Wednesday, August 25, 2010

News from around the web

Stand up and be Counted
Newsweek has a cool infographic about the quality of life rankings of countries around the world.  The US came in 11th overall, behind every single Nordic country, behind Japan, behind Australia, behind Canada.  Shame, shame.

Play with the rankings on the Newsweek website.

Sacred Places

Charlie Brooker from the Guardian has a funny and thoughtful article on the suggested Muslim Cultural Center in the Financial District of NYC.  It's near Ground Zero.  Sort of.  I mean, it's closer to Ground Zero than, say, Macy's, but it's not right there or anything.
The "Ground Zero mosque" is a genuine proposal, but it's slightly less provocative than its critics' nickname makes it sound. For one thing, it's not at Ground Zero. Also, it isn't a mosque.
Wait, it gets duller. It's not being built by extremists either. Cordoba House, as it's known, is a proposed Islamic cultural centre, which, in addition to a prayer room, will include a basketball court, restaurant, and swimming pool. Its aim is to improve inter-faith relations. It'll probably also have comfy chairs and people who smile at you when you walk in, the monsters.
To get to the Cordoba Centre from Ground Zero, you'd have to walk in the opposite direction for two blocks, before turning a corner and walking a bit more. The journey should take roughly two minutes, or possibly slightly longer if you're heading an angry mob who can't hear your directions over the sound of their own enraged bellowing.
Perhaps spatial reality functions differently on the other side of the Atlantic, but here in London, something that is "two minutes' walk and round a corner" from something else isn't actually "in" the same place at all. I once had a poo in a pub about two minutes' walk from Buckingham Palace. I was not subsequently arrested and charged with crapping directly onto the Queen's pillow. That's how "distance" works in Britain. It's also how distance works in America, of course, but some people are currently pretending it doesn't, for daft political ends.
New York being a densely populated city, there are lots of other buildings and businesses within two blocks of Ground Zero, including a McDonald's and a Burger King, neither of which has yet been accused of serving milkshakes and fries on hallowed ground. Regardless, for the opponents of Cordoba House, two blocks is too close, period. Frustratingly, they haven't produced a map pinpointing precisely how close is OK.
It's well-written and you should read the whole thing. 

I'm not sure how to feel about this, honestly.  As a former Brooklynite, I am somehow not comfortable with the idea of any muslim/islamic cultural center being created anywhere near anything on Manhattan.  "Near" being defined as "on the American continent". 

Logically, I understand that the feeling is irrational.  That people behind 9/11 were part of  a small, extremist and possibly insane group of individuals. More of such extremist and possibly insane individuals are being stamped out at other mosques in other places in the US, and that it would be nice to have a cultural Islamic center with open doors and transparent activities counteracting those lunatics.  (We can't know what happens inside mosques, even those suspected of extremist leanings, because just like churches or synagogues they are protected by freedom of religion and can deny entry to whomever they feel like.  They feel like denying entry to a lot of people.  But then again, so do the Mormans and they are quite nice.  Most of the time.).  Not to mention that there were Muslim passengers on those planes and they are just as American, as heroic and as no longer alive as the people in the towers.

And, logically, and as Charlies Brooker points out, it's really some distance away from Ground Zero.  The argument that this is "hollowed ground" falls, in my opinion, flat on its face.  I mean, there are adult video stores and McDonalds and thieves selling forgeries much closer to Ground Zero than the proposed cultural center.  There are tourists snapping pictures of themselves in front of Ground Zero.  There are observation platforms.  There are souvenirs.  All these things make New Yorkers cringe much, much more than any cultural building.

(Note to some Ground Zero visitors: when you come to a site of recent disaster, please keep in mind that you are not at a civil war re-enactment.  This is recent.  This was very very real.  You may not think that New York is in real America, but this disaster is still real and recent.  People affected by this are all around you, trying to go about their daily business.  When you snap pictures of yourself or the site, pose in front of it, chew gum, and generally treat is as some sort of Universal Studios attraction, you are being a rude dumb-ass.  FYI.).

So while I have my feeling of unease about the new Islamic center, and while I feel that at least people practicing Islam should somehow coordinate an outreach effort to make sure their religion is not hijacked again (as it continues to be around the world), I'm not comfortable joining the outcry against building the thing.  I can't join that outcry because it is led by the same people who go to Ground Zero and pose in front of it for group photos (?!!!), who buy crap with pictures of the towers on it, who are loud, obnoxious and morbidly curious about the site.  These people disturb me much, much more than the practitioners of Islam building a center a few blocks away.   


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