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August 27, 2010

Muhammad Comes to Manhattan?

New York magazine is my favorite magazine... but lately I've been growing more annoyed with every new issue.

It's clear that they don't always research or fact check anymore (if the recent article about Johnny Weir is any evidence). But every once in a while I am still pleasantly surprised.

Take this article from the August 30-September 6, 2010 issue,"Muhammad Comes to Manhattan" about - what else - the "ground zero mosque" which is neither a mosque, nor at ground zero. (Yes, I'm writing about the "mosque" again!) Now 90% of this article is crap. It is poorly written and hard to follow as the author, Mark Jacobson, goes off on tangents and digressions. At one point he actually makes a reference to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction... why? Even the title is stupid... Muhammad isn't coming to Manhattan, he has been here for quite some time.

It's not specifically listed as an editorial or opinion piece, but it's certainly not an objective piece of news reporting on the "mosque". And while the article does give both sides of the issue (he does spend a good chunk of time mocking Pamela Geller, which is nice) it's clear that the author has some level of denial and Islamophobia in him, even if he doesn't realize it. For example:
Perhaps there were some people in Sheepshead bay who preferred not to live near a Muslim mosque. Does that necessarily make them bigots?
Um, yes. Unless they have the exact same reaction to living near a Jewish synagogue or Christian church, then yes, that does make them bigots.
The Freedom Tower, a totemic 1,776 feet tall, is going up. The day I was there, a construction guy said they were working on the twentieth floor, which is already seven more storeis than Imam Feisal's supposed megamosque. When it is done it will be more than 100 stories; that seemed an acceptable ratio.
Huh? As long as the Freedom Tower is bigger than the community center, then it's okay? What?
So while the article as a whole sucked ass, there's one part that I was not only really liked, but was surprised to see included: An explanation, from Sharif El-Gamal, the owner of 45-51 Park Place, on why he chose that site for the Islamic cultural center. This is something that has so often been left out of the news coverage and articles on the subject; they tend to just focus on the protestors' points of view and the facts (or er, "facts"). However this was worth a read (if you ignore the obvious issues with the first two paragraphs below) and so I'm posting it for you all to read:
That said, when this proud son of Queens, someone who was there the day the towers crumbled, breathing in the dust of bodies that only hours before had been walking and talking, first heard of the plan to locate a thirteen-story Islamic center near the WTC site, my initial thought was: Now, that is one really stupid idea!

Why stir up all those ghosts, revisit the horror of those sad days? Was this the best way for the Muslim-American community to stitch itself into the grand mosaic of the city, to demonstrate that the followers of Islam were regulation Jills and Joes like the next caterwauling Yankee fan? I mean, how clueless, how tone-deaf could you be?

When I expressed this sentiment to Sharif El-Gamal, the owner of 45–51 Park Place, a nicely turned out, urbane 37-year-old real-estate man who has been buying and selling buildings in Manhattan for the past dozen years, he shook his head with a barely restrained impatience.

“Listen,” said El-Gamal, “do you have any clue how the Manhattan real-estate market works, what is involved? People seem to think that we picked that building to make some kind of point. But that is simply insane. This is New York; no matter who you are, you just don’t choose a building, move in, and take over. Do you know how many places I looked at? I looked at Chambers Street. I looked at Vesey Street, Broadway, Greenwich Street, Warren Street, Murray Street. Maybe half a dozen more, I can’t even remember now. It was only after all that that Park Place came up. Even then, it was the most grueling negotiation of my life. So many times I told myself, Wow, this just isn’t worth it. One minute the deal was on, eight months later it was off. The whole thing almost drove me nuts.”

But didn’t he think twice before buying a building so close to ground zero? Didn’t he suspect that he was putting himself at the center of a hornets’ nest?
“No,” said El-Gamal, who was born at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn and, after some world travels in the company of his father, a Chemical Bank executive, attended New Hyde Park High School in Nassau County. “It never entered my mind,” he said. “Not for a second.”

The story of how he came to 45–51 Park Place began on 9/11, Sharif El-Gamal said. “I was eating in a diner at 61st and Second Avenue when I heard about the planes, and I just started going down there. Everyone was going the other way, but I kept walking. Someone had attacked my country, my city. All I wanted to do was to see if I could help. I was down there for two days. I saw things I couldn’t believe. I wound up in the hospital because the dust affected my eyes. It was after that, I just felt like praying. We weren’t a religious family; a couple of holy days, that was it. I worked downtown, so I started going to a mosque on Warren Street. After a while I stopped in at the Masjid al-Farah on West Broadway, where I met Imam Feisal for the first time. I knew he had been there for a long time, twenty years or more, but I never heard him speak. His sermons were what I was looking for, beautiful, sincere, but American. I thought, finally, an American Imam, someone who talks to me as an American. But the place was so small. It had a 70-person capacity. You could hardly get in. After the Jumu’ah, which is what we call Friday prayers, I went up to Imam Feisal and told him how much I enjoyed his sermon and that it was too bad only 70 people could hear it at a time. He just smiled and thanked me.
“That is when it hit me: We needed a building. There were a lot of Muslims downtown, and the places we did have were not pleasant; they were basements, holes-in-the-wall. The message was beautiful, but the surroundings were shabby. They were not places we could feel proud of. So I made up my mind. If this was a real-estate problem, that’s what I did, real estate. I am very good at real estate. Also, I’d undergone a change of life. My business has grown, I have two wonderful children. I signed my daughter up for swimming lessons at the Jewish Community Center at Amsterdam and 76th Street. It is an excellent facility, very welcoming, modern. Then I knew we didn’t need just a mosque, we needed a cultural center, something that took into account the entire aspect of life: our lives as Muslim-Americans in New York. So when you ask me why I would buy a place so close to ground zero, I say, I wasn’t thinking of that. I saw a building. A building that would fulfill a need. I spoke to Imam Feisal about it, and he agreed.”

Asked if, considering everything that has happened in the ongoing argument about the mosque, he would do it all over again, Sharif El-Gamal leaned back in his chair. “Yes,” he answered in low voice. “Even knowing everything, I would have done it again. Because there was a conversation that had to be had, and now we’re having it.” [New York, emphasis mine]
Yes. We are having it.

1 comment:

reading. writing. revolution. said...

Super story - the story that no one is hearing, the politicians don't want you reading, Obama isn't savvy enough to promote. Double bonus coupons for Evil Slutopia!