Indian Americans and the Ground Zero “Mosque”

Aug 25, 2010

Editor’s Note:

The Indian American community was affected by post-9/11 politics, as seen in documentaries such as “Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath,” which explored the effects of post-9/11 sentiments on the Sikh American community across the United States.

How, then, is the Indian American community affected by the issues surrounding Park 51? And how does the community itself respond?

In the blogosphere, there has been a variety of discussion on the issues surrounding the building of the community center in Manhattan. Major outlets such as the New York Times have recorded the range of opinions on the subject; visit NYTimes’s The Thread for “an in-depth look at how the major news events and controversies of the day are being viewed and debated across the online spectrum.”

Historian Scott Kurashige comments on PRI’s The World that after WWII, America had faced similar controversies surrounding Japanese American community centers and any sort of religious institutions along the West coast.

Both the New York Times’s Room for Debate and the Washington Post’s On Faith also provide forums for discussion.

Blogger Aditya contributes to this conversation by sharing his personal thoughts on the matter within the context of the Indian American community.


by Aditya Desai

With September around the corner, perhaps a two-cents on the endlessly debated Park 51, or the “Mega-Mosque,” would be proper.

The Indian American community, which includes a good number of Muslims, is certainly directly affected by the rhetoric, outcry, and the ultimate fate of the Islam interfaith center being built just blocks away from Ground Zero in New York City.

The situation is clear: First Amendment, okay. President Obama approves, okay. We can even further accept that, in all likelihood, it is not a breeding ground for the future generation of suicide bombers and jihadists. Rest assured, the building will likely go up.

The question is not the fidelity and religious nature of Park 51, but whether or not it besmirches the lives lost on September 11th. It is this issue that has divided people in a profound way and honestly in a way not seen perhaps since the ‘08 election.

Many Indian Americans have voiced their opinions against opposition. Fareed Zakaria from Newsweek returned an award he received from the Jewish Anti-Defamation League upon learning that the organization was against the building of Park 51. Indian journalist MJ Akbar also wrote a column signifying the building as a symbol of partnership between America and its Islamic communities.

There are also many middle-ground opinions; and Indians have weighed in as well. Many, like New Yorker Vandna Jain, still feel that the wounds of 9/11 are too new and that the mosque is an insult to the victims’ memories. Others think an anti-Muslim fear is still prevalent enough that the building should be reconsidered.

Indian Americans come from a culture that has had its fair share of tensions with Islam, such as the Babri Mosque being built at the site of the Hindu holy city Ayodhya.

In the month of India’s Independence, this is a resonant issue for the Indian American community. The fate of Park 51 has already become a litmus test to see just how tolerant America is towards Islam, but could it also be the same for minority groups overall?

  • AC

    I’m surprised that you’d write “Indian Americans come from a culture that has had its fair share of tensions with Islam, such as the Babri Mosque being built at the site of the Hindu holy city Ayodhya.” You write as if one out of five Indians weren’t Muslim, as if India wasn’t the #3 Muslim country in the world.

    Your Babri Mosque example is helpful, however — not so much its construction in 1527, but its destruction in 1992. The destruction of the mosque by violent right-wing Hindu mobs howling for revenge after an alleged 500-year-old insult echoes the culture wars preventing the creation of an Islamic community center in a diverse Manhattan neighborhood. In both cases, the biggest gains were made by right-wing political parties able to manipulate culture war dialogue to score political points.

    I’m particularly puzzled why you’d think to write “There are also many middle-ground opinions…Many, like New Yorker Vandna Jain, still feel that the wounds of 9/11 are too new and that the mosque is an insult to the victims’ memories.” Why would you label opposition to a Muslim community center based on the arguments of the center’s staunchest opponents a “middle-ground” opinion? If that’s the “middle,” then what’s the other end?

    If someone were to oppose the building of a Catholic school near Dr. Tiller’s women’s health care clinic in Wichita, claiming that it insulted the victim’s memory, would you also label that a “middle-ground opinion”?

    I’m proud to be Indian-American precisely because India serves as an example of how to make a go of living together with tremendous cultural, linguistic, religious, class, and caste diversity. Hateful anti-minority culture war attacks, be that the one on the Babri Mosque, or on the Park 51 project, are an attack on the principle of India.

  • Aditya

    AC,

    Your comments are certainly noted. I didn’t mean to attack any virtues of unity and brotherhood that exist in India, nor subvert them by focusing on specific events like the Babri Mosque.

    But to address your points —

    The phrase that India has had “tensions with Islam,” does, yes, divide Indian culture and the Islam faith. But I do believe that culture and religion, though they can and mostly are intertwined, are still two separate concepts, and so in my normal rhetoric of writing about this issue I tend to make that distinction. I didn’t mean to imply the nation of India is at war with the religion of Islam, nor that Muslims aren’t an integral part of Indian society.

    Secondly, as far as the Jain quote, “Middle ground” is how her comments were labeled in the originating article.

    This is obviously a touchy topic, and so I figured the best way to go about writing a post on it would be not so much for myself to take a hardline stance, but rather try to sum up and filter a few of the opinions that were floating around at the time.

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