Posts Tagged ‘ New York City ’

Due diligence, then build both

As the issue of the proposed Muslim Community Center (mosque) two blocks from Ground Zero is roiling public opinion across the country – and lead to an explosive disagreement at a recent family gathering with someone whom I have always liked – it’s time to add a little moderation to the cacophony (and hopefully bolster other, more prominent voices, who also wish to apprehend the situation thoughtfully and intelligently).

As noted – and I think rightly so – in a series of interviews with American religious leaders conducted by Time, the uproar surrounding the Park51/Cordoba House project is being catalyzed more by political figures than religious ones. Though some on the right have come out against their brethren who are deliberately fanning the flames, their criticism was directed towards the party, rather than the American public. As the Time polls show, anti-Muslim sentiment (ranging from distrust to outright hatred) is still very prevalent in this country, so it makes sense that opportunistic politicians would take advantage of Americans’ ignorance of other cultures. So often people clamor for moderate Muslims to speak out, and I think the small cadre of Arab and Muslim Republicans described above could do more good by showing their constituents, not their colleagues, that they, too, share their values.

Now, I fully understand the sentiment that building such a prominent symbol of Islam so close to Ground Zero smacks of insensitivity towards those families who lost loved ones on that horrible day. Their grief is still very real, and those who argue for the mosque on the grounds of religious freedom would do well to be cognizant of those powerful emotions. However, there comes a time when we must let go of the past so that we can focus our attention on building a brighter tomorrow. We must not let the ignorance and hatred which lead to the tragedy of 9/11 be repeated in this country. If we reject the placement of the mosque out-of-hand, without thoughfully considering all perspectives on the issue, then we are no better than those who despise us, and even give some legitimacy to their criticisms of our culture.

The most legitimate criticism I see in this issue is the prospect for rebuilding the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox church, which was flattened when the towers fell and has yet to be rebuilt. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple question of New York allowing the mosque and disallowing the church. The final approval for the mosque came from the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, whereas the church is negotiating with the Port Authority. It appears that several near-agreements have been reached between church and Port Authority officials over the years, but that they have also broken-down several times. What is most important to note here is that the city is not favoring the establishment of a house of worship and community for one religion over another, but that there are other issues which are preventing the timely rebuilding of the church.

So, how do we go forward? What is most important is that the respective sides try to recognize the legitimate concerns of one another. Those who seek to build the mosque should reveal their funding sources in order to show that it is indeed being built in good faith. Perhaps including some sort of nondenominational monument to honor those who perished in the attacks would further signify the goodwill the mosque is meant to epitomize. And those who oppose its building must recognize that there are in fact good people of all religions who truly do want to coexist in harmony, not spit in the faces of others; and they must be allowed to express their beliefs the same as everyone else in this country. Finally, Mayor Bloomberg should use his significant influence to push through a deal between the St. Nicholas Church and the Port Authority and get reconstruction started, the same way he has adamantly supported the building of the mosque.

If due diligence is made by all parties in trying to understand one another’s perspectives, then I see no reason why we can’t have both religious freedom and respect for emotional sensitivities: a church and a mosque, standing side-by-side, at the site of the most poignant display of hatred and ignorance, as a testament to the enduring effort for peace and harmony between all men.

X steps forward; X-1 steps back

A major bummer for New York City public schools: the still-fresh scab over an appalling achievement gap has been viciously re-opened. Yes, the differences in test performance between racial groups are back. After several years of remarkable improvement among African-American and Hispanic students, the 2010 state test scores paint a portrait less of remarkable progress than a cancer that was merely in remission.

I wish I had something positive to add here, but I’m at a loss tonight. Really, this just highlights how deep the problems within our education system run, and how much work remains to be done. If anything, education policy must evolve beyond test scores to encompass things such as student development and the ability to learn new material, rather than just regurgitating rote knowledge.

If we want to prepare our students for the broad and complex world in which we live, we absolutely must do better. There are many out there who are currently working towards this, but this is an issue facing everyone, not just the experts. We must demand excellence not only from our teachers and schools, but also from ourselves as responsible citizens whose job it is to prepare the next generation to face the problems of tomorrow.