In honor of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, students and professors share their perspectives on the tragic day. Allan MacLeod reflects on serving as a soldier in the Middle East, Marianne Hirsch questions how we should commemorate the anniversary, Randall Balmer comments on the history of the World Trade Center, Joohyun Lee shares the international world's reaction to the attack, and Ben Lyons recalls how Columbia dealt with the disaster....
Injured Cities/Urban Afterlives
Shot heard 'round the world
Campus during the attacks
Injured Cities/Urban Afterlives
Shot heard 'round the world
Campus during the attacks
This week, Opinion is talking about Islamophobia, focusing on the debate over the Park51 project near ground zero. Professor Randall Balmer discusses the history of New York's religious diversity and calls for the city to embrace religious tolerance again. Junaid Chaudhry talks about being a Muslim in America and reflects on his perception of the American Dream. Conor Skelding reminds readers to think about the location's significance, while Maryam Aziz discusses the growing sense of alienation felt by Muslim Americans....
As a historian, I regard lower Manhattan as something akin to sacred ground—not simply because of the awful tragedy that took place there on a crystalline September morning a decade ago or because of some explicit religious valence associated with that place. Lower Manhattan is "sacred" because, throughout American history, this has been the proving ground for our highest ideals as a people and as a nation: our tolerance and embrace of diversity. Consider. In the span of nearly a century, Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian immigrant in the service of France, discovered the inlet into New York Harbor, and Henry Hudson, an Englishman under contract to the Dutch East India Company, nosed the Half Moon through the same Narrows and struggled north on the river that now bears his name. The first group of settlers to embark on Manhattan were Walloons, French-speaking Belgians, followed shortly by a modest influx of Dutch, Germans, and French. English Puritans bracketed Dutch settlement to the north and east, in New England and Long Island. African slaves began arriving in the 1620s, and twenty-three Sephardic Jews, refugees from Recifé, came to New Amsterdam aboard the Sainte Catherine in 1654. Early reports filtering back to the Netherlands, the most tolerant society of the seventeenth century, told of Huguenots, Mennonites, Brownists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Catholics, even "many atheists and various other servants of Baal." The Jews proposed to erect a synagogue, and French Jesuits from Canada mounted several missionary sorties among the Indians. Many colonists blamed the slave uprising of 1712 on Elie Neau, a Huguenot-turned-Anglican and an early advocate for abolition who ran a school for Africans in New York City. Roman Catholics arrived in greater numbers in the nineteenth century, from places like Ireland, Germany, and Italy. As with other groups, finding their place in the rich tapestry of American diversity did not always come easy. John Hughes, who became the first archbishop of New York (and the founder of what is now Fordham University), protested the use of the Protestant-inflected King James Version of the Bible in the city's public schools. His objections prompted the "great school wars" of the 1840s, when Protestants threatened Catholics and their churches. Hughes made his case for toleration by appealing to the United States Constitution and to Americans' better selves: "Is this state of things, fellow-citizens, and worthy of you, worthy of our country, worthy of our just and glorious constitution?" The vicinity of lower Manhattan was also the venue for signing of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in the twentieth century. At Liberty Island on October 3, 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar Act, which removed the immigration quotas established by the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 and once again opened the United States to immigrants. The legislation, the president declared in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, "corrects a cruel and enduring wrong in the conduct of the American Nation." Whether they knew it or not, then, the terrorists who guided those fuel-gorged jets into the World Trade Center were targeting the very heart of America—not because of the buildings' association with business or commerce, but because their location in lower Manhattan has long symbolized America's noblest ideals. Our response in the decade since 9/11 has been spotty at times but generally consistent with those ideals. On the negative side of the ledger, Muslims have sometimes been targeted, and a cynical administration used the attacks as a pretext to rush the United States into two irrelevant and ill-considered wars. And surely the most reprehensible consequence of 9/11 was the use of torture against those the president deemed "enemy combatants." But Americans themselves, sooner or later, rise to their better selves and come to embrace the principles of toleration and respect for minorities encoded into our charter documents and symbolized by that tiny parcel of land in lower Manhattan. Not universally, to be sure, and far too belatedly in the case of women and racial minorities, but we Americans generally come around. The proposed Islamic cultural center, Park51, provides a case in point. Initially derided as the "Ground Zero Mosque," even though it is not primarily a mosque and it wasn't at Ground Zero, Park51 has gradually won acceptance. Perhaps we should read some significance into the fact that the loudest critics of Park51, notably Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, are not New Yorkers and represent a political movement not generally associated with the rights of minorities. The most ringing defense of the proposed Islamic center came from Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York and a Jew. "We would betray our values—and play into our enemies' hands—if we were to treat Muslims differently than [sic] anyone else," the mayor declared. "In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—and we should not stand for that." Well said—and utterly consistent with the rich history of toleration and multiculturalism associated with the "sacred ground" of lower Manhattan. The author is a professor of American Religion History at Barnard College. He is also is a member of the Graduate Faculty of Arts and Sciences and has taught in the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. The first of his thirteen books was entitled "A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies."...
Feisal Abdul Rauf's Cordoba Initiative and the construction of the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan have attracted more than their share of critics. Opposition from people such as Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, and the demagogues at Fox News was predictable, but what I find deeply disquieting is a recent poll showing that a majority of New Yorkers oppose the project. Such sentiment is not worthy of New Yorkers, and it violates this city's long tradition of religious tolerance dating back to the early decades of the 17th century. When Jonas Michaëlius, the first Dutch minister in New Netherland, convened the first religious gathering in New Amsterdam in 1628, he commented on the religious diversity already evident in the colony. "At the first administration of the Lord's Supper which was observed, not without great joy and comfort to many," he wrote to his superiors back in Amsterdam, "we had fully fifty communicants—Walloons and Dutch." In addition to the Native Americans already here, New Netherland, from its earliest days, was notable for its racial, ethnic, and religious diversity. Nearly a century after Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian navigator in the service of France, discovered the inlet into New York Harbor and the island we call Manhattan, Henry Hudson, an Englishman under contract with the Dutch East India Company, nosed the Half Moon through the same Narrows and struggled north on the river that now bears his name. The first group of settlers to disembark in Manhattan was composed of Walloons, French-speaking Belgians, followed shortly by a modest influx of Netherlanders, Germans, and French. English Puritans bracketed the Dutch settlement on Long Island, while Swedes and Finns became the early denizens on the Delaware River to the south. Early reports filtering back to Amsterdam told of Huguenots, Mennonites, Brownists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Catholics, even "many atheists and various other servants of Baal." In 1654, the Sainte Catherine pulled into port, carrying 23 Sephardic Jews, refugees from Recifé. Why did they choose New Amsterdam? The Netherlands was the most tolerant society in Europe in the 17th century, and that tradition of tolerance marked New Netherland as well. When Pieter Stuyvesant, director-general of the colony for the Dutch West India Company, sought to suppress Quakerism, the citizens of Flushing protested. The Flushing Remonstrance of 1657, one of the earliest calls for religious disestablishment in America, insisted on freedom of religious expression. Significantly, none of the 30 signatories to the Remonstrance were themselves Quakers. Following the English conquest of the colony in 1664, Governor Benjamin Fletcher worried that New Yorkers were "a mixt People and of different Perswasions in Religion." Fletcher pushed the Ministry Act through the Assembly in 1693, a measure that he believed would establish the Church of England in New York City and the surrounding counties. New Yorkers, however, would have none of it, and they successfully frustrated its implementation in favor of religious freedom and diversity. Throughout its history, New York has accommodated—and even, more often than not, welcomed—religious diversity. Yes, sometimes such accommodation came only after a struggle, as with the Great School Wars of the 1840s, when Roman Catholics protested the Protestant bias in public education. But we New Yorkers eventually rise to our better selves. It's no accident that when Lyndon Johnson signed the Hart-Cellar Act of 1965, which removed immigration quotas, he did so in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. That legislation, more than any other factor, has literally reshaped the religious landscape of both New York City and the nation, as Hindu temples, Sikh gurdw?r?s, Buddhist stupas, and yes, Muslim mosques now dot the countryside. In many respects, New York has always been the "city on a hill" for religious diversity, demonstrating to the nation and the world the virtues of tolerance. With the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan, we now have the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to those virtues again. Randall Balmer, professor of American religious history at Barnard, has taught at Columbia since 1985. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including "A Perfect Babel of Confusion: Dutch Religion and English Culture in the Middle Colonies."...