The city of New York will mark the ninth anniversary of 9/11 in what has become a familiar ritual, the laying of wreaths by dignitaries, the reading of nearly 3,000 names by friends and relatives at the Ground Zero site and moments of silence at the times when the two planes struck the towers. Additionally, this year there will be a protest rally against the proposed mosque being built near the site and a counter-protest rally against the protesters.
Increasingly the city is home to people who were not there and did not watch the towers fall from high rise office windows or the roofs of apartment buildings or walk through the ash that drifted like huge fluffy snowflakes over us for a few days and surely contained the minute remains of some who died. Each little trip outside to the deli or Duane Reade contained moments of reverence for what we lost.
Yesterday at a stoplight on 26th and Lexington, a group of well-dressed twenty-somethings commented on soldiers standing outside the Armory: "What is that a recruiting center or something? Like here?" I told them it is the National Guard Armory where members of the Guard put in weekend duty time.
I instantly recalled standing on the corner of 23rd and Lexington on September 12, 2001, and watching Army tanks turn the corner and rumble down the empty street--something I never expected to see in my city, my country in my lifetime. And thank god for them--and for firemen and cops, the people who run into the trouble, like burning buildings, civilians flee.
In those hard days following, I realized how much I love this city and take pride in being a New Yorker and always will be a New Yorker even if I do live somewhere else again one day. As a New Yorker, I can shrug at the latest wave of young people wearing their net worth on their backs and almost painfully devoid of knowledge about where they are, who else is there alongside them and what really happens outside trendy bars and clubs. They will grow and learn or they will leave--or both.
I do not have that compassionate patience for the people protesting the proposed mosque. Some of the ugliest hate speech has poured corrosively from the mouths of Christian church and community leaders--people who seem to have forgotten the core values of the United States of America, values that entitle each of us to freedom of worship, that require each of us to respect the faith of the other. We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with terrorists who wrap themselves in a distorted fundamentalist version of the Islamic faith.
This is New York City, rich in diversity, home to people who practice every faith known or no faith at all. Many of our neighbors are Muslims, good people mourning their own losses on 9/11, working at their jobs, caring for their families and contributing in many ways to our community. If we can't have religious tolerance here--where then?
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