Monday, August 16, 2010

The Mosque at Ground Zero

Though I know that this issue is very controversial, it's also something that I think is important to face. The proposed community center (which would include a mosque), blocks away from where the World Trade Center stood, has become a flashpoint of debate around the nation. The president has been criticized by many for saying, "As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and community center on private property in Lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances."

As a citizen, I, too, agree that they have every right to practice their religion freely--whether or not it is blocks from Ground Zero. After all, the first amendment in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights includes the line: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Why should we treat a mosque any differently from a syngagogue, church, or temple? If we simply decide to treat certain religions in a standard way, but not others, we slide into the hypocrisy--and unjustness--that characterizes dictatorships, not democracies.

What's more, the general outrage over the proposed center is only fueling the fire of anti-Americanism abroad. The most effective way to fight terrorism is to show openness and goodwill, not hate or discrimination, toward Muslims both here at home and in foreign countries. When we treat the Islamic population of New York City in a discriminatory way, it only confirms anti-American suspicions in other countries. By antagonizing a moderate group of Muslims, whose only goal is to bring awareness of other cultures to a community center (in the hopes of fighting extremism), we are ultimately helping the terrorists, and their message that America hates Islam.
However, the ultimate point of controversy that has shaped the debate is the fact that it is an Islamic place of worship near the place where Islamic extremists killed thousands of people. I have read arguments from the families of those who were killed on 9/11, and I understand that it touches a place that is still raw in the hearts of many. But truly, the terrorists who crashed the planes into the Twin Towers were hardly more Muslim than they were any other religion. They killed Muslims, Christians, Jews, men, women, children--and the murder of innocents is condemned by every religion I know of. Their league of extremism is nowhere near the moderation we have seen from the Muslim group that plans on building the center. When we say that there should not be a mosque near Ground Zero, we imply that all Muslims are responsible, and we condemn their religion. The sign of one woman protesting the planned center read: "Islam builds mosques at the sites of their conquests and victories." I would easily understand outrage over a proposed Al-Qaeda headquarters at Ground Zero. They were the ones who were responsible. Moderate Muslims were not.
The community center and mosque planned near Ground Zero would help raise cultural awareness and provide a swimming pool, theater, and performing arts center that no doubt all New Yorkers--not just Muslims--could benefit from. It would show that the religious tolerance we put forth in our Constitution is proved by action, not just a sentence of empty words. It would take away fuel for extremist fire and show Muslims around the world that America does not hate Islam. And yet, 68% of Americans believe that allowing the Cordoba House (the proposed community center's name) to go on, is the wrong thing to do. Does this sway my opinion? No. Remember what Albert Einstein said: "What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right."
Denying the Cordoba House, and the moderate Muslim group planning to build it the right to do so, is popular.
Is it right?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Gossamer Inch--A Short Story I Wrote

You can read a short story I wrote recently on Scribd:

It was heavily inspired both by Kate Chopin's "The Story of an Hour" and Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge."

Here it is:

She moved her head an inch—a gossamer inch, ever so slightly—off the pillow, until her dry cracked lips touched the dry starched linen of the bed sheet. A matted wisp of hair, gray and oily in its disuse, fell in front of her eyes. She had not the energy to brush it away from her face, but let it stay there, tickling—taunting—slowly.

Her leg, thin and varicose-veined, dangled over the edge of the bed. The (now faded red) bed sheet twisted round it like a barber’s pole—red and white, faded dusty color on faded dusty skin. The minutes ticked by, unforgiving soldiers marching on—blindly. Whose orders did they follow? she thought, angrily. She remembered when her legs had been white and not transparent. She remembered when the bed sheet’s red was not faded, but proud in its garish glory. She remembered all this from a time before. But minutes—days—years—were unceasing soldiers. It had been folly to think that she could fight against them—she, when no others could. Not the belles she’d envied, whose rich locks of brown and gold had turned to white and gray; not those spry gentlemen she’d danced with…Dancing. What a word. It was like honeyed water, dripping slowly, torturously before a parched traveler—out of reach, far away—and when you reached for it, gone.

A cough forced its way through her frailty. She seized up in pain, then stilled. Moving never helped.

A minute passed. Stubbornly she kept her wrinkled eye open, scanning the room back and forth with bad, desperate vision—she was the man on the edge of a cliff barely hanging on, prey encircled by predator with nowhere else to go. Insistently, she did not blink, though she knew sometime, she would have to fall, be killed and eaten. Then she heard the clock tick once more.

Wobbling on the bed’s edge, she allowed—she had no energy to make—her leg’s descent, sloth-like in its speed, but jarring in its movement, as though she were a rock climber in freefall. Her foot, her useless twisted gray cracked foot, hit the floor. She winced, clutching the sheet as though it were a climber’s rope. Fondly she remembered those towering peaks her brother liked to climb. They called him crazy then, before he won the medals. Then they liked him. She smiled as she thought of it, and glanced up at the wall where she saw the medals glint.

But what good had they done? Had they saved her brother? Had they paid for his hospital bills? Were they food, water, shelter? Her brother was dead. The peaks he climbed were gone, strip-mined, no longer pretty. Yet those medals glinted, untouched, on the wall—as though to remind her of lost things, as though to say, “We’re still here.”

She had no time for vengeance. Her second leg drooped of its own accord, following the first in its drop off the bed. When she had both legs on the ground, that was when she could try to lift her dizzy, weary head. It made her gag the first time. She would have retched, except for that she had not eaten any food. She coughed up blood instead. It made splotches on the bed sheet. Where the red had faded, her blood restored it. The crumpled yellow blouse she wore gained two more stains, one on each side, like small red buttons. She did not care. Her head fell back down to the bed.

Instead of lifting her head, she decided to slide downward, off the edge. She knew it would hurt, but it was less energy. She dragged the bed sheet, blood and dust and all, with her as she slid off the hard strict edge—then fell onto her knees, legs bent under in an awkward position. The fall, onto her knees and the cold wood floor, sent pain through her legs and made her faint.

It was too hard to stand upright and walk. She would crawl. She was past humiliation, indignation now. She wanted water, and that was that. Feeling half-crippled, she dragged herself past old dusty stacks of letters from friends (now dead, long ago), past the folded evening gowns that reminded her of dances with spry gentlemen, ballrooms and rich families’ houses…

There, on the old table that had been a gift—from who she didn’t know, nor care—sat a pitcher of water and a box of pills. The doctor had told her to take them all—with water, he said. Pills, and water, she thought, as she gulped them down hungrily, what a breakfast. She was knelt down on the ground in pain, surrounded by the dusty stacks of letters, evening gowns spun of rich memories, her brother’s glinting, smirking medals on the wall…

The clock ticked by. Seven minutes had passed since she’d awoke. It had felt longer, just as the minutes when she was young felt shorter, quicker. No matter.

She looked back at the clock though her neck, twisted and painful, told her not to. She looked at it with the calculating glower of a fencer, looking at her enemy in the face, about to begin another duel. Perhaps she had won today, but it had been folly to think that she would win forever—her enemy’s unceasing, unforgiving minutes—days—years—marched on blindly. Perhaps she’d thought that she could win? She had waged a losing war. But today—today was her victory.