I do not understand. I read polls saying Americans disfavor a mosque near Ground Zero and many Americans prefer not to have any mosque near their homes. And, yet, I do understand. If I had not spent 12 months in Iraq serving in the Army and working closely with several Iraqi, Moslem interpreters, I might understand all too well. But, we are the sum of our experiences. And, I did serve with some very decent, brave Iraqi, Moslem interpreters.
I do not have a problem with having one more church, Moslem or not, near Ground Zero. Once when I was in Iraq, the insurgents attacked and killed tens of worshipers on their way to a large Shiite mosque in Baghdad. Some 60 people were killed. I asked Salma, my interpreter, "so they were attacked while going to church?" I asked incredulous. She nodded, yes. It took me awhile to appreciate that to Moslems, a mosque is a church. They are the same. The horror of attacking people for no greater crime than attending church is hard too fathom.
Salma was not a devout Moslem. But, I served with two interpreters who were very devout and who were very decent persons. Their humility, strength, and kindness spoke to me as devout Christians. Yet, they were very Moslem.
Salma was killed later by the same insurgents who killed many good soldiers. Probably the same insurgents who killed her brother, a policeman, two years earlier. Of the two devout Moslem interpreters I served with, one had to quit when the insurgents started to realize he worked for the US. The other interpreter, I’ll call him Abdul, had many, many issues with the insurgents. Abdul tried to deal with them in "his way," but was ultimately unsuccessful. He eventually had to flee Iraq.
Abdul was special. Once, the Iraqi lady who cleaned our offices came to work with another black eye. This was not the first time. Her husband was beating her. My predecessor officers and NCO’s respected her a great deal. So, they asked Abdul to see if he could stop this. The story I heard later when I got to country was that Abdul, usually a very kindly sort, hit the husband and told him if his wife came to work again with a black eye, Abdul would kill him.
This was the same Abdul who would bow slightly whenever greeting someone and say "how are you sir" with the biggest smile. Abdul was from good family. He could have been doing anything, but he chose to risk his life and that of his family to better his country. He never sought favor. He never complained about the rare instance of rude, disrespectful treatment he received from one or two ignorant soldiers. Whenever we asked, he would buy us good rugs at good prices in Baghdad.
To me, like most Americans, I see Ground Zero as sacred ground, much like the Gettysburg battlefield or anywhere where Americans have perished in great numbers simply because they were Americans.
So, yes, now, after my year in Iraq, I find it strange that some folks get worked up over having one more church, Moslem or otherwise, near Ground Zero. Because, in my mind, I see people like Abdul worshipping at this or at some other mosque. And, to me, that would be a good thing.