This homily, my first, was given for September 11, 2010, at a service held at University of the West on Monday, September 13, 2010.
We are here to memorialize the events of September 11th, 2001. This day is, for my generation at least, the greatest national tragedy in living memory. Yet, I do not memorialize it merely to honor the innocent dead, though certainly this is their due. I memorialize this day so as to learn from what happened on September 11th, that it may never be repeated. We remember the past to safeguard the future.
There is now much controversy regarding the area around Ground Zero, where the twin towers of the World Trade Center once stood in New York City. This controversy casts a shadow it casts not only on our remembrance of past, but potentially our future as well. The controversy has been mislabeled the “Ground Zero mosque,” but is properly known as Park 51, a planned Islamic Community Center two blocks from the World Trade Center site in an old retail store. The founder’s have called it an “Islamic Y,” in reference to the Christian founded YMCA’s and YWCA’s that dot our country.
However, when I first heard about the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” I was delighted. I thought they intended to build an actual mosque within the memorial itself, not a meeting place a few blocks away. I thought “What a wonderful way to demonstrate the true spirit of America by embracing the religion that was perverted in order to commit atrocities.” Then, as the newscaster went on about this project, I was terribly discouraged by the fear mongering and intolerance I heard. Many powerful people in influential positions seek to make this “War on Terror” into a war on Islam, not from personal conviction, but for political gain.
They fail to realize that the way to prevent another September 11 is not to shoot all the terrorists, but to ensure no person, be they fundamentally religious or irreligious, can call America an enemy on religious grounds. We must ensure no Muslim, no matter how misguided, can ever view America as an enemy of Islam.
Islam is not at war with America. Islam is not a threat to America. Violent people are a threat to all. And violent people, filled with hate and anger, driven by politics and economics and desperation, will beat religion into a sword. They will use violence and the fear of violence, terror, as their weapons. While others, filled with greed for political power, will take and use that very same fear of violence for their own ends. In their haste, they will point to an obvious enemy, one easily identified if only by their difference.
Let us make violence our enemy. Let us make fear our enemy. Let us fight hate with love, which is what all religions preach. The Dhammapada says in Chapter 1, verse 5: “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old rule.”
So, let us build a mosque at Ground Zero, and a church, and a temple, a gurdwara, a shrine, a synagogue, and place of contemplation of the nonreligious. Let us make peoples of all religions our friends and show the world that the great experiment of America is a success. Let us read each other’s holy books rather than burn them, so we can fight fear with knowledge.
And let us remember September the 11th, 2001, and the people who died in the Twin Towers, at the Pentagon, and on the airplanes, that we might honor their memory by doing our best to ensure such reckless hate does not continue.