Editorial: A Cultural Center That Can Hold

According to Mapquest, the offices of Little Star are 1.93 miles from 51 Park Place.  I don’t know if that puts us within the range of sanctity felt to govern the thoughts and deeds of those who live in lower Manhattan.  Acrid smoke did float over our building on September 11, 2001, and streams of dust-covered people dressed for business trudged past our door. Many heard a plane pass low overhead; the burning buildings were visible from the corner. Our neighbors helped look after a child from the playground whose mother was in the burn unit, and we flocked to Pier 40 and St. Vincent’s to sort mounds of donations of probably useless towels and clothes. Everyone lost a friend, or a friend of a friend, or a name familiar from the phone. Where does that put the citizens of our block on the scale of grievers? Pretty low, I suppose, but ought prejudice mount with proximity to bloodshed?  Do those within the one-mile zone, or those who lost a genetic relative, or those who share a profession and a code of conduct with many who died cross an invisible line that entitles them to distribute authorized suspicion and hatred?

Casting whole civilizations into a stereotype on the other side of morality seems to us more in the spirit of the perpetrators on that day than their intended prey.  We New Yorkers live in a jumbled-up place, where everything presses up against everything else; we can’t afford holy auras to press the world away from places where history has touched us.

We wished our city would embrace the prospect of a cultural home for our Muslim neighbors as an opportunity to show that liberty and tolerance aren’t just words to us—we may have been targeted for our principles, but we have the courage to live by them. Downtowners are not being asked to host a terrorist recruitment center.  We are invited to endorse neighborliness, learning, conversation, and the sustenance of honorable traditions. And we reject this opportunity.  Can this be healthy? The dominant domestic creed teaches, after all, that we are healed by love.

Grieving this second loss, we at Little Star have decided to adopt a different policy, a policy for twenty-eight blocks away from ground zero. Today we begin an occasional series of studies of Muslim civilization in America, meant to deepen our own understanding of a culture that reaches a quarter of the world’s population and has been adding to our civilization for nearly 1,500 years.  We turn to Islam in a spirit of respect and curiosity, using the means at our disposal—literature. And we call on our fellow word-purveyors, two feet from ground zero and two thousand miles, to do likewise. Clearly more, not less, learning is in order. First up: a consideration of four new translations of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, coming soon to Little Star and to a bookstore near you.

Writers:

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2 Responses to Editorial: A Cultural Center That Can Hold

  1. From halfway across the country, I applaud this post and this initiative. I look forward to reading more.

  2. [...] week Little Star is thrilled inaugurate our Cultural Center of Our Own series by bringing you this enchanted story by Gori Taraghi, one of the first women writers to be [...]