A Cartographical Argument for the Ground Zero ‘Mosque’

A simple survey of downtown Manhattan shows a need, both real and symbolic, for an Islamic community center near Ground Zero.

A Cartographical Argument for the Ground Zero 'Mosque'
(Churches near Ground Zero, indicated with large “pushpins.” The green arrow, of course, is WTC.)

The ridiculously embarrassing debate over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” continues to rage across the United States. Opponents claim the “mosque,” which is really more of a community center, represents a “poke in the eye” to families of those who died on 9/11; what’s more, a “mosque” near such sacred ground would become an automatic target for terrorists looking for a second round.

Supporters, meanwhile, dismiss these objections as xenophobia and blind rage. Mayor Mike Bloomberg took a tough stand in favor of the community center this week, and insisted, “Should government attempt to deny citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.”

The billionaire mayor’s impassioned speech has done nothing to stem the stream of lawsuits, opinion pieces and protests that have popped up since this disgraceful, colloquial conversation began earlier this year.

Both sides are fueled by ideology and allegorical faith. Neither, however, has truly looked at the geography of this community center, and I’m not only talking about the fact that the proposed site lies two blocks south from World Trade Center proper. A little cartographical survey shows that this mosque would indeed be good for the city, and the American dream as a whole.

A Cartographical Argument for the Ground Zero 'Mosque'
(Synagogues near Ground Zero.)

“Geography,” the saying goes, “is history.” So, how will history judge post-9/11 America? We’ll likely be condemned, for the World Trade Center site has a bevy of churches and synagogues within walking distance. The closest mosque is 1.2 miles away, at Broadway and Lafayette. There is, however, a masjid, a place where people can do their ritual washing; that is not, however, a place of worship.

A Cartographical Argument for the Ground Zero 'Mosque'
(The closest Mosque to Ground Zero is over a mile away.)

Though immigration laws have evolved over time, lower Manhattan and its neighbor, the Statue of Liberty, remain a powerful symbol of American ideals. People from all over the world migrate to the United States for equal rights, independence and access to our public spaces.

The dearth of mosques in the melting pot’s epicenter, this “Ground Zero” of the American dream, represents a stain on our nation’s greatest promise: inclusion. If our nation wants to live up to its greatest promise, it must extend open arms to our Muslim peers and ensure they have as much access to freedom of religion as any other Americans, and that means changing New York City’s geography. If we can’t do that, then the terrorists have already won.