The Ground Zero of Our Madness

In just a few weeks we will be observing the 9th anniversary of the deadliest attack ever to take place on American shores. We will stare solemnly at the gaping hole of Ground Zero, and the hole will stare back at us, until it becomes clear that we are the hole, and the hole is us – politically paralyzed into stagnation; broken, sad and empty.

The crater in Lower Manhattan has become a permanent aching void, but nature abhors a vacuum and so from its empty depths something must arise. In a near-decade that “something” could have taken the form of a park, or a memorial, or a glistening new tower, and the construction of a mosque two blocks thence would have been nothing more than a reinforcement of the notion of American Exceptionalism and what Madeline Albright called The Indispensable Nation, and the narrative would have been a stirring one:

“. . . brought to her knees, Can-Do America has rebuilt and moved on; a proposed mosque two blocks from the new construction only emphasizes her broad shoulders, her self-assurance, her commitment to liberty; it demonstrates to the world the strength that America draws from her own character and constitution, and from knowing who she is . . .

All of that would have been a psychological victory over the spectre of terrorism; it would loom large in the minds of the world and a mosque built in its shadows would only be a mosque, unremarkable in a nation dedicated to freedom of religion.

But because such a narrative does not exist, the American psyche is at a disadvantage, and what should only be a mosque becomes nothing less than a psyops victory for terrorism, a demonstration of divine blessing upon a damnable means of movement: America cannot fill its hole within a decade, but we will raise a mosque in a year!

If Americans can see the psychological victory implicit in such a development, then terrorists–and those who mean no good for the nation–can see it, too. Only the disingenuous politicians and pundits, nobly pooh-poohing the concerns of over 60% of the nation, and labeling them as mere “bigots,” seem unable to see what is before them. People with legitimate concerns about the appropriateness of a mosque being built near a wound so unhealed are being castigated in shrill tones by those who–without a doubt–understood why it was inappropriate for Polish Carmelite Nuns to build a Catholic monastery on the edge of Auschwitz, and applauded Pope John Paul II’s sensitivity in asking the nuns to move.

And this is where our madness is showing. The very people who have no truck with Nativity Scenes in public places at Christmastime are now lecturing the nation about Freedom of Religion. Somehow they want us to believe that a temporary creche displayed in a public space is an insensitive yearly threat to the nation, but that a permanent religious structure looming over our most public failed recovery is neither insensitive nor a threat to our national psyche.

The furor over the Ground Zero Mosque has nothing to do with bigotry – that is just the easy charge some people make whenever they wish to avoid debate and silence opposing viewpoints, even as they proclaim their own flamboyant “openness.” It is not about public space or private enterprise, either. It is about what squabbling, divided and overwrought America’s own inability to rebuild herself portends for her future, and for her whole understanding of herself as a nation.

An exceptional nation leads; it takes a hit, sews the wound and marches on. An indispensable nation dares not dither or it cannot overcome.

Strength or weakness is born in the mind; since 9/11, the American psyche–as manifested in her politics and her popular culture–has been reeling with self-doubt; it has staggered and scattered and turned on itself in a reckless, endlessly divisive attempt to find its bearings. The instinct to preserve the “exceptional” past is battling the urge to ask, “yes, we can, but should we be so indispensable, after all,” and that conflict has infected the whole body, from Ground Zero, to DC, to Arizona, to San Francisco.

A nation on its back with a paralyzing fever is a nation that needs to treat itself with the disinfectant of its own creed, which is its Constitution, and the Constitution guarantees liberty and freedom of worship. But any anti-infectant needs to be taken with care, or it can do more harm than good, upsetting balances and further weakening the vulnerable patient.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

There is a spirit arising from Ground Zero; it is an untethered ghost of American certainties and illusions and it seeks grounding in a solid but safe human understanding, touched with just a little affirmation of its goodness. If it cannot find it within the game-playing rhetoric of political opportunism and elite hectoring, it will gather into its sorrow all of our national lunacy, and will whirl and rise, and whirl and rise, shadowing the mosque that arises nearby.

De Chardin also wrote: “Everything that rises, must converge.”

Our wrecked psyche is peering, wide-eyed and with hands a-tremble, over the edges of an abyss, and the abyss is peering back.

Which is precisely why this mosque needs to be built in New York, but not at the periphery of an unhealed Ground Zero.

Sensitivity is a two-way street or it is wholly an illusion.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church Will Not ReBuild:

Greek Orthodox leaders trying to rebuild the only church destroyed in the Sept. 11 terror attacks expressed shock this week after learning, via Fox News, that government officials had killed a deal to relocate the church.

I like Kathryn Jean Lopez’ take in the NY Times:

I’m a Catholic who sees threats to religious liberty increasing here at home — largely by judicial legislative fiat — and I’m earnest about ensuring its protection for us all.

But I also think that to build an Islamic center near ground zero is an imprudent move. If Islam had a pope, he might advise the Cordoba House developers as much, just as the late Pope John Paul advised Polish sisters not to build a convent at Auschwitz (my friend Bill McGurn wrote well about this in The Wall Street Journal). It is not a surrender of freedom to be sensitive. It is, in fact, a reverent exercise of freedom.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan tactfully offers any assistance he can give

Saudi Funding a possibility?
Is all of this controversy due to a lack of statemanship?
Is there no one left to investigate?
Do we really want to open this can of worms?
I thought he was just a stupid moron nazi panderer?
Which is it, Nancy?
Investigate Dean?
Are questions allowed?
Is the site too raw?
Some pols not playing football with this?
No Regrets?
Like Some Audio?
Have we Forgotten How to Be Big?
Parsing the Pander?
“hallowed ground” or not?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • gb

    Anchoress, Wish the Wall St Journal etc would pick this up. It makes more sense than anything else I’ve read about this whole mess!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    #41, and maybe some Moslems would realize that not all Christians are unbelieving infidels if some nice Methodists moved next door to them. Or, maybe they’d stop disliking Jews if some nice Jewish people moved next door to them. And maybe if we had some nice Martian neighbors, we’d realize aliens are okay. Or—or—or—so on, and so forth.

    This is something that goes way beyond “nice”, or cheery little “Let’s be friends!” wishful thinking. Our country was attacked. Over 3,000 Americans were murdered. The mosque that is planned for this site is seen as a token of Islamic imperialism, and as a slap in the face to the memory of the 3,000 dead.

    Nice Moslems, who really want to be nice neighbors, will understand this, and not support the Ground Zero mosque. As I said earlier, if the mosque’s backers are serious about trying to reach out, they can give the money raised for it to a charity that helps 9/11 survivors, or re-build St. Nicholas church.

  • Marion

    Yet another blog using the words “Ground Zero Mosque.” The approved use for the old Burlington Coat Factory, several blocks from the gaping hole known as Ground Zero, is for a community center with a prayer room. Any conversation, blog, forum post, article, youtube clip etc that uses the word “Ground Zero Mosque” is starting from a distortion. Why not call it the Road House Community Center, since it will be a community center and will be next to a bar called Road House? If the whole area is hallowed ground should we get rid of the bar too? What about other businesses in the area? Do we need to get rid of the existing mosques in lower Manhattan because it’s now all been declared Holy Land kind of Jerusalem during the crusades? What about the tour buses? Personally, I find them the most offensive. And there might even be Muslims on them. We need to make it a Muslim free zone. The Halal meet carts have got to go as well. And while I realize that some of the victims were themselves Muslims, I don’t think we should allow their families into the memorial as it might upset some of the other mourners. In fact, maybe we should just bomb the crap out of some Muslim country. Doesn’t even matter which one or if they sent any of the hijackers since per some of the other comments here, it’s the religion itself that’s to blame. Oh that’s right, we already did that!
    Not about bigotry? The comments after the post put that to rest. It’s all about bigotry and fear and mob mentality. All those things that the constitution is supposed to protect us from. There are people who still think that the Jews stayed home on 911. Will they ban synagogues next?

  • Marion

    Just noticed that someone was just defending the Spanish Inquisition — “Here too there were sometimes abuses.” Yah think?

  • David La May

    Elizabeth, our lines got crossed on the “unAmerican” remark – it wasn’t meant for you. It was a response to the post just above mine. I do, however, hold that Islam is just as much a culture as it is a religion and is therefore an ethnicity. I think I’m right on that.

    I guess the bottom line for me is: let Manhattan decide for itself. I do admit that this country is a mess. I do see the one-sidedness of religious tolerance in this country. But we know that our cultural decline has been an internal deterioration and not a result of Islamic aggression. In Christian terms, if the first thing to fill the hole is a mosque, then let that be a judgement on us and then let’s move on.

  • David La May

    To Sharon,

    I am worried about the West lapsing into lawlessness and narcisism. As a Christian, I know that Jesus is the answer. However, if things were to get really bad here, then I’d gladly accept shariah law as an alternative to chaos.

  • FenelonSpoke

    O.K. Marion, anyone who is opposed to this particular site for this particular mosque is a bigot. You made your point; We can all move on now.

  • Hantchu

    Well put, Anchoress! I will never forget the infinite tact of Pope John Paul II when he asked the Carmelites to choose another spot than Auschwitz for their monastery. As you said, it is certainly a Polish and Catholic place or mourning also, and they were within their rights.

    This is one of the anecdotes that best encapsulates the profound difference between the institutions of Islam and Christianity. John Paul had the greatness to withdraw from his “rights” in order to show compassion.

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  • Brian English

    “The approved use for the old Burlington Coat Factory, several blocks from the gaping hole known as Ground Zero,”

    It was close enough to get hit by the landing gear from one of the planes.

    “is for a community center with a prayer room.”

    In other words, a mosque.

    “And while I realize that some of the victims were themselves Muslims, I don’t think we should allow their families into the memorial as it might upset some of the other mourners.”

    You finally get around to mentioning the victims’ families and you do so in a derogatory fashion. Nice.

    I guess it is understandable then that you don’t care about their opposition, universal from what I have read, to the mosque. I also assume the letter in the LA Times from the Muslim woman whose mother was on one of the planes objecting to the building of the mosque doesn’t mean anything to you.

  • Harold Brady

    Did O’conner plagiarize Chardin’s expression ?

    [No, she did not plagiarize it; she simply used it, the way a line of poetry is often used as a title for something, or the way I recently used a line from Shakespeare. It's a rather well-known line. -admin]

  • J

    At this point, I’m not sure who is the useful tool. Are the muslims attempting to put one over on us by erecting a triumphant mosque with the ensuing call to prayer, 5 times a day, issuing over our dead?
    Or is it the dems causing more division amongst americans in order to achieve the dems goals?

  • Richard Hyfler

    Presumably the 60% of Americans who oppose building the mosque include the 20% who believe that the president is a Muslim and many who believe the false claim that the mosque will open on 9/11 (see).

    I think we would all benefit from a high-profile mosque whose leaders were under public scrutiny and would be obliged to consider the presentation of the public face of Islam to Americans.

    [Hi Richard! I don't think anyone would disagree with your last statement, and I certainly have not heard anyone say that a mosque mustn't be built at all. I wonder if it couldn't be just as high-profile and publicly obliged, though, at the edge of Central Park, or in Times Square, or even in the neighborhoods of NYU or Columbia?

    As to the dismissive start, people believe all kinds of stupid or wrong things; that doesn't negate a poll finding! Numbers are not adjusted because of oddness, or believing strange things; if that were true, the votes of everyone who thought the Oceans were going to start to recede on Inaugural Day, 2009 would not have counted. That would have been interesting! :-) If we start dismissing out-of-hand those who believe "wrong" things, we'll be whittling our numbers down to a very few, indeed! (btw, the link you left did not work, for some reason; I cited the WaPo story on the poll instead) - admin]

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    The answer to both your questions, J, is “Yes!”

  • Andrew B

    The chief emotion I remember on 9/11 was a sense of lightness. By that I do not mean any sort of emotional “lift’, but rather something very different. I mean a sense of having the supports of my whole worldview kicked out from under me and being adrift.

    I lived in the flight paths for all the major NYC airports, and I clearly remember looking up into a beautiful blue sky, utterly devoid of movement. The world I had known for 39 years was gone.

    I thought that, with almost a decade gone, that drifting feeling would go away. It did, at least somewhat, but this mosque controversy has made it come back with a vengeance.

    The country I knew–the reality I knew–is gone. I am a racist because I believe that building this mosque is (at best) a monumentally callous and insensitive act? Really? Change the players and watch the mosque’s defenders scurry away. A Daughters of the Confederacy Monument in front of Ford’s Theater? A Bull Connor statue on the bridge at Selma? All of them legal. Would any of them be right? The fact that it is even open to debate is shocking.


    [Krauthammer makes a similar argument, here -admin]

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    David, #56:

    A man cannot serve two masters, David. You can follow Jesus, or you can follow Shari’a law; you cannot do both. (And you can’t excuse leaving Jesus to follow Mohammed because you’re scared of chaos.)

    Secondly, have you actually looked at any Islamic countries that live by Shari’a law? Shari’a IS chaos!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    David, #56:

    David, if you actually had to live under Shari’a law, I don’t think you’d find it prefrable to “Chaos” at all! (Shari’a law, in and of itself, is pretty chaotic!)

    Secondly—you do realize you cannot serve two masters, don’t you? You cannot excuse abandoning Jesus because you’re scared of chaos!

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Marion, do you really think you’re going to change anybody’s mind, or heart, here just by calling everybody who posts here “bigots”, and going on about the Spanish Inquisition?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Sorry for the double post! My computer—all our electronics—has been wonky, ever since our recent wildfires!

  • JuliB

    My thanks to all posters on this blog who mention any good books. They all go on my wish list at .

    FWIW, I think the President acted stupidly in commenting on this. They have the right, but it’s an awful idea.

  • Bender

    **It was close enough to get hit by the landing gear from one of the planes.**

    The fact that the building was hit makes it, not near Ground Zero, but part of Ground Zero.

    **is for a community center with a prayer room.**
    **In other words, a mosque.**

    How is the fact that it will be used for purposes other than prayer, for “community” uses, make it better?? That it is intended to have something other than a purely religious purpose makes it far worse, and wholly detracts from the arguments of those who are engaging in their usual hate speech by calling opponents anti-Muslim bigots.

    Prayer to Allah for a peaceful world is all well and good and to be commended. Giving speeches and holding classes in “community” rooms extolling the virtues of Mohammed and urging that people follow the ways of the Prophet — a power-hungry plunderer and killer, who together with his followers, both during his life and after his death, invaded other lands and attacked “infidels” — that is something else entirely.

    Whatever happens there, it will NOT be in the interests of peace and freedom, but will be a provocation. It will be a provocation because those pushing it now are engaged in provocation.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    A lot of us are feeling that same lightness of feeling these days, Andrew B.

    And, no, you’re not a racist because you oppose the mosque. “Racist” is a word being used against you, to shame you into shutting up, and not saying what you think. Please, don’t fall for that!

  • Doc

    Those who condemn all in opposition to this (save Harry Reid) remind me of David Horowitz’ “Unholy Alliance”, multiculti leftists who join the Ismalists is their hatred of a strong and confident USA. This mosque will be viewed as a victory by militant Islamists. This will increase recruitment for the Jihad, as we will be seen as the weak horse due to this insane decision.

    Regarding helpful reading, I’m in the middle of Shadow Party, which details in one chapter how George Soros helped radical leftists take control of the New York City council, which helps explain why this project is getting fast-tracked through the bureaucracy in NYC, despite the obvious revulsion on the part of the good people of New York. Better watch who you elect, folks.

    Sword of the Prophet and What Went Wrong also do a fine job educating the reader on Islam’s history and its relationship with the West.

  • David La May


    You can be a Christian under shariah law. But you would have to pay a tax for being a non-muslim.

  • Kris, in New England

    Putting a fine and unpleasant point on this…they are still finding remains in and on buildings several blocks from Ground Zero. It is conceivable that the building in question for this monstrosity of a mosque will be found to contain remains.

    Remains of innocent people murdered by Islamic extremists.

    How does that feel now? Imagine if during construction they do find remains and they are identified and they belong to – Heather Lee Smith. The daughter of old friends who was on Flight 11 on 9/11.

    Imagine how Heather’s family and friends would feel, knowing that where her remains have laid for 9 years will be turned into a worship center for the very religion at whose hands she was killed.

    It is despicable. Just because they can doesn’t mean they should. It’s not political, it’s not government. It’s the people in control of this issue that are turning a deaf ear to the sensitivities of this nation and of the families of the victims – those who died and those whose lives were altered forever thru their own survival.

    I don’t condemn all Muslims for the atrocity of 9/11. And if there are truly moderate Muslims in this world – where were they in the aftermath? Where were their words of condemnation for the actions of their more radical brethren. They were – silent.

    Because their faith teaches them that what those hijackers did is right.

    I read this yesterday:

    This is what has started to happen now; they claim that there is a mosque being built over the corpses of 3,000 killed US citizens, who were buried alive by people chanting God is great, which is the same call that will be heard from the mosque.

    Said by Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, the general manager of Al -Arabiya television, who so far remains the only Muslim in the world to speak what I see as the real truth behind the building of this mosque.

    And for those who don’t really believe it: ask yourself why the groundbreaking is scheduled for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. There are 365 days in the year to choose from – and they pick that particular day.

  • Sharon

    David…I recommend Charles Sennott’s book, The Body and the Blood that assays what the Middle East would be like after the exodus of the Arab Christians that was (and is) happening en masse. Sennott was the Boston Globe correspondent to the Middle East.

    If you think “paying a tax” encapsulates life as a dhimmi living with an Arab Muslim government, you have some catching up to do. We Americans can’t imagine what it is like to live outside the realm of “due process of the law”…and believe me, “due process” does not exist in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan….fill in the blank. Read the book…every American should, just so we can understand what the reality is on that side of the world.

    I live in Southern California. My doctors, dry-cleaner, auto mechanic, etc. etc. are expatriate Arabs. Just like in pre-war Germany, America has gained some great citizens because of the totalitarian nature of the land these people left.

  • Brian English

    “You can be a Christian under shariah law. But you would have to pay a tax for being a non-muslim.”

    And you cannot build churches, or repair the ones that already exist.

    And you cannot tell any Muslims how wonderful being a Christian is, because that could be construed as proselytizing, and that would get you thrown in jail (or worse).

    And you cannot go into certain professions, because only Sons of the Prophet need apply.

    And speaking of sons, if the Sultan needs more soldiers, your sons can be taken away and forced to convert to Islam and fight in its name.

    Maybe its me, but none of that sounds very appealing to me. Bring on the chaos.

  • JenniferL33

    Beautiful essay…well said, well written. One of the best I’ve read on this blog. Bravo!

  • David La May


    I appreciate and am proud of the rule of law and the cultural legacy of the West. I don’t think that muslims are unappreciative of it either. When we invaded Iraq, there was a great deal of excitement among Iraqis that things would change for the better. Sharon, where I disagree with you is precisely on the point that these Islamists are capable of erasing all of this cultural wealth and sending us back to an unenlightened age. We should, however, fear ourselves who can squander and waste our heritage to the point that we’re no better than the Islamists.

  • DeLynn

    Excellent piece, Anchoress. Very well written. Thank you.

  • Joe

    [Really? Was "fear" the reason the nuns were asked to vacate the convent at Auschwitz, too? What about all those nativity sets that people find so "insensitive" at Christmastime? Is that because they're so fearful? -admin]

    Fearful? No, not that…

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    David, the church I go to is a Syrian Christian Orthodox church.

    Being a “Dhimmi”, a “Protected” Christian, under Islamic law, is a lot worse than merely having to pay a tax, as I’ve learned from talking to these people.

    (And why should one be taxed for one’s religion, anyway?)

  • Joe

    And Anchoress, as I said at the top of the thread, excellent post. My one immediatelly above was to respond to your critic, not you.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    As an American Christian, David, I don’t need to pay a tax in order to practice my religion, and I don’t need the “protection” of some Islamic potentate, or bureaucratic official, thank you very much!

    (Just google “Christian Copts” in Egypt, if you want to learn what that “protection” is really like.)

    What are your thoughts on some of the other points of Shari’a law, such as the punishments for adultery, or homosexuality?

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Kris, #45 great post:

    Yes, human remains are still being found at Ground Zero. My own opinion is that, this being the case, the area should be treated like a cemetery, with nothing—except, maybe, some commemorative statues, or plagues—being built upon it. Building a mosque there is insulting to the dead, deeply wounding to the living and comes across more as a sign of Islamic triumphalism than a sincere effort to make amends.

    (And, yes, how are survivors going to feel if one of their loved ones is discovered to have been buried beneath said mosque?)

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    And, yes, with 365 days in the year, why must the groundbreaking be held on 9/11?

    (Meanwhile, there’s no groundbreaking at all for St. Nicholas Church.)

  • Romulus

    The First Amendment guarantees not freedom of worship, but freedom of religion. It is an important distinction, especially when secularist forces are working to drive religion behind closed doors. The free exercise of religion, at least to Christians, is about a great deal besides worship.

  • Jeff

    Elizabeth you claimed, “Which is precisely why this mosque needs to be built in New York, but not at the periphery of an unhealed Ground Zero.”

    People ought to object to every new mosque; Islam is, after all, a false religion, and quite a violent one at that. I would agree they should not be stopped from building it where they choose, if they have legitimate funding; indeed, the principle of private property ought to be respected even in this case. Herein they have the right to build, but are not right to build.

  • Marion

    @Rhinestone — I’m not trying to change anybody’s mind. I’m trying to speak truth. The comments are bigoted and extreme. I’m frankly shocked by them. I wasn’t “going on about the Spanish Inquisition.” I saw a comment posted here about it that as a Jew I found a bit … interesting. The conversation generally has been very informative. Seeing a conservative Christian openly admitting he would prefer living under Sharia law was very enlightening. You can’t make this stuff up!

  • Joe
  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Actually, I believe there’s only one person, so far, who’se said he’d like to live under Shari’a, and he’s been taken to task for that.

    Forgive me, Marion, but I don’t think you’re trying to speak truth, as much as you’re trying to shame us into agreeing with you, and indulge yourself a bit by scolding the alleged “bigots” (thereby elevating your own ego a bit.) Certainly, if you’d actually read the article, and most of the posts as well, you’d realize the bigotry accusation is nonsense.

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