The 50 cent solution: Solving the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy

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The 50 cent solution: Solving the “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy

Aref Assaf

First published in NJ.Voices

I just returned from a television interview, the topic of which was again the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” It was not the best of interviews and I left unsure that I had conveyed my position.

I was pressed on the need to compromise, “to show magnanimity towards the 70% of Americans who don’t want the mosque so near Ground Zero.” My views on the matter are well known. I am against relocating the planned cultural center, now known as Park51, away from the “hallowed ground” of 9/11. Moving it is an acceptance of the guilt-by-association accusations that have been levied against American Muslims, the Imam leading the effort, and Islam. I have argued that moving the mosque is akin to accepting second-class citizenship. I have also argued that only after Islam and American Muslims are absolved of liability for the 9/11 attacks may a discussion about alternate sites take place. And I have argued that America’s anger should be aimed at Al-Qaeda, five thousand miles away from our shores.

Opponents of Park51 accuse me of being insensitive to the families of 9/11 victims. Of course, they are wrong, for I am immensely sensitive to their feelings. Am I not a fellow citizen who also mourned the loss of friends and business associates who perished in the rubble of the World Trade Center? I share the same feelings of those who feel that those symbols of ours were violated. I share the same feelings that our country’s pride has been irreversibly altered. But I am also sensitive to the feelings of fellow Muslim victims the rest of America refuses to acknowledge. It’s as if they never existed; never suffered; never died. I am sensitive to the feelings of millions of American Muslims who feel estranged, outcast, and endlessly held in suspicion of their allegiance to America. I am sensitive to our Bill of Rights and our Constitution which does not exempt me from the right to practice my faith. I am attuned to all these concerns and I ask that you take my word for it.

But I am being asked to “compromise” as evidence of my humanity and also of my good American citizenship so that America can be saved from the curse of Islamophobia. I am being asked to forsake my right of equal protection under the law and practice thereof so that America’s grieving can be shortened, its anger mellowed, its insecurity overcome. I, the victim of American xenophobia, one who truly believes he is not guilty of causing or conspiring to bring such a horrific attack on our nation’s soil – I am being told that my patriotism hinges on my readiness to forsake being lumped with foreign terrorists who not hijacked not only planes but also my faith – to commit an unspeakable crime. Alas, these feeling were so yesterday.

I am now willing to reconsider my position and actually entertain a compromise. Here is a rough outline of my proposal. Let’s move the Park51 center to Union City, New Jersey, across the Hudson River. The natural geographic divide should ensure the sanctity of Ground Zero is maintained. I am sure the honorable message of Park 51, of building bridges between the faiths, can be disseminated regardless of where it is based. I am sure Muslims near Ground Zero will still find a place in which to worship.

The appropriate mechanism to apply for the relocation is what is commonly known as Eminent Domain. Such a power of the state is generally utilized to condemn buildings or other structures under the pretense of serving the public good. A negotiated price is offered to the owner of the condemned property.

We all read about the “Slumlord of Union City”, namely Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is the leading figure behind the Park51 project. New Jersey’s two leading newspapers papers, The Star-Ledger and The Bergen Record, have but convinced us that the Imam is the State’s worst landlord, endangering the safety of his tenants with his utter and consistent indifference to their needs. I won’t get into what prevents the tenants from moving out if their landlord habitually refuses to make needed repairs. Other pundits have.

So America, or at least those who oppose the proximity of a mosque near Ground Zero, should demand the State of New Jersey to condemn the debilitated apartment complex Imam Rauf owns in Union City and in its stead build his cultural center and mosque. We should expect little opposition from either the mayor of Union City or the Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey. Thousands of jobs would be created. But just as with all properties condemned under pretenses involving the public benefit, I would expect the opponents of the mosque to each contribute $0.50 towards the $100 million projected to build the cultural center. (My math tells me that 70% of America equals about 200 million citizens who are against the “Ground Zero mosque”). By proposing this solution, I hope America will finally accept the totality of my being including my Muslim faith. Conversely, if they accept my suggestion, they will have erased any doubt I may have that they truly are not against Islam; only against a lone mosque in NYC.

I think both the Imam should seriously consider my proposal. The Imam could end up with a stash of cash for having his apartments condemned by the State. Moreover, by having American citizens foot the bill, we won’t have to worry about the funding sources for the project. And since it will properly cost less for the land and building of the project in New Jersey, I am sure we will have enough money left to build an apartment complex to house the displaced tenants of the Imam’s debilitated apartment buildings.

The Imam just stated that all options are on the table. On Sunday, September 12, he appeared on Christiane Amanpour’s show “This Week. He said he would only make a decision about moving or keeping the mosque at Park51 if it was for the good of “everybody.”

Well Imam, seize the moment and make history. The Imam can go on State Department-funded trips to the Middle East and assure Muslims they got a good deal and they need not attack American interests abroad. Similarly, Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate magnate, can up his offer few millions more and buy the entire NY site and turn it into an acceptable tax-paying business that won’t desecrate the memories of the 9/11 victims. He can turn the site into a casino where scantily-clad waitresses would serve alcoholic drinks to prod Wall Street stockbrokers into gambling money – hopefully, their own.

And for once, New Jersey will get paid for being a dumping ground for New York. Who said money cannot buy happiness?

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