Publishing a public statement this morning, Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board #1 in Manhattan, made a public statement about the Park51 development.
CB#1 has been one of the earliest proponents for the development, but in today’s statement — shows that in light of national discord, the community board may be changing their tune. Julie Menin suggests an interfaith project should replace the original intent of the Park51 development.
The statement published in the NY Daily News reads as follows:
“The lowerÂ Manhattan community board 1 chair, Community Board 1, voted overwhelmingly to support the Islamic cultural center to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero when the project was presented to our board in May.
I stand by my vote.
That said, the project has now become a symbol of discord and dissidence, the white hot emotional center of a volcanic shouting match. Raw nerves have been exposed on both sides of an ugly religious and ethnic divide – and the gulf between supporters and opponents has only grown with each protest, each argument, each accusation.
Both sides claim the moral high ground – sustained on the one side by religious freedom and the other by preserving the sanctity of hallowed ground.
What started out as largely a local issue has now been overtaken by national partisan politics, with national politicians, many with their own agendas, weighing in on what is best for this community.
Now it is very clear that something must be done to address this dissension and to move to heal, not divide. I believe it is still possible to bridge the gap without compromising the core principles of what this project is about – not by moving the mosque further away from the site of the attacks, but by bringing other faiths in.
The mosque and community center near Ground Zero should not be enshrined as a battleground of discord, but rather be transformed into an inter-faith center for reconciliation and peace-containing nondenominational houses of worship to be shared by Muslims, Christians and Jews. Its purpose – to bring us closer together, not split us further apart – could be reaffirmed in modified plans.
Under this idea, there could be, as currently planned, two floors for the mosque – but there could also be a floor dedicated to an inter-faith, nondenominational space. In addition, a major national or local organization dedicated to spreading religious tolerance could establish a meaningful presence there. There are many such reputable groups that would surely welcome the opportunity to help heal.
The project, open to all, would celebrate all faiths and inter-faith understanding.
Government, of course, has no role, and should have no role, in determining the use of an as-of-right project (meaning, a project such as this that requires no city zoning approvals to be built.) This is particularly true when a religious use is involved. Only the developer of the project can and should decide what the use of the project will be.
With that said, the dissension surrounding this issue is simply not productive. We need to try to overcome the divide on this issue and teach the next generation howÂ New York andÂ America unified after 9/11 and how this country was founded on respect for all religions, freedom of religion and the right and ability for religions to peacefully co-exist in the melting pot that characterizes New York and America.
It may be hard for many to imagine in the wake of 9/11 that we can rise above gut feelings of pain and retribution. But we can take the harrowing horrors of 9/11 and bridge our differences, without erasing them.
There actually already is such a facility dedicated to bringing us all together. It exists on the grounds ofÂ the Pentagon, which was also attacked on 9/11. As part of an effort to heal and recover, an interfaith chapel was built on that hallowed ground. Its construction stirred no controversy. It is a place where Christians, Muslims and Jews can and do worship.
It is a small interfaith chapel, but it shines as a bright beacon.
How inspiring it would be for a similar beacon of hope to shine in lower Manhattan. We are the survivors of two attacks by terrorists. We need to reach out once again to our better selves, find common ground that reasserts our commonality of purpose and that unifies our community, our city and our nation.
The proposedÂ Park51 cultural center offers many benefits, including recreational, cultural, educational and meeting facilities that our growing lower Manhattan community needs. And a floor or two devoted to celebrate Jewish, Christian and Muslim worship in a nondenominational setting would not simply help to overcome divisions, but serve as a model to the world of the resourcefulness, harmony and strength of this city, and this nation of immigrants we call America.
Menin is chairperson of Community Board 1 in lower Manhattan.”