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Kavitha RajagopalanBack to OpinionKavitha Rajagopalan

@ Sarah Palin, pls understand, this is America

If there is anything “too raw” about the World Trade Center site, it is that it remains a gaping pit a decade after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

This Sunday, Sarah Palin tweeted to both “Peace-seeking Muslims” and “peaceful New Yorkers,” entreating the former to “pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing.” To the latter, she wrote “pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real.”

A perfect storm of New York forces has kept that site what it is instead of what it could have been – a memorial, a stride forward, a community space, a commercial center, an anything instead of a nothing. But we New Yorkers see life where Sarah Palin apparently sees death. We hardly even see the pit anymore. We mourn the loss of our people and our skyline, but we celebrate our lost friends and family privately, we figure out different subway routes and walk the extra block and a half to get to where we have to go. Anyone who argues that an Islamic community center committed to interfaith dialogue near the “Ground Zero” site is a provocation that stabs hearts is keeping us – as a city, as a people, as a nation – from where we have to go.

Photo: AP Photo/Al Grillo

In demographic terms, “Ground Zero” is actually “Ground Infinity” if calibrated in terms of gods worshipped, languages spoken, cuisines eaten, tones of skin seen there on a daily basis. Palin’s tweets beg these questions: who, exactly, is being provoked? Whose heart is being stabbed? Palin’s? What constituency of New York does she represent who require her to weigh in on local urban planning decisions?

What Palin and her compatriots who don’t live in diverse megacities are asking us to do is deny who we are in the service of some untrue idea that Muslims aren’t as natively American as Christians. Palin is essentially asking that Muslims hide and stay out of the way until people who hate Muslims get over their hatred.

Nothing in New York City could ever advance the pursuit of monoculture. In fact, New Yorkers of every religious persuasion in every degree of religiosity — often religiously anti-religious — live and work together in blocks immediately adjacent to the former twin towers. We are not by any means a tolerant society. Many of us are openly intolerant of others, but still we live and work together.

If Palin did her homework, she’d know that there are dozens of mosques already located within a one-mile radius of those craters, and 131 mosques in New York state. That 28 Muslims died on September 11. That there are nearly two million American-born Muslims. That there are about as many militant Muslims as there are militant Christians, Jews, Hindus, atheists. That you can’t tell who’s going to develop a yen for self-detonation or violence by looking at his religion alone.

The head cleric for the Ground Zero mosque project, Imam Feisal, believes his project will “push back extremists” and has spent the last decade building ties with neighborhood community and religious leaders. He has the support of local residents and of several officials in City Hall. He has the support of New Yorkers.

If Palin came to my neighborhood in Brooklyn, she’d meet some Muslims who lost real friends on September 11 or in the unjust detentions and deportations that followed. She’d meet Muslim New Yorkers who think that the plural of “you” is “yous” and who wear skinny or baggy jeans with their green basketball jerseys and bandannas and lime-green high-top sneakers on Islamic holidays.

This is what America is. You come here, within one generation you are an American – whether you move to Provo, Utah, or Manhattan. Palin speaks not for these New Yorkers or these Americans, but herself.