(I should warn you here that I’m about to climb up on my soapbox and rant. Feel free to take a pass today if ranting isn’t your thing.)

I have been following the controversy around the so-called “Ground-Zero Mosque” for the last week or so, and I am thoroughly disgusted and ashamed. Let me explain why this is so personally abhorrent to me.

My family is what you would call High WASP. Both sides of my family go back to the Mayflower, and before that, to England and Scotland. I have Huguenot ancestors. I was raised with a relative amount of privilege, as well as with a firm bias toward tolerance. My second-grade “boyfriend” was African-American, and I have dated or serious relationships with African-Americans, Jews, Muslims, and assorted foreigners all my life. I have seriously considered conversion to Judaism on two occasions.

On September 11, I was living in Astoria, Queens. It was a glorious morning — sunny and warm, with the bluest sky. As I passed the school bus stop on my way to the subway into town, I noticed the kids playing there — the white-blond Belorussian boy whose best friend was a Sikh with a topknot. The Colombian girls jumping rope with their Greek, Chinese, and Egyptian classmates. I thought, “It’s like the UN’s school bus stops here.”

An hour later, I watched the second tower fall from Midtown. I walked all the way back to Queens in the company of a crazy quilt of races, ethnicities, and religions. I tried to donate blood, but was turned away because there were too many volunteers already. (Sadly, we didn’t know then how unnecessary our donations would be.) I watched an old man flag down a passing UPS van to give a ride to a pregnant woman, and I gratefully drank a bottle of cold water handed to me by the owner of a bodega in Kips Bay. I cried all the way home, not just because of what had happened, but at all the goodness and kindness that I witnessed as a result of that tragedy. I will never forget it.

At work the next day, we learned that a much-loved colleague had lost his brother on Flight 93. Another friend had just missed being in Tower 1 for a training program. In my neighborhood, just next to LaGuardia Airport, it was unearthly silent, but you could smell the smoke from downtown. I kept an eye on the Egyptian coffee shop around the corner from my apartment, worried that someone would do something stupid. There wasn’t so much as a single letter of grafitti. That was pretty much the story all over New York City.

Just a few weeks afterwards, I went to the Persian Gulf on a business trip. To a person, everyone I met went out of their way to tell me how sorry they were, how wrong it was that those men had claimed to act in the name of Islam. One Syrian acquaintance in our local office took me aside and said, “I don’t know what you know about our faith, but those men were not true Muslims. They were evil men, and Allah will punish them.” A Turkish colleague who was also a dear friend wrote me a long email saying that she felt like her own family had been attacked. Over and over, I heard Muslims saying that what had happened was wrong, was against everything Islam stands for.

That is why I support the plan to build the cultural center (not a full-fledged mosque, by the way, though it will have a prayer room) on Park Place in Lower Manhattan (an address that is more than two blocks from the northernmost edge of the World Trade Center complex — a complex that measures over 16 acres — and not at all at Ground Zero itself).

If we allow the ignorant and the intolerant to sway us to our lesser nature, the one where fear wins out over love, we are no better than those evil men who murdered 3,000 innocents on that lovely September morning. We will be, dear ones, as anti-American as they were. And they will have triumphed.

ETA: Lest you think we’ve cornered the market on intolerance here in the US, there’s this.

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