Never ones to let a potential controversy get past them (today’s cover headline reads, “Scarlett [Johanson] may be getting a new ‘tattoo’”), The New York Daily News has helped to make the “Ground Zero Mosque” a noisy conversation with emphatic sides. Today I happened to pick up a copy of the paper while waiting for the clerks to ring me up at the local deli — two Yemenis who were good enough to make me a sandwich while fasting for Ramadan — only to find a blue border at the top of page 4 that reads, “Center of Controversy.” Columnist Mike Lupica writes:
…this debate isn’t abut correctness. Or freedom of religion. Or even the idea that if this mosque doesn’t get built, it will mean we are now deciding about religious freedom in this country one neighborhood at a time. It is about common sense.
More than that, it is about the constitutents of Sept. 11.
Perhaps grasping that “common sense” — a term most recently lifted from Thomas Paine’s famous pamphlet and used ad nauseum by Glenn Beck and other conservatives to contrive a direct lineage with the ideas of the Founding Fathers — is a pretty worn hook to hang his argument on, Lupica pulls out the families of those who died on September 11. They’re the ones who should decide whether a Muslim community center gets built at Ground Zero, insinuating that the site isn’t our nation’s or our city’s “sacred ground”: it belongs to the families of those who died. He writes, “Everything Bloomberg and Barack Obama say about this sounds right. But if the only constituency that matters here — the ones left behind by the victims of Sept. 11 — think they’re wrong, they are.”
Never mind that the families don’t agree about the community center, and that there’s no consensus about where Ground Zero begins and ends — the proposed site for the center is the former Burlington Coat Factory, well off the four acre footprint of building site — what is “sacred ground”?
Are the endless blocks of Paris, destroyed in the second World War by Germany’s Big Bertha and bombs, sacred ground? Is the 80% of Dresden that was leveled at the end of the war? The city of Hiroshima? Nagasaki? The street in Harlem where a man at a block party was shot 21 times last week? The dangerous bend on a highway where a young girl was killed by a drunk driver? The New Orleans hospital where terminal patients died during Katrina? Columbine High School? The Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City?
If these and myriad other locations are not “sacred ground,” why not? And if they are “sacred ground,” what right do the family members of the deceased have to determine what is built there?