9/11 Widow: “How Did ‘9/11 Victim’ Become Shorthand For ‘White Christian’?”
The first time I heard about the Park51 Islamic community center was on May 6, 2010, when I received the following e-mail from a New York TV reporter:
“I’m doing story today about the proposed mosque project at the WTC site. I am interviewing the developers but I am also trying to look for family members who think building a mosque at the site is a bad idea.”
“Bad idea” — that was a bit leading, wasn’t it? I always thought journalists were supposed to be objective, and yet, here we were, the “victims of 9/11,” being prodded for our outrage. An hour later, another e-mail arrived, this time from CNN. The language was more measured: “As a family member of someone who was killed in the attacks on 9/11, what do you think about the decision to construct a mosque this close to Ground Zero?”
What did I think about the decision to construct a “mosque” this close to ground zero? I thought it was a no-brainer. Of course it should be built there. I sometimes wonder if those people fighting so passionately against Park51 can fathom the diversity of those who died at ground zero. Do we think no Muslims died in the towers? My husband, Eddie Torres, killed on his second day of work at Cantor Fitzgerald while I was pregnant with our first child, was a dark-skinned Latino, often mistaken for Pakistani, who came here illegally from Colombia. How did “9/11 victim” become sloppy shorthand for “white Christian”? I wish someone would put out a list of all the ethnicities and religions and countries and economic levels of the victims. For all the talk of “remembering 9/11,” I wonder if we’ve missed the patriotic message entirely. So, in short: No, I did not think it was “a bad idea.”
Alissa says she’s just a mom trying to raise her kid. She’s not an expert. She’s a victim, trying to get on with her life; someone who once wrote an open letter to President Bush saying, “Don’t use my husband as your mascot.”
But here is what’s been lost in this Park51 controversy: We are not experts, we are victims. We deserve to speak up, we need to speak up to acknowledge the pain and suffering, but we were never meant to be leaders in a national debate. Because the only thing we really know intimately is grief. The only thing we really know is what it feels like to lose a loved one in 9/11.Click here for reuse options!
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