Lesson from Twin Tower tragedy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, September 15, 2010 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, September 15, 2010

Lesson from Twin Tower tragedy

This year's anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was probably the most political and contentious ever, because of a proposed Islamic centre (Cordova Centre) and mosque near Ground Zero and a Florida pastor's plan to burn the Holy Qur'an.
As in other years, official ceremonies took place at the three locations the terrorists struck, killing nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. (In New York, 2,752 people were killed when planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center.)
US President Barack Obama attended a commemoration at the Pentagon, while Vice-President Joe Biden attended the ceremony at Ground Zero.
First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush travelled to Shanksville -- where a plane crashed after a struggle between hijackers and passengers -- to observe the ninth anniversary there.
Speaking at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama told a deeply polarised America that Islam was not the enemy, and said: "As Americans, we will not, and never will be, at war with Islam. It was not a religion that attacked us that September day. It was al-Qaeda," Obama said, urging Americans not to succumb to "hatred and prejudice."
He also urged the people to reflect on the fact that there were millions of Muslims who were American citizens, and that they also were fighting in US uniforms in Afghanistan. He said: "We don't differentiate between 'them' and 'us.' It's just 'us.' "
Earlier, Obama said that a plan by Terry Jones, the pastor of a small, independent church in Gainesville, Florida, to mark September 11 by burning copies of the Qur'an must be taken seriously because it could cause "profound damage" to US troops and interests around the world. "You don't play games with that," Obama said, adding that as commander in chief he had an obligation to respond.
Jones' daughter, Emma, said in an interview with the German news website Spiegel Online that she begged him in an email, "Papa, don't do it," but he didn't answer. She said that she hasn't had contact with him since 2008, when he was ousted by the members of a church he had founded in Cologne, Germany.
Jones, who had been under pressure from the White House and Defence Secretary Robert Gates, said on September 9 that he had called it off and wanted to meet with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who has been leading the effort to build the Islamic centre and mosque near Ground Zero. Rauf said in a statement on September 10 that he had no plans to meet with Jones, although he was open to seeing anyone "seriously committed to pursuing peace."
Along with the formal ceremonies, activists for and against the proposed Islamic centre had their own events to capture the emotion of the day for political purposes. Nowhere do emotions run higher than in New York, where the proposed Islamic centre just two blocks north of Ground Zero has inflamed passions before the planned commemoration.
The protests against the Cordova Community Centre (known as Islamic centre) near Ground Zero demonstrate that interfaith dialogue, which is essential for creating an environment where there is tolerance and recognition of freedom of worship by all, has been missing. It manifests gross lack of understanding of the essence of all religions -- living in peace, amity and love towards another person.
Islam is a religion of peace, and the word "Islam" comes from a cognate to shalom which means peace in Hebrew. Furthermore, "Islam" means not only peace but also total submission to Almighty God. In Islam, God is not only a Lord and Cherisher but also a Lord whose glory is mercy, peace and harmony (Surah 36:Ya-Sin: Verse 58 of the Holy Qu'ran).
The Cordova Centre, as reported in the media, is not solely an Islamic centre but also a shared space for community activities where Christians, Muslims and Jews will have their separate prayer spaces. It will also reportedly include a multi-faith memorial dedicated to the victims of 9/11 attacks.
The name Cordova, a city in Spain, has been given because in the Middle Ages Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed in a highly sophisticated and tolerant cultural environment during the rule of Muslims in Cordova. The citizens of Cordova -- Arab Muslims, Christians, and Jews -- enjoyed a high a degree of harmony among themselves.
Lost amid the protests is the purpose of the Cordova Centre. The efforts at distortion by extremists and radicals tend to continue the unnecessary clash between the West and the Muslim world. We need to shift the paradigm and build on the positive momentum from leaders to heal relations among people of different faiths and bring peace to the world..
To strengthen and counter the radical ideology, we need to understand the essence of Islam, which requires joint multifaith and multinational dialogue and effort. This is the lesson, in my view, that we can learn from the 9/11 anniversary.

Barrister Harun ur Rashid is a Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.

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