Karrie Jacobs


August 30, 2010

Adjacent to Hallowed Ground

Graffiti on 45-47 Park Place,  former Burlington Coat Factory, future home of Park 51.

Got home from the beach yesterday and took a walk past the site of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”  Tried, while on vacation,  to ignore the pageant of  xenophobic noise-making that the proposed Islamic cultural center inspired.  I could go on  about how the center, with its planned  performing arts space, basketball courts, and meeting rooms, is not intended to “stab hearts” (Palin)  but rather as a  gesture of healing, one that should, in theory, demonstrate that Muslims, like Catholics, Jews, and Hindus and everyone else, contribute to this city’s rich  fabric.  Seems obvious.

Here’s the thing:   the 16 acres bounded by Vesey, Liberty, Church and West Streets should be hallowed ground.  No argument.   But if we really meant it, if we really took the sanctity of the place seriously, there’d be nothing under construction there except a memorial. And maybe not even that.  One of these days, however, there will be four office towers, a transit hub and retail concourse on the site.  Ground Zero will not be a shrine; it will be a vital, living urban place.

So what are we going to do, scrutinize every potential WTC office tenant  for their ideological leanings and financial backers?    If a Muslim organization can’t build a cultural center on Park Place, two blocks north of Ground Zero,  can, say, Emirates Airlines open an office in the new WTC complex?    What about Barneys?  Isn’t it currently owned by Dubai World?  Can a fashion department store owned by Muslims lease space in the WTC’s retail mall?  Are Muslims allowed on (or near) hallowed ground as long as they don’t pray there?

Like, once you start, where do you stop?

And, not that Si Newhouse is a Muslim, but what would the culture warriors  of Park Place make of the fact that  Conde Nast publications is planning to take up a lot of prime space in the building formerly known as the Freedom Tower?    Is it appropriate to publish Vogue, GQ, or The New Yorker on hallowed ground?  Will Conde Nast be forced to change its plans as the Drawing Center did in 2005, when it was booted off the WTC site because some of the artwork exhibited there might “denigrate America.”  (Pataki)  Given half a chance and I could work up a pretty good argument against publishing Self magazine on hallowed ground.  Protest anyone?

P.S.  I thought this piece from the Tribeca Trib did a good job on the neighborhood perspective.  Also see: Imam Rauf on  moderates of all faiths  vs. radicals of all faiths.