Building blocks of a people: One student’s opinion about the growing controversy in lower Manhattan and the changing character of the U.S.

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By Stephanie Vacchio

Nine years ago when the Twin Towers fell to their fate, I was just twelve years old. I was driving to school with my mom in her Lincoln Town Car when I heard the news on the radio. I’ll remember that day forever: where I was and who I was with.

9/11/2001 is a date that has in many ways served as a major turning point for our country. As a nation, our patriotism runs wilder than ever; we understand the profound effects of unity, and the compassion in all of us has grown immensely.

But these positive changes do not come without negative counterparts. We have become a country that lives in fear, that worries our neighbors may be terrorists, transforming us into a less accepting group of people. These changes signify a major modification in the ideals that gave rise to our country over 200 years ago.

The city of New York is strong, and I could not be more proud to say that I am a New Yorker. But recently, I have been ashamed of my city. I am ashamed to say that my city, the same city that came together almost a decade ago to support every citizen regardless of skin color, religious affiliation, sexuality, and gender, has fallen victim to the effects of fear.

We live in fearful anticipation of another terrorist attack on our own soil and constantly judge our fellow Americans based upon their fundamental religious beliefs. We are preoccupied with color-coded warnings and have become blinded by the idea that all Muslims are suspect. Not all Muslims share the same beliefs as those who executed the attacks on September 11th. This unfortunate stereotype has permeated our society and has given rise to hateful acts and displays of intolerance.

Many believe that we are essentially allowing Bin Laden and his followers to “prevail” by permitting a mosque to be built just blocks away from Ground Zero. It saddens me to say that some of my fellow New Yorkers subscribe to this belief. On September 11th we did not allow Bin Laden to prevail; that is, we did not back down and we did not allow ourselves to act wounded. The city of New York, the United States of America, and the people that inhabit all of its 50 states stood together and remained strong.

And now, years later, though the buildings and rubble have been cleared, we must think back to those dark days when we felt helpless, scared, and impaired. Today, we must continue to be strong and stand by our ideals—our fundamental American ideals. These are the same ideals that allowed us as a nation to overcome the immense hurt that we experienced on that September day over nine years ago.

I do not believe that we will allow terrorism to prevail if a mosque is built in the vicinity of Ground Zero. Instead, it will be a travesty if we, as Americans, refuse the erection of a mosque. Bin Laden will not succeed through the construction of architecture. He and his followers will win if we allow them to get the best of us. They will achieve what they set out to do—break us as a people and as a culture—if we begin to forget our values.

Banning a mosque out of fear and forgetting the ideals that formed our country would be a concession that would allow our perpetrators to enjoy the upper hand. Though we will never forget September 11th, the lives lost, the heroes made, and the unity formed, we cannot forget the principles that allowed us to stand so strong on that fateful day.

We should not run in the face of fear, but rather understand why we feel so afraid. We should take this opportunity to become a more accepting people and a more tolerant nation, and to remember that religious freedom is one of the most precious gifts. We should celebrate our ability to be who we truly are—every one of us—and not run from it.

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