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Sept. 11 anniversary calls for peace, not divisiveness

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It has been nine years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and ground zero still sits fallow, like a scarred-over knife wound in the heart of downtown Manhattan.

And instead of demanding that a memorial finally be constructed at the site to commemorate all those lost on a day that is etched into our collective memory, people are arguing about the proposed Islamic cultural center a few blocks from the site.

Would that the zeal and vitriol unleashed against the proponents of the center had been channeled into demanding that a proper memorial be erected where the twin towers used to be.

It’s undoubtedly easier to protest the building of the cultural center — scapegoating all Muslim-Americans for the acts of a handful of radical Saudi Muslims who attacked our country — than it is to understand that those same radical Muslims didn’t just launch an attack on our buildings, but on our way of life. They are frightened of the freedom that America represents because it is so radically different from the totalitarian control that Al Qaeda — the real perpetrators of the Sept. 11 attacks — espouse.

Our freedom of religion is so important to our American way of life that the Founding Fathers made it the first part of the first Amendment to the Constitution. The amendment begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .” Allowing the fear instilled in the country on Sept. 11 to metastasize into a hatred and distrust of all of the millions of American Muslims only erodes the ideals the terrorists want to destroy.

Opponents of the Islamic center feel that this is a unique situation, and that sensitivities will be offended by a Muslim presence on “sacred ground.” No doubt American xenophobes in earlier times who fought against equality for Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Japanese and countless other newcomers felt the circumstances were special as well.

Instead of fighting among ourselves, we should be remembering and honoring the thousands of lives lost on that horrible day nine years ago. It is a personal tragedy for those in New York City and Long Island, as so many of the victims of the World Trade Center attacks were from our areas.

Since there is still no official memorial in lower Manhattan, the Herald instead cites the memorials created in our southern Nassau villages. They stand as a testament not only to the memory of those lost that day, but to prove that we Americans can come together to remember our fallen in peace, even if that is not yet possible at ground zero.