I grew up in Queens, NYC, and I know Manhattan pretty well. I’ve also been to the WTC area several times over the last decade.  The recent headline news about building a mosque “at” Ground Zero caught my attention and I’ve followed along.

I’m not here to argue for it or against it – my question is different.

Only recently did I find a map of the potential site (Shown below).

It turns out the mosque would be two blocks away from the northern edge of ground zero. And if if you know NYC at all, one city block can represent an entire planet of different stores, cultures, languages, religions, sports teams, and cuisines.  To be two blocks away, in terms of density and diversity, can be enormous.

Physically, two blocks is likely a distance of 400 feet, more than the length of a football field.  And that’s from the northern edge of the entire WTC site:  the main towers were another 100 feet or more to the south.

There are two mosques already nearby WTC. Masjid al-Farah is about 12 blocks away. And just 4 blocks away from WTC (2 blocks past the proposed new mosque), is Masjid Manhattan.

I’m fascinated by any argument over invisible, ill-defined boundaries – and I’m curious, especially for a city as dense as NYC, where that boundary ends for all sides.

My question is this: Exactly how far away would a mosque, or any building for that matter,  have to be “not” to be considered near ground zero? 5 blocks? 10?

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42 Responses to “Ground Zero and the Mosque”

  1. Anthony |

    If there is a mosque 4 blocks away, why add another one for a total of three?

    Reply
    • Scott Berkun |

      Anthony: Boo – you didn’t even pretend I asked a specific question.

      I’m less interested in why: but if you click on the NYTimes article, it will explain that those two mosques are small and overwhelmed by people who wish to worship, similiar to the same reason there are a half-dozen churches within a similiar radius.

      Reply
  2. Rich S |

    I think it would have to be a ways away. In my opinion “near” and “far” can mean different things depending on how sensational the “controversy” can be. I’m sure that building a mosque right on the other side of the street from Ground Zero would make the one two blocks away seem relatively harmless in comparison.

    Reply
  3. Rich S |

    P.S…loved “Making Things Happen”. :)

    Reply
  4. Scott Berkun |

    Rich S.:

    I suppose that’s what surprised me when I saw the map. When I heard the story 5 or 6 times, I thought for sure the mosque was planned to be on the same street – literally *on* WTC.

    It was a surprise to learn it was actually two blocks away. No one had mentioned it. I didn’t see a single reporter actually go to the spot, and show how visible, or not, it was from WTC.

    My suspicion is that unless you knew to look for it, nearly everyone who visits WTC would not know it was even there, just as they wouldn’t know of a hundred other stores and buildings and establishments within a 2 block proximity.

    But I’d like to see someone ask people who insist this is too close: how far away would it have to be? It seems a reasonable question for them to be asked.

    Reply
  5. Rich S |

    I completely agree. I would also like to take an informal poll to find out just how many people are “outraged” by this.

    Reply
  6. Sean Crawford |

    Ah, my dear Scott, your question makes me smile because this “numbers question” is the very question that “they,” those with a vested interest in something-or-other, will always avoid, avoid avoid.

    This summer in Calgary we gave big city hall money for a little China-town (no out-of-city tourists) festival. An organizer brought up that old chestnut about westerners imperialists in their Shanghai compound not allowing dogs or Chinese in the park. I missed a chance to note that children who played in that park have died of old age, and to ask: “Give me a number- In what year can we over here in America stop bringing that up?”

    The vested interest for “they” in my town, I guess, included being organizers for besieged victims. Essayist Shelby Steele said in effect that “they” will pick issues for their grievance potential rather than for what would be needed. (The New Sovereignty” Harper’s Magazine 1992)

    In the rest of America, for the mosque issue, “they” who claim a grievance have vested interests that make them into “Ugly Americans” who won’t ask the little natives of New York for the local opinion.

    Reply
  7. Sean Stapleton |

    Considered by whom? That’s really the relevant question. Hard as you want to try, you can’t make this not political. For my money, Jon Stewart’s analysis is best: for many Americans, 3,000 miles is not enough.

    Reply
  8. Sean Stapleton |

    And lest there be any confusion, my own opinion is that (to paraphrase a fark post, they can “believe in whichever damn invisible sky elf they choose”. A mosque in the foundation of building 1 is Ok. Hello freedom of religion, have you met the rabidly reacting class?

    Reply
  9. Rick Hamrick |

    I’ve seen a video that some enterprising soul made with a handheld camera, walking from the site to the WTC. Just as you point out, Scott, there are amazing numbers of shops and other businesses which go by even in a single block.

    In this case, you cannot see the WTC from the site of the proposed center and mosque complex. It is around a corner and then down two blocks.

    If the building is constructed as planned, it would be possible to see buildings at the WTC from the upper stories.

    The bottom line is simple, even if painful for some. When you have a freedom of expression guaranteed to an entire population, it will always entail some folks being free to exhibit their own beliefs which other folks won’t like. It’s the nature of many millions of people and thousands of different belief systems.

    I’m fascinated by how many have become distracted by issues such as how close, or how many mosques already there, or how insensitive of the owners of the property, and on and on.

    No. None of it matters because the Constitution makes all of those points moot.

    Simple: they own the land, and it is within their right to build whatever they want which is within the appplicable zoning and other ordinances of the city. It is within their right to set up worship services for any religion they want to allow to be observed there.

    Period.

    Reply
  10. Rick Hamrick |

    I’ve seen a video that some enterprising soul made with a handheld camera, walking from the site to the WTC. Just as you point out, Scott, there are amazing numbers of shops and other businesses which go by even in a single block.

    In this case, you cannot see the WTC from the site of the proposed center and mosque complex. It is around a corner and then down two blocks.

    If the building is constructed as planned, it would be possible to see buildings at the WTC from the upper stories.

    The bottom line is simple, even if painful for some. When you have a freedom of expression guaranteed to an entire population, it will always entail some folks being free to exhibit their own beliefs which other folks won’t like. It’s the nature of many millions of people and thousands of different belief systems.

    I’m fascinated by how many have become distracted by issues such as how close, or how many mosques already there, or how insensitive of the owners of the property, and on and on.

    No. None of it matters because the Constitution makes all of those points moot.

    Simple: they own the land, and it is within their right to build whatever they want which is within the applicable zoning and other ordinances of the city. It is within their right to set up worship services for any religion they want to allow to be observed there.

    Period.

    Reply
  11. Sam Greenfield |

    Opposing a mosque in downtown Manhattan is equivalent to opposing a church in Oklahoma City near the federal building. In both cases, people were killed by extremist nut jobs that had little to do with mainstream religion.

    What’s interesting to me is that the majority of people in Manhattan do not oppose a mosque. People of all faiths and beliefs make up New York City. The people who feel that Muslims should not be part of the city are either ignorant or bigoted.

    While I live in Brooklyn across the river from lower Manhattan, my apartment is literally a five minute subway ride from the location of the proposed building.

    Reply
  12. Karel Goodwin |

    A quote on Twitter probably expresses my thoughts about the Mosque and the WTC:

    Sacrifice is nothing other than the production of sacred things. -Claude Hamilton

    Expressing our true values as Americans and as members of the community of faith, we have to realize that it is only through acceptance that we can create peace. This doesn’t mean that resistance is futile. It only means that if we can come halfway, maybe the people that attend the Mosque will also come halfway, thereby showing that there can be a community of faith near the WTC.

    However, a little more transparency by the Mosque would probably be a good idea. Good publicity is priceless.

    Reply
  13. dpp |

    In addition to being a mistake I think it would be really bad precedent to ban the construction of any lawful building in that location. Whether or not this is tasteful or appropriate is irrelevant to whether or not it should be allowed.

    However, I think you make a curious argument (in the form of your question) here. (1) Where should we draw the line? (2) There is no perfect answer (3) Therefore, we cannot draw a line.

    How close is it for someone to get in your personal space? inches? Feet? What is the distance? Isn’t this difficult to answer without more context? Your wife giving you a hug is different than someone yelling at you inches from your face.

    I think the point of the argument against the building on that location is the feeling that this is an attempt by the group behind the mosque to disrespect the site. Looking at the principals behind it, this may be the case but I don’t know.

    Just because I think it is a wrong thing to do, doesn’t mean I want government to bend the law. It is unfortunate that people often want their desires to be enforced by the government. It is also a specious argument to say that because we must allow something legally, it is wrong to disagree with that action.

    Reply
  14. sr |

    No one cares if it is 400 feet away or 1000 feet away. Ground Zero for America is a highly sensitive issue. Adding a gigantic 14 story (some 200 feet high) built for hundreds of millions – most likely funded by the very middle-east sources that funded the 9/11 attack is foolish and even more foolish for politicians to be supporting this.

    Reply
  15. Bill Brown |

    I like Charles Krauthammer’s answer:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/08/12/AR2010081204996.html

    His basic answer is that it’s not a matter of physical distance at all. I like the analogy of building a Shinto shrine in Honolulu after World War II. On the USS Arizona memorial would clearly be over the top, but would it be okay to put one in Honolulu proper? I don’t think so because it would be an injustice on the victims. If Pearl Harbor isn’t your cup of tea, it’s why an American ambassador attended the Hiroshima commemoration only this year, 65 years after the bombing.

    Reply
  16. Scott Berkun |

    Bill:

    You didn’t answer the single question I asked. So since 9/11 no mosque should be built in NYC? in NY State? In the United States?

    If there is some kind of rational thinking at work here, there should be some defined boundary for what is sensitive or insensitive. I’m asking you for one, and you didn’t give one.

    At some point the rights of Americans who worship Islam need to be honored as well. And most sensibly, it seems any attempt to blur all actions by all people under one religion as being unified or tied together should be brought to light. A few seconds of thought makes those sloppy assumptions hard to support.

    The bombing at Oklahoma City by Timothy McVeigh, an American, didn’t prevent people from building churches or places of science, within a radius around his terrible act. And it’s interesting as a basis for comparison for how to handle this or any tragedy. When an American serial killer is arrested, we don’t call for a ban on whatever house of worship he was affiliated with. There are many horrible things that impact many people, yet we separate the acts of one person from the acts of a group they may have been involved with.

    We should assume there will always be horrible things done by people – and most people have some affiliation with religions, races, clubs, sports teams, whatever. So this will happen again. How should we expect to handle it?

    Reply
  17. Kevin |

    Scott, you lay bare the ultimate issue: at what point do opponents draw the line. The answer, of course, is that people who oppose this do so categorically and without regard to the actual circumstances.

    As mentioned earlier: this is no different than forbidding churches from being established near the OKC bombing site. Both are asinine views that would only glorify the positions of the perpetrators. Extremism is a cancer, no matter what the original viewpoint.

    Reply
  18. Bill Brown |

    I was trying to indicate why I couldn’t answer it. If pressed, I’d say anything in lower Manhattan’s going to be a political hot potato.

    The whole Timothy McVeigh thing is a non-starter. Religion did not play a big role in the OKC bombing and he was an individual acting in a very limited conspiracy.

    If the Shinto thing wasn’t illustrative enough for you, let’s go back to the Middle Ages. Christianity was dominant in the European world and it was taken over by zealotry. Islam was fairly expansionist and butted up against Christendom. England and other Christian nations raised armies to re-take Jerusalem and much of the fallen countries in between. They viewed the Muslims as heathens that needed to be wiped off the face of the earth, even though the Muslims were keeping the torch of science and philosophy lit during the otherwise Dark Ages. The Christians, meanwhile, were fairly barbaric–the Inquisition came out of this time and witch burning was prevalent. The average peasant Christian just went to church and probably had little involvement in the Crusades.

    Now imagine if the Christians had made Jerusalem a holy city. Do you think the medieval Muslims would be upset and feel outrage? Of course. The roles here are reversed from the Middle Ages, but I don’t think it’s exactly Christianity versus Islam. It’s more like Islam versus non-Islam or Islam versus the West.

    As for me personally, I’m an atheist and leaning slightly towards seeing the mosque as a problematic symbol of Islamic aggression. But it’s very slight and I’ve gone back and forth over time.

    Reply
  19. Daniel Holter |

    This is the question I’ve asked my conservative friends since the moment Palin sent her infamous tweet and everyone’s panties got in a bunch.

    I just don’t get it. At all. NONE of them can give me an answer.

    Reply
  20. Daniel H. (Germany) |

    Never having been to the united states, i can add a both geographical and emotional rather distant view:

    To me, the current discussion has a striking resemblance to a marriage crisis due to hurt feelings (from a very distant view, if you are personally engaged to the current discussion you may find this comparison very offending). While at some point, a highly emotional arguement is started, the concrete cause for the arguement is not to blame. There is an underlying conflict (in this case, the may emotional scars and wounds from 9/11) which shows in the emotional conflict. While a missing cause would have delayed the escalation for some time, it wouldn’t have changed anything about the underlying conflict.

    So what would have been an appropriate distance? I think a mosque half a mile away wouldn’t have gotten any public attention, but the current discussion would only have been delayed until, say, there’s a muslim candidate for a mayor in New York or *insert your own scenario here*. Other comments show examples for comparable wounds which took decades to heal. If you ask me, they didn’t heal because of time but more because of an ongoing debate within the affected community. So maybe we should consider the current discussion as a part of this healing process.

    Reply
  21. Susan |

    However, using Daniel’s measure, a 1/2 mile to what might be your typical conservative Republican suburbanite is pretty close-by, whereas they might lack a context for what two dense city blocks means on Manhattan island.

    Perhaps objectors are applying the pornography standard of “I know it when I see it,” but I think you’d be hard pressed to find a reasonable person to express that in what is an irrational argument.

    Reply
  22. Rebecca |

    I think 4 or 5 blocks away would be far enough to keep the peace.
    I’m not really thrilled with the idea of having a mosque in the general vicinity, but it seems to me a lot of people are forgetting the Constitution. I do understand and respect their indignation, but as you pointed out, it wasn’t made terribly clear by the media that it would be two blocks away.

    Reply
  23. Anthony Consentino |

    Any mosque inside the US is too close to the Towers. Yes, that’s what I really think…

    Reply
  24. Kevin |

    An arguement I have yet to hear is that of the muslim benefit to respect the space of grieveing New Yorkers and Americans on the whole. What is the purpose of breeding all of this high profile contempt, unfounded or not. Perception is reality. It is their right as constitutionally protected Americans, but at what point does the need for a mosque in that specific area become less important than the public perception of insensitivty.

    Reply
  25. Lou |

    My understanding is, as a local issue, there was no issue. The issue only arose as a polarizing issue when someone outside of the local community decided that this could be used as a polarizing issue to further their political agendas.

    It seems that now that Obama has made a comment on the issue, the thrust has changed from the issue to his stance on the issue. If that isn’t a clear sign this is a manufactured issue, I don’t know what is.

    What is more disturbing is that there is no outrage over the defeating of the legislation for the first responders.

    So I would raise the question of not ‘how far away’ should it be but why can’t we focus on more important issues? Why do we get baited into conversations that can have no answer and ignore those that perhaps can solve some problems?

    Reply
  26. Sam Greenfield |

    For those of you commenting on the blog, how many of you actually live, have lived, or even visited New York City? Islam is the fourth or fifth most practiced religion in New York City; Muslims make up 3.5% of the people practicing religion here. See http://www.gothamgazette.com/article/demographics/20080212/5/2431 They are members of our community and interact with everyone on a daily basis. This is not a case of Muslims benefiting versus New Yorkers and Americans as a whole–the Muslims building the center are New Yorkers.

    This was the insanity of the 9/11 attackers: adherents of all religions were killed in the attack by fundamentalist nut-jobs.

    A comment like, “Any mosque inside the US is too close to the Towers,” is by definition bigoted; it goes against the principles of our country and founders. However, at least it’s less disingenuous to make that kind of statement than it is to attack a mosque in lower Manhattan.

    Reply
  27. Kevin |

    I agree with Sam, thats was a poor choice of words to diffrentiate between New Yorkers, Americans, and Muslims, biggoted in fact. I guess the point I was trying to make is that the problem, as I see it, more in the fact that a lot of Americans percieve Muslims as militant and well connected to the 9/11 attacks, then it does in the location of what is essentially a church.
    The base problem here is what the 9/11 conspirators did to further shift the public image of that particular faith. It seems that a voluntary move would be beneficial to particularly Muslims. It seems like a nice public platform to diffrentiate the religion on the whole and the conspirators. I have lived in Manhattan, for a short time while involved in an internship, and do understand that Muslims are a large part of that population. I also understand that there really aren’t any legal grounds to deny the construction of this mosque.
    If I had to say how far is far enough I would think that if there were a voluntary relocation, any location no closer to the World Trade Center than any currently existing mosque seems like it should satisfy the critics, destroying the idea of “gaining ground.”

    Reply
  28. Bill |

    This whole issue strikes me as odd. Former President Bush spent a lot of energy distinguishing between Islam (the religion) and the radical terrorists of Al-Qaeda. And, I think he was right to do that. We have law-abiding fellow citizens who are Muslim whose rights must be respected. And, at the same time, we need to protect ourselves from the terrorists.

    This “mosque near Ground Zero” issue is an artificial issue created by certain politicians for political advantage. It’s that simple.

    Reply
  29. Thomas G Towns |

    500 feet is 2 shots on a golf course.These are the short blocks and not like the long blocks going east west.
    No matter how far this mosque is away in the muslim world it will be known as the Ground Zero mosque. It will be a shrine to the murders that killed 3000 in the name of islam.
    Wake up all in favore they are laughing in thier beards.

    Reply
  30. Mike Nitabach |

    It was a surprise to learn it was actually two blocks away. No one had mentioned it. I didn’t see a single reporter actually go to the spot, and show how visible, or not, it was from WTC.

    That’s because the news industry as currently constituted has no interest in actually reporting on anything to do with facts or reality, and only covers stories such as this as political football games: who is on which team, what is each team saying–both about facts and reality, as well as each other–and who is “winning”. Once you realize and accept this sad state of our press, this kind of thing will no longer surprise you, and rather be completely as expected.

    Reply
  31. Jessica |

    Wow. I totally just asked that question to some people while having this discussion. And to Anthony, because there are about 600,000 Muslims in New York do you think they can all fit into 2?

    Reply
  32. Cheryl Gledhill |

    You should definitely read the Charlie Brooker article about it at the Guardian- http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/aug/23/charlie-brooker-ground-zero-mosque

    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.

    Reply
  33. Joan Krug |

    “When I heard the story 5 or 6 times, I thought for sure the mosque was planned to be on the same street – literally *on* WTC.”

    Huh??? Who OWNS the land the WTC was on? Who has the legal RIGHT to DEVELOP it? Have you heard either of these mentioned as the decision-maker here?

    If not, how could you “think” such a thing?

    Reply
  34. Neil |

    I don’t know how large the cemetery is where JFK is buried but I am pretty sure if the Oswald family wanted to move Lee Harvey Oswald’s grave to the same cemetery as JFK but only a few hundred feet away, there wouldn’t be a rational argument they could make to convince the Kennedy’s that this would be a good idea. But for the twin towers and the Americans that died there, its business as usual. I think its ironic that the enemy at the gate climbs over the wall, burns down the ivory tower and the new king declares that a new tower should be built and handed over to the enemy. I can’t imagine any non middle eastern company wanting to rent space in the new towers. It will be entirely occupied by middle eastern companies and their employees will now have a new place to worship just down the street.

    Reply
  35. David |

    How about further away than the scattered human remains.

    Reply
  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Scott Berkun, Jeff Van Campen. Jeff Van Campen said: RT @berkun: WTC and the Mosque – what does too close mean? http://wp.me/p4vkk-1qy [...]

  2. [...] asked a simple question earlier this week about the issue over the Ground zero mosque.  Keith Oberman, at about 5:45 in, does an excellent job of asking the same questions and giving [...]

  3. [...] extreme density of NYC. The proposed mosque site is 2 city blocks away – about 600 feet (see this potent map here). In your neighborhood two blocks might not seem far, but In NYC this is a large distance. There [...]

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