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Donna Marsh O’Connor

In February of 2002 a group of family members of 9/11 victims formed September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in order to challenge the ever inflating sentiment and hysteria that led our nation into (eventually) two wars; that led to the death of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women, countless civilian casualties, and an era of perpetual fear-mongering perpetrated by politicians that today places us squarely in the viral debate over a place of worship near Ground Zero.

Despite the fact that PT (as we often like to call ourselves) has been around from almost the beginning, it is this acrimonious debate, fueled by the mainstream media’s voracious appetite for angry controversy that our voices are sought after.

When we asked for an end to the sentiments of retribution and hostility. Did anyone hear?

We asked for an end to war. More wars followed.

We try to hold Barack Obama true to his promise to close Guantanamo Bay, to follow the rule of law and the American Constitution. This is still a work in progress.

Each and every day, in one way or on one issue or another, we fight to have our voices count in the seemingly monolithic deployment of “9/11 families believe, think, say…”, but we rarely hear our words echo above a whisper.

But now as our nation is engaged in the primal battle over what constitutes racism, religious freedom, and religious persecution, we are asked why we would support a mosque at Ground Zero. In part I think because the media would love, even if they don’t know it, to see 9/11 families once and for all, finally, duke it out.

Why would we support a mosque at Ground Zero, particularly when there are many families who say it pains them? And, too, because we know it really does. We are all, 9/11 families in pain.

Our answer is the same as it has always been — because it’s American. It’s the myth and it’s mythic, the rubber hitting the road. We take as a given that we are a land that is at once intolerant and, too, always ready, willing and able to confront our transgressions, to correct our intolerant tendencies. For members of September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows it’s our family members’ legacies, each, one by one, gone at the hands of criminals. They lived here. They died here. We went to many wars to fight for this place, for this place to be a land free from religious persecution. To us it is painful to sit by and wait for the hating to stop because it never does.

And even as I write these words certain that I am a member of the right group, that our particular American voices are necessary in this debate because we are on the side of principles and values, even now, I, as do my colleagues, worry that we are treading on sacred space. Not Ground Zero sacred space, but on the space that says in America we cast a grave aspersion when we call others intolerant or racist. How can we do this to fellow family members, fellow friends and survivors of 9/11? Their pain is real, but allowing it to stop any group from the full extension of the rights allowed simply wrong.

One of my colleagues in a discussion today asked in just this way. So I have to ask this…Is PT supporting a mosque, per se, or certain important principles and values that are brought to light by this issue? Is there some way PT can go a step further and deeper into the heart of this matter than just representing a “side” of the matter?

How do we, as we invoke what we believe to be the voices of reason, siding with the intellectual voices of America’s founders who, anticipating that feelings often get in the way of reason, crafted a Constitution that would stand despite the pain of some, no matter how horrible that pain may be, hurt other 9/11 family members? We recognize that we are all in pain. And we go forward. We do what is right.

And we remember that America’s promises can never be fulfilled without pain and sacrifice. And this time, it must be this way.

We do support important principles. We stand for the best of our collective values. We do support the mosque.

Filed in: Donna O’Connor

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