Ground Zero mosque and the absurdity of the faithful – Part 1


I have been watching this circus with quite an amusement that has begun since a group of Muslims announced a plan to make a mosque and a Muslim cultural centre close to the Ground Zero. Is it just me or all the faithfuls on all sides of this issue are really acting like babies fighting over a toy giving absurd yet funny arguments in their favor?

First of all, I have no position on this issue. If someone shoves a mike in my face and asks me if this mosque should be built, I would say that no money should ever be wasted in building a mosque, or a church, or a synagogue, or a temple, or any other such building that sells afterlife but demands the price in this life, anywhere, period. And existing such institutions should be investigated under the consumer protection laws and asked to provide a proof that the promised goods will be delivered. Some times these places are called houses of “enlightenment”. God Almighty!!! A visit to even a low scale planetarium is much more enlightening than visiting these houses.

There are actually three sides to this issue unlike many other issues. On one side are the people who originally started this brouhaha by announcing a $100 million project of mosque and a Muslim cultural center. Opposing them are two groups; hyper-conservative Christians and ultra-moderate Muslims. (This is not the first time, nor the last I am sure, that these two have joined hands. They are actually using the same rhetoric but there is a reason I have separated them into two groups. Later on that reason.)  And I am yet to decide which side sounds most absurd among these three groups. It’s a very close competition.

There is actually a fourth group, the one I belong to, who don’t give a damn about the entire issue one way or the other (mosque-shmosque, whatever) and trust me, we are the large majority here in New York regardless of what the “surveys” lead you to believe. A word about those surveys later too.

The people who want to build the mosque want to “build bridges among communities” and “creating new narratives of tolerance” (their rhetoric, not mine). OK. I can buy that but first I want to know the track record. There are mosques and cultural centers all over US. How is the bridge building going on there? I know of a big Muslim Center close to Princeton, NJ whose Imam once asked his congregates that if they ever see their kids bringing home a book from school that has any mention of Darwin in it, throw the book out of the window. I would like to know how the Princeton community, that pays taxes to have these kids such books, would think about this proclamation and how would that help building bridges? Am I wrong in claiming that almost every mosque in America actually promotes segregation instead of assimilation? Mosques and Islamic Centers organize Muslim Days at the theme parks where no one but Muslims is allowed to enter the park on a given day. ( The Imam who is the brain behind this mosque idea is very fond of giving references to YMCA centers and how those centers bring the local community together. He is right. By the way, does he know how Mosques and Islamic centers use YMCA, the place that brings the community together? By booking their indoor swimming pools for a day, hanging curtains on the glass walls and denying entry to anyone else from the “community” so their women can take a swim. Islamic centers have programs for kids all over United States that tacitly encourage kids to stay away from their American “friends” and move within their “own people”. Some bridges these existing mosques building! With this track record, I fail to understand how people can claim, with a straight face, that this new place will bring the community together. They have stolen this idea, the place of worship being used for community purposes, from the churches in US, which is not a negative thing in itself. If only they make sure that they have Sunday meetings for Alcoholic Anonymous and other such things like that, like most churches do, in this new mosque.

As for the creating new narratives of tolerance in New York City, I have to say - are you kidding me? What new narratives of tolerance are required in New York City? It’s like someone saying that they want to teach people of NYC how to party! Imam Sahib talks about easing “tensions” between communities. Does he see such tension, among Americans and immigrant Muslims, in NYC? If so, I would like to see it too. I spend all my working days in NYC and I fail to see any such tension.

Let’s continue talking about tolerance and NYC and let me share with you my personal experience. There is an Arab guy on the corner of 6th Ave, 53rd street who sells a wicked gyro, probably the best in town. So there is always a long line on the sidewalk at the lunch hour. Last week, I was standing in that line when some redneck passed that corner driving his pickup-truck with Texas license plates who yelled ‘you are eating terrorist food’. There were spontaneous shouts from the people standing in the line of “F^%* off” and “F%^# you”. They didn’t take even a second to register what the guy had shouted before their loud responses. That is because they don’t have to think. That’s the knee-jerk reaction of people of New York City to intolerance. Want an even better one? I was at Upper East Side two days after 9/11 standing on the curb smoking with my friend.  Few yards away, on the corner of the street, a group of young American guys stood around a food stall. From the other corner came three Arab looking young guys and when they passed the group of American boys, they stopped talking and bowed their heads down a little. One of the American said to them, “lift your heads guys. You didn’t do it.” You don’t teach tolerance to these people, you learn it from them. If Imam Sahib really wants to teach tolerance, he might want to move a bit, make it a lot, south of New York. Or I have an even better idea; if these people are hell-bent on spending $100 million for teaching tolerance, building bridges, finding common grounds and all the other interfaith useless mumbo jumbo, here is a great idea. Build a Christian Culture Center in Saudi Arabia. Wow…am I original or what (not really!)

But wait, there is no such thing as Christian Culture in the world? Why? Because cultures encompass religion (in some sense) and not the other way round. Cultures are how people live and interact in a given society at a given time. You can't throw a single "culture" over entire nations living around the globe for centuries. So what the hell is this Muslim Culture? Let’s call it what it actually is; 6th Century Arabic Culture and see how far you get to create an understanding of it in 21st century New York by calling it what it really is. And good luck! 

Rafi Aamer
Fortress Investment Group LLC
1345 Avenue of the Americas, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10105
Office  212.515.7852
Mobile  646.247.7451

Send questions or comments to Family of the Heart