In recent weeks, I have received requests from both factions to join them in action at Ground Zero on September 11th. For me, answering the first group, those opposed to Cordoba House, was easy. Everyone who knows me -- in my real, non-cyber life, anyway -- knows that I am strongly in support of the erection of Cordoba House and that, despite being Roman Catholic, look forward to spending some time with the Muslim group responsible for Cordoba House in prayer and solidarity after the project is completed.
Answering the second group, those opposing the growing occurrence of Islamophobia, took some reflection. My initial reaction was to attend and show my support. We, as Americans, after all, are not defined by our respective religions; and there is room enough here for everyone. Moreover, I personally know quite a number of Muslims whose lifestyle and socio-spiritual outlook are admiral and deserve to be honored, not demonized, by American society.
The problem, for me, and the reason I have decided against participating in political action of any sort at Ground Zero on September 11, derives from the nature of the primary event at Ground Zero on that day. The primary event at Ground Zero is a public memorial for those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Most of the people attending that memorial are loved ones left behind by the people who died on that day in 2001. I attended that event one year with someone whose significant other died in the attack, because he did not know if he had the strength to attend alone. I recall walking the incline down into the giant pit, at the close of the memorial, to be closer to the space from which the victims were removed. It was a particularly moving experience. I could feel the grief and suffering the space was imbued in. I could feel the sacrifice of human life.
The only other experience I have had that comes close to that experience was the first time I stepped foot on Potter's Field, located on Hart Island in the Long Island Sound off the Bronx in New York City; something I and leaders of Picture the Homeless had worked very hard to make possible. The experience of working with leaders of Picture the Homeless to ensure access to homeless people to Potter's Field to honor those who passed away from among the homeless community and were buried there has helped hone my conviction that honoring human dignity takes priority over all other social questions, including honoring religion. For me, the dignity of religion means nothing without the dignity of the human person. It is the honoring of the people who died on September 11, 2001 that the events at Ground Zero on that date are primarily directed. I feel all other political actions would detract from that very important emphasis.
But another consideration also deters me from participating in political action at Ground Zero on that date. The people who were killed at Ground Zero on 9/11 came from all walks of life, and represent all religions and socio-political persuasions. So, too, do their loved ones left behind, who come there to remember those they lost. Throughout several years of exceptionally virulent political division, the annual memorial at Ground Zero was the one nationally public event that rose above all that. Turning Ground Zero into an occasion for political activism by either side of debate seems to me a grave desecration of the occasion.
So I have staked out a position around the issue activists will be demonstrating about at Ground Zero this coming September 11th. But I will not dishonor the people who died there or compromise the potential of that memorial occasion to promote social solidarity by participating in those demonstrations on either side.