Ironic as it may be that the ninth anniversary of 9/11 will collide with the Cordoba House Muslim mosque controversy at Ground Zero, the ultimate outcome of the situation may become much more interesting. In the interim, the division gets gradually wider on whether a religious symbol of someone we’re at war with should be moved far away from the site that started the said war. And as an unfortunate constant, not much from the past is drawn on to give any precedent to what’s happening to America and our stance on Islam and the Imam mosque. Any starting points for exploring the precedents that people can still comprehend could start at a number of critical points along America’s vast timeline.
Arguably, the most similar to the current symbolism of the situation would be our relationship with the Japanese during WWII.
Had any Japanese Americans living in Hawaii decided to build a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor right after WWII ended, there would have been an outcry from American citizens living there. In the scenario of it happening in say 1946 after Japanese-Americans were released from America’s Japanese prison camps, it would have been only a short five years after Pearl Harbor. It most likely would have been too soon after such a stunning blow of death to our U.S. Navy fleet.
But what if it had happened in the 1950’s or even today? There isn’t any documented record of Japanese people building anything near the Pearl Harbor memorial to the present day. And yet if there was something built by a Japanese corporation near the site now, it seems implausible that there would be a peep made. The acclimation of Japanese rebuilding, being our economic partner and prospering in business on the American mainland is already established as decades-long reconciliation.
Symbolic reconciliation has been used considerably and steadily under the radar to help give us a starting point in linking arms with an old or recent enemy. With the Japanese, it was the evolved economic advantages and the influx of Japanese tourists in recent decades who’ve befriended American generations who have no vivid, haunting memory of WWII.
We also managed Russia through the symbolism of democracy crushing Communism in 1991 and the later media shots of an inebriated Boris Yeltsin acting like a three-year-old kid around Bill Clinton. Even though things have deteriorated slightly since those days, we found a better peace through our commonalities rather than dealing strictly with the clash of political ideology.
Then there’s the clash within our own mainland with Native Americans. The differences between those who espoused Manifest Destiny and the native citizens here were as wide as we have with extremist Muslims. Yet the recent and most noticeable symbolic reconciliation is one giant glowing beacon: The neon lights of gambling casinos that every red-blooded (and retired) American citizen visits regularly.
All of the above were done years after the fact, but were given a shove forward by dramatic first steps taken in the immediate aftermath of war. A year after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, The New Yorker published John Hersey’s discovery of a Jesuit missionary’s firsthand accounts of the atomic bomb’s immediate devastation. Later, it was turned into a bestselling book.
Less than eight months after the Cuban Missile Crisis with Russia in 1963, President John F. Kennedy gave a reconciliation speech that praised Russia’s achievements since WWII; a speech Nikita Khrushchev praised to the hilt.
During the biggest plight of Native-American cultures for the advancement of the white man, some Native-Americans joined the Civil War and were ultimately praised for their service while siding with the Union. Ely S. Parker was a Native-American who became a Union general and who eventually wrote the treaty between the Confederates and the fragmented United States in 1865.
While it’s unlikely that Al Qaeda will give a reconciliation speech or agree to sit down face to face with America on promoting any scant commonalities, the war on Islamic extremists needs one of the similar above first steps nine years after the war started. Starting with the peaceful side of Islam is placing a strong foot in the door…
As we’ve seen, Islam has now been consolidated by some portions of America into the world of extremist Muslims no thanks to the Imam mosque. This happened despite Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf saying in the periphery that his overall initiative is to improve relations between peaceful Muslims and the West. As painful as it might be to even consider a religious symbol from an opposing side as a link in arms, the proof of history of it being necessary is right there to behold again.
Every one of those conciliatory steps created pain and trepidation in what it could lead to. Neither side knew what the other might be up to in perhaps turning the tide in how the interim war or animosity would play out. In that sense, the mosque at Ground Zero is perhaps a chess piece in theory, and a true test at heart that needs an answer to move forward.
What we do about it will depend on who takes the time to see what we’ve done before and burying the pain for the sake of moving forward. If it doesn’t happen this year, that ideal situation of the peaceful side of Islam helping us to conquer the extremists may turn over other dominos to making the war last even longer.
Perhaps Imam Rauf won’t want to sit down for a dialogue or may even have his own unproven doubts about American government’s role in 9/11. Nevertheless, his mosque is there to help us enter a new threshold that might make the annual emotional catharsis for 9/11’s 10th anniversary feel more meaningful.
As with that famous speech by Kennedy and Khrushchev’s positive response, allowing the mosque to stay put could garner a word of encouragement from Imam Rauf himself by the time the 10th anniversary rolls around. That would be all we’d need to get us on the road to the final destination of a war that likely will have a showdown different from anything that came before.