Finally, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission has given a green light to a Muslim cultural center near the site of the 9/11 attacks. For weeks, the debate over the “Ground Zero mosque” (which is in fact a comprehensive community center that houses a prayer space and various recreational facilities) has captured the paranoid imaginations of anti-Muslim zealots. You see, if you build the mosque, the terrorists will win. Since the vote means building on the site can’t be preempted by landmark status, the community organizations backing the project are free to develop the cultural center, known as Park 51. The NY Times reports the center “will be modeled on the Y.M.C.A. and Jewish Community Center in Manhattan”—adding some much-needed depth to New York’s pluralist religious landscape.
The aspirations of the project—cultural exchange and openness—contrast sharply with the shallow arguments of opponents, who railed at public meetings about how the project would tarnish the legacy of 9/11 survivors. Now that the development is moving toward construction, the symbolic fight over the project will continue to ripple nationwide, as right-wing activists work to co-opt the public planning process as a soapbox for anti-Muslim screeds. Plenty more where that came from, so get ready.