The 9/11 terrorists did not carry out a strategic assault aimed at weakening America’s military capabilites, but instead made an attack on the abstract concept of “Americaness” itself. The Twin Towers were the chosen target not because the World Trade Center was literally or factually involved in the United State’s perceived transgressions, but because they were an iconic symbol of America as a whole.
To the terrorists, it was irrelevant that the towers were full of people who were just going about their daily lives, 99.9% of whom did not have the slightest thing to do with America’s involvement in the Middle East beyond the fact they mostly happened to share a nationality with those who were.
I think that’s what kills me the most about the absurd sturm und drang that has sprung up around the construction of the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” Ignoring the most absurd parts of the debate — (1) The Muslim center is not actually in the Ground Zero area, but is several blocks away, and (2) Hello, anyone remember the First Amendment? — it’s the way that the anti-Mosque faction has adopted the same narrow mindset as the terrorist groups that is the most bothersome. For both groups, the thinking goes something like this:
The Twin Towers were a prominent symbol of the idea of America; certain American initiatives abroad were wrongful interferences with the affairs of other nations or were perceived as such by radical terrorist groups; ergo, the Twin Towers should be destroyed. A mosque is a prominent symbol of Islam; certain Islamic groups carried out horrific attacks on the Twin Towers; ergo, mosques are prohibited from ever existing in lower Manhattan.
The logic, or rather lack thereof, is the same in both cases.
That prominent American figures have bought into this political synecdochism is embarrassing and wrong-headed, and is costing us a rather excellent opportunity to show the world who the better man is. Americans have a Constitutional right to build a Mosque wherever construction of a similar structure would be permitted, but this goes beyond basic legal rights; the idea that the Cordoba House is to be punished merely because it happens to have the same descriptive label — “Muslim” — as some people who once did something bad to the U.S. is a fundamentally un-American belief. In contrast, I cannot imagine a better symbol for the American ideal than that of a Mosque, quietly co-existing with its neighbors, close to where the Twin Towers once stood.