The 9/11 holocaust and the ground zero mosque

on 14 Comments

Another way of saying “sacred” is to say “off-limits.”

Something can be sanctified by placing a barrier around it constructed from rigid taboos. The most extreme among those taboos dictates not only silence but also exclusion.

In such a way, for many Americans, 9/11 has been sanctified. The sacred idea occupies a sacred space and only those willing to display sufficient awe and reverence can be allowed to enter.

Yet there are limits on how high this sacred narrative can be raised. We do not, by and large, talk about the 9/11 holocaust — and rightfully so. To link a day on which 3,000 Americans died, to a period during which 6 million Jews were systematically slaughtered, would be absurd and obscene.

When on 9/11 Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “very good” — because it would generate sympathy for Israelis — his response would no doubt have been rather different had he been asked whether the attacks would help Americans now better understand the significance of the Holocaust.

So we don’t talk about a 9/11 holocaust. Instead, with little to no comment, the attacks have another but equally perverse association: with the nuclear devastation brought down on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

The more obvious World War Two association — with the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 — was initially referenced through headlines that reinvoked Roosevelt’s description of that day as “a date which will live in infamy,” but beyond the date — 9/11 — the name that stuck was “ground zero.”

The rubble and dust at the crushed feet of the World Trade Center might have conjured images of nuclear devastation yet little sense that a stolen word required a buried memory.

If Americans were polled today and asked which city they associate with “ground zero,” would any answer “Hiroshima” or “Nagasaki”? Most likely, very few — even though the anniversary of the nuclear bombings has only just passed.

On August 6, a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the bombing that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, was attended for the first time by a representative of the US government, the US ambassador to Japan, John Ross. This was not the first time an American official had been allowed to attend — it was the first time an invitation had been accepted. So far, no sitting American president has ever visited Hiroshima.

Within a decade of the nuclear attacks, the Catholic Memorial Cathedral for World Peace had been opened in Hiroshima. The Japanese raised few objections to the construction a church close to the original ground zero.

Meanwhile, Pearl Harbor is being invoked once again in a vain effort to conceal the Islamophobia that permeates objections to the New York mosque.

Dr Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and a member of the federally created United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, “insists that his opposition to the Cordoba House project is principled — that he would and has opposed similar efforts when they upset local populations.”

“There is a Japanese Shinto shine, I am told, blocks from the USS Arizona,” Land said. “That isn’t appropriate even 60 years later. Three-thousand Americans died there and they died at the hands of people acting on behalf of the Japanese Empire.”

There isn’t, in fact, a Shinto shrine near Pearl Harbor [writes Brian Beutler], though many conservatives use this hypothetical as an example of a non-Muslim shrine they’d oppose for similar reasons.

Around the same time that Western dignitaries gathered in Japan in order to commemorate the ghastly effects of nuclear destruction, another group of public figures embarked on an equally historic pilgrimage.

Eight Muslim-American imams, along with President Obama’s envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Hannah Rosenthal, traveled to the sites of the former Dachau and Auschwitz concentration camps in Germany and Poland.

“These Muslim leaders were experiencing something they knew nothing about,” Rosenthal told Politico. She had many family members at Auschwitz, including her grandparents. “I can’t believe anyone walks into Auschwitz and leaves the same person. I watched them break down. I broke down in front of suitcases. … It is the cemetery of my whole family.”

The American imams later released a statement saying:

We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where over twelve million human souls perished, including six million Jews.

We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics.

We condemn anti-Semitism in any form. No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction.

We stand united as Muslim American faith and community leaders and recognize that we have a shared responsibility to continue to work together with leaders of all faiths and their communities to fight the dehumanization of all peoples based on their religion, race or ethnicity. With the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred, rhetoric and bigotry, now more than ever, people of faith must stand together for truth.

Strangely, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and the Investigative Project’s Steve Emerson, author of “American Jihad,” lobbied U.S. officials against participating in the trip.

Perhaps if those now concerned about the Cordoba House project gave more attention to what it means to enter a sacred space, rather than how to keep others out, they would understand that a real sense of the sacred springs from keeping ones eyes open — not sealing them closed.

This is cross-posted at Woodward’s site, War in Context.

14 Responses

  1. lysias
    August 19, 2010, 3:52 pm

    At least back when I worked at the Pentagon, back in 1992-4, the café in the open space inside the five sides of the pentagon was called the “Ground Zero Café”. The idea being that, in the event of a nuclear attack, that center would be one of the first targets.

  2. eljay
    August 19, 2010, 5:08 pm

    The only thing that nauseates me more than this never-ending, ostentatious worshipping of “death events” such as the Holocaust and 9/11 is the empty lip-service they generate and the disgusting way these events are twisted and abused to justify all kinds of sadistic, murderous, avaricious ventures.

    America meted out countless times more death than it was dealt on 9/11, and all it has managed to do since is mete out countless times more death. Poor USofA, hated for its freedoms.

    Israel is a nation of “generation to generation” fear-scarred victims (“Remember the Holocaust”!) who appear to have no qualms about oppressing, killing, destroying and “dehumanizing ‘the Other'”. So much for “lessons learned”.

  3. Keith
    August 19, 2010, 6:38 pm

    Does anyone else find it odd that Obama established an envoy to combat anti-Semitism? The Jews are the most successful ethnic group in America today, how much anti-Semitism can there be? Surely Blacks, Arabs, Hispanics and Native Americans suffer more discrimination than Jews. Where are their envoys? No, this isn’t about combating a wrong, this is about power. The power to control the narrative and frame the discussion. The exploitation of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism by the Zionists to blunt criticism of Israel and motivate the Zionist cadres.

    • Sumud
      August 19, 2010, 10:41 pm

      This preceded Obama. The ‘Office To Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism’ was set up in the State Department during Bush II era, 2006.

      link to

      There is no parallel envoy for any other racial/religious group within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, though there are generic sections for human rights and religious freedoms:

      link to

      • Keith
        August 20, 2010, 2:01 pm

        SUMUD- Ah, bi-partisan hypocrisy! Continuity courtesy of AIPAC!

  4. Susie Kneedler
    August 19, 2010, 7:20 pm

    “Perhaps if those now concerned about the Cordoba House project gave more attention to what it means to enter a sacred space, rather than how to keep others out, they would understand that a real sense of the sacred springs from keeping ones eyes open — not sealing them closed.”

    Wow, Paul. Thrillingly perceptive: what an awe-inspiring insight about how to wonder–by opening our hearts. Thanks.

    • annie
      August 19, 2010, 8:42 pm

      yeah, i’ll ditto this comment. that’s how i feel.

      • Walid
        August 20, 2010, 2:05 am

        How much of the ongoing mosque brouhaha is about tolerance and intolerance and how much of it is about sticking a finger in the other guys’ eyes?

  5. pabelmont
    August 20, 2010, 8:29 am

    A 9/11 holocaust? Hardly!

    A Jewish friend, who survived Hitler as a child by being hidden with a Catholic family (as I recall) and who became an Israeli (but now lives in USA), told me that in HER VIEW the horror of the holocaust was in being hunted down, as a whole people, systematically hunted or threatened. She did not stress the killing part. She included Cambodia and several other incidents as holocausts but excluded Palestine from HER CATEGORY of Holocaust.

    Seemed correct to me. Probably even to my then-wife, a Palestinian.

    So :: 9/11. A “one-off”. Hardly a holocaust. But the know-nothings fanning hatred and fear in USA over the ENLARGEMENT (says Lehrer on WNYC) of a LONG-EXISTING mosque in lower Manhattan are trying to create a witch-hunt, but are not reacting against a holocaust.

    If lower Manhattan is to be made “sacred”, then why not ALL of MANHATTAN? Make everybody leave! I mean, who draws the boundaries? And against whom do they draw these boundaries?

  6. Les
    August 20, 2010, 3:52 pm

    What comes next, Kristallnacht?

    They won’t build it! Hardhats vow not to work on controversial mosque near Ground Zero

    BY Samuel Goldsmith

    link to

    • Chaos4700
      August 20, 2010, 7:57 pm

      Meh. They can find non-union construction companies from out of state to build the community center.

      Heck, the Jewish community where I live proved that when they did exactly the same to build their new Hillel Center near campus. And they saved a bundle paying cut-rate wages, by all accounts.

  7. RoHa
    August 21, 2010, 12:23 am

    In 1940/41, the major cities of Britain came under bombing attack for 76 days. Over 43,000 people were killed.

    If the British followed the New York reasoning, half the country would be “hallowed ground”.

  8. traintosiberia
    August 22, 2010, 2:40 pm

    “Krauthammer’s selective use of the Carmelite example” is at par with his chareteriologically ingrained inability to accecpt any facts that will promote christian -muslim dialogue and exchnge of interfaith views ( what is he afraid of? I guess its the same psychology that allows him to attack any lessening of rhetoric as a derelcition of patriotic duty, against Iran, in case an understanding develops between US and Iran.)
    “There a Catholic center for prayer and understanding within several blocks of the former Nazi gas chambers and torture cells at Auschwitz “.—–The Catholic Center At Auschwitz , known as Center for Dialogue and Prayer in Oswiecim, is located, according to its website, “On the Threshold of Auschwitz.”
    a place for reflection, education, sharing and prayer ”
    “According to Google Maps, the Catholic center for prayer and understanding at Auschwitz is 550 meters from the concentration camp perimeter:”
    J. Feldman
    Aug 19,2010

  9. traintosiberia
    August 22, 2010, 5:22 pm

    May 19, 2003

    Withdraws Defamation Suit
    “Terror” (deleted) Steve Emerson Eats Crow (Just for Starters)
    CounterPunch Wire

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