in the city," he told The Observer. "We have a very ambitious project, and we want to have a very ambitious design. When people come to New York, we want them to come to Park51 just to look at the architecture."
This is no humble prayer center. This is a monument to Islam -- two blocks from where America's greatest terrorist atrocity was committed in the name of Islam. And according to news reports, the backers won't disclose where they're getting the $100 million to fund this monument. That obviously stokes worries that the project might be funded by some of the same people who financed extremist mosques that helped spread al-Qaida's brand of Islamic radicalism.
Should El-Gamal and his friends be allowed to build a grand Islamic center in New York City? Of course. And legally, the city was right not to trump up some excuse to stop this project. Equal treatment under the law is a principle, not a talking point. What is so offensive is that the people behind this project know the anguish it is causing, most painfully to those who lost friends and loved ones in the attacks nine years ago, and they just don't seem to care. They know that putting an Islamic center at that site is a provocative act.
Their lack of sensitivity to the people of New York and America suggests that this project, already divisive, will further complicate relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in America. We need to be moving forward, and this ill-concieved project is pulling us backwards.