Saturday, August 28, 2010

Visiting a Park of a Different Green: My Trip to the Proposed Site of the NYC Islamic Community Center

I took the E train down from Penn Station. It was a 14 minute ride. As each stop passed, I became a little more excited at what awaited. After what seemed like ages, the train announcer finally announced, “Last stop, World Trade Center.” Hearing those three words, “World Trade Center”, at the site felt so different than when I heard them thrown around on the news so often. I was in lower Manhattan, the zone that shook so many years ago. World. Trade. Center. 

I walked up the stairs and out of the subway system. I had to blink, squint, and adjust to the daylight. I spun around a little, looking for Park Place; instead, I found the gated walls encompassing the hallowed ground of the Twin Towers. I had visited the area a few times after 9/11, but each time had been as a non-New Yorker. But now I have lived in NY for three years. Seeing Ground Zero felt very different now, a scar on the skyline of a horrifying past.

I found Park Place easily enough, it was a complete 180 turnaround from Ground Zero. The road signs were labeled very clearly, letting me know which block would hold 51 Park Place, the site of the proposed Islamic Community Center. And so, I set off on my walk, anxious to see this controversial piece of property. I counted down the building numbers and closed in on 51; dodging cigarette smokers along the way.

And I walked past the place.

I nearly completely walked past the place had it not been for a few people holding signs and some others taking pictures. Otherwise, it is a completely nondescript, rundown eyesore.
I turned around to look at the building opposite Park51. There is an office building across the street, looks like a business version of a sweatshop. Park51 itself is very dilapidated. The paint is peeling, graffiti scattered on it, the “Burlington Coat Factory” logo is only visible due to the faded letters surrounded by dirt and grime. 

One lady held up a sign with my name on it. I asked her if she was my limo driver. No luck.  The sidewalk is chalked with “love thy neighbor”, “Learn the facts”, and “”.

This extremism is too much for me.

Speaking of extremists, half a block down there is an Amish Market. The Amish, man, they’re the extremists! 
Forced to wear hijab at an early age!
I stood in front of the Amish Market at the corner of Park and West Broadway. I turned a full 180 and saw Ground Zero. Three cranes are visible, like skeletons of Brontosaurs. But Brontosaurs were never real. They were actually the bodies of Apatosaurs combined with Camarasaur heads born of a rivalry between two paleontologists! HILARTACULAR! 

I walked two blocks to Ground Zero from the Amish Market. Along the way, I passed two halal carts. These two halal carts were way closer to Ground Zero than Park51. 

Have they no shame? 

Fruit Shakes?  More like 'Fruit Sheikhs'!
A man walked past me with a shirt saying “No Ground Zero mosque”. When I arrived at Ground Zero, sure enough, the man was correct! There was, indeed, no Ground Zero Mosque. But I did see a variety of other things. Century 21, a department store, has a big banner saying “Fall into Fashion at C21” which overlooked the entire Ground Zero. I found that majorly offensive, given that some of the victims plunged to their deaths on 9/11. There were numerous places to spend money and glutton oneself, but there were no spaces to just sit in silence and contemplate, reflect, or pray. A Christian nation and people committed gluttony mixed with sloth!  That was offensive! I saw a lady picking her nose at Ground Zero. That was offensive. A pimp stood next to me while I stood at an intersection. I was offended! 

Then I realized that everybody has the freedom to do whatever it was they were doing, from digging for gold to wearing some gold. All the things which offended me were entirely subjective, and had no roots which could be tied to justice.  It reminded me of a law in Pakistan that says, "If you insult the honor of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of God be upon him), you will be put to death."  Insult according to whom?  Is there a person who can turn emotions into facts and judges accordingly?  One would have to ask the person to see if he was offended and in this immediate example, the prophet Muhammad passed away over 1400 years ago.  Too bad he didn't leave behind any teachings that could help in this matter and show that blasphemy is not punishable by the death penalty.

Oh wait.  He did.

You can't deprive people of their life based on something subjective.  (The word "life" can be interchanged with any other human right)  Why?
Because the fact is that there are four types of people:  those who are over-sensitive, those who are sensitive, those who are under-sensitive, and my father.  But even THOSE categories are subjective!  We cannot act on them to set any standard aimed at one group of people because this does not mete out equal justice for it has no basis in fact and cannot break down into elements which can be applied to all.
I walked the two and a half blocks back to Park51 with this in mind. 

There were about 12-15 supporters out front.  3 or 4 were Muslim.
But all were definitely supporters of American values.
A lady approached me and asked if I was a journalist. I replied, “Kind of.” She asked if I was religious. I said, “Yes.” She asked if I was Muslim. I said, “Yes.” She then asked if I knew the story of Lazarus and his supposed resurrection.  She did not care if I did not believe it, just if I knew it.  I said, “Yes.” She then said, “For all the Christians that oppose this building, they need to become firm in their faith. The resurrection will happen no matter where the mosque is located.” Although she pretty much told me that she believed I was going to Hell, I agreed with her logic.
I proceeded inside and was greeted by a tall, strong, African-American brother. He asked, “Can I help you?” I responded, “Assalamo Alaikum,” (peace be upon you) and extended my hand. He took it and responded with a hearty, “Walaikum salam warahmatullah wabarakatahu.” (peace be upon you and the mercy and blessings of Allah). I said, “I just want to check out the mosque.” He replied, “It is right down over there, just take off your shoes.” So I took off my shoes and went into the prayer area. There were a number of pillars in the prayer area. Other than that, the room was totally empty of any object (except for a few Qurans on a shelf, a prayer mat, and numerous carpets in rows) and had bare walls. Perfect.  I could not even tell I was in New York City. I could not even hear the hustle of the NYC rush hour. I prayed my late afternoon prayer and offered a prayer for whatever is best (what a subjective prayer). I left the area with another hearty exchange of “salaams” with the doorman.
I left Park51. A non-Muslim man was standing outside in support of the center. When he saw me enter the outdoors, he offered me the biggest, most genuine smile.  
I had never seen somebody so genuinely happy to see another exercising his freedom of religion.  It was comforting amidst the rat race that surrounded us.
...then I ran to the subway because, hey, it's New York and I had a train to catch.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Faith Wars under Class Wars

As a student who just entered his final year of law school, I can still mildly alternate between the way I used to think and how I currently think.  Before law school, it tended to be about emotions, passions, and just doing what seemed to be the right thing.  But after law school, all that stuff is secondary.  First and foremost, one has to grasp the facts and grasp them chronologically.

Chronological problem:
What came first: the chicken or the egg?
Who cares? They're both delicious.  

And be sure to grasp the facts accurately.  Over history, we have had the industrial age, the bronze age, the gold age (see: Michael Phelps Olympics 2008), and now the information age.  The age of information gives us information literally at our fingertips.  Literally.

People dive in to get the smartest phones to get the internet, yet, this information powerhouse that is the worldwide web (WWW) might be underused.  People have begun to congregate around one or two news sources and derive all information from them.  This is dangerous because it does not teach something else I learned in law school thought:  know both sides of the case.

There are two major sides to the NYC Islamic Community Center (ICC).  Over the past few weeks, I have noticed that those who are versed in looking at both sides have supported the ICC's development.  Most recently, this includes the NYC Bar Association.  Additionally, other lawyers have spoken about the issue.
William J. Honan, the executive partner of Holland & Knight, which in 2001 had its office a block from the World Trade Center, said many of the firm's staff lived through "that horribly traumatic day, but that was the work of terrorists and that is not what we are talking about here."
The most famous attorney to speak on the issue was President Obama, who supported the building of the ICC, but the politician in him was quick to bring up uncertainty regarding location.  However, there are exceptions to the rule, and in this case, another well-known attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, has spoken out strongly against the ICC.

On the other side of the class war, we see the construction workers, laborers, Union members pledging to not work on the construction of the ICC.
"There were construction workers killed on 9/11 and many more who got horribly sick cleaning up Ground Zero," Coletti said. "It's very emotional."
As evident, the majority of workers are engulfed in an argument based on passion and emotion. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule as well.

"Hundreds of guys here are wearing stickers as a sign of protest, but I'm on the fence about it," said Frank Langan, 50, a site superintendent from Queens working at Ground Zero.
"It's a tough debate," he said. "I sympathize with workers' position, but at the same time, you can't single out all Muslims because of a small number of terrorists."
So, we see a trend where both sides are weighing in heavily where they are expected to stand. But the amount of misinformation in this debate has essentially kept the working class focused on the "emotional argument".  The "emotional argument" never focuses on the Muslim victims of 9/11, never focuses on the mission statement of the ICC, and, worst of all, it never focuses on the fact that the world is watching the actions of Americans very closely as we increasingly become torn on this manufactured story.

Chronological problem:
What came first: the freedom of speech or the freedom of religion?
Who cares? They equally coexist...

...just like we should.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Blogust 22, 2010

The 3L year has finally started and it will end very rapidly. This is one of the certainties of life.

- I will not have enough time to study.
- I will not have enough time to finish my work.
- I will not have enough time to have enough time.

This is something I have learned to accept. Which is why in the time I have, I do the best work I can possibly do, and I encourage others to do just go all in instead of biding your time. Because, guess what, you won't have enough time.


Currently, there are two "news items" that have sparked massive debates and have thrust Islam into the spotlight. I refer to the NYC Islamic Cultural Center and 1 in 5 Americans being stupid. I mean, 1 in 5 Americans believing Obama is a Muslim. I will address the former only because the latter is so ridiculous that, oh bother, I am addressing it!

Quick, change the subject!

The NYC Islamic Cultural Center is an Islamic YMCA. That is all it is. A YMMA. Young Muslim and Muslimah (female form of Muslim) Association. It sounds like "yummy". Which is great because it will have a culinary arts school in there. Oh, right, it will also have two floors for praying.

The cool thing about a Muslim place of worship is that it is completely void of any images, idols, pictures, empowering scents, music, etc. It allows you to be before you and your God. So, all are welcome to pray within a mosque and they can do so without there being a "Star and Crescent" hanging over them, without having to impress members of the opposite sex (mosques tend to be separated by sex), and without hearing any chanting/etc (except for when the Muslims gather to pray and recite Quranic verses).

YMMA (I am going to call it this from now on) is located a couple blocks from where the Twin Towers once stood. People are offended. But I think the YMMA is more a beacon for peace. People think otherwise and say that the building will be a trophy for the Taliban. I feel like the building will be

more of a statement, "Yeah, the terrorists claimed to be followers
of Islam, but guess what, that
isn't Islam. The people who died that day died as a result of extremists, not as a result of a faith
that seeks to search and destroy. Come join us and find out more about Islam. And while you're here, play a little basketball, maybe try this quiche I just made. It is yummy."

So really, the debate is just coming from people who "learned all they needed to know about Islam on 9/11" not taking that step forward and learning what the other side has to say. I read a book called "Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet" by Karen Armstrong a
few years back and really enjoyed it. She provides a well-researched historical look at Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Arabia before, during, and after his life. She has since written another biography which I look forward to reading to. Well, you know,

when I have some time.