Controversy Over the NYC Muslim Community Center & The 9/11 Experience

By Marieke van Woerkom


Objectives:
 
Students will:
  • watch three public service announcements developed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)
  • share what they know happened on September 11, 2001 
  • discuss what they've heard in the news about the Cordoba Project and the "Ground Zero Mosque"
  • discuss a Niemoller poem that relates to standing up for others' rights
Social & Emotional Skills:
  • Awareness of how the use of particular language can frame the same issue in very different ways
  • Critical thinking
  • Empathy and understanding the importance of taking action on behalf of others
Materials: 
  • Today's agenda on chart paper or the chalkboard
  • 9/11 Happened to Us All (public service announcement 1 by CAIR)
  • 9/11 Happened to Us All (public service announcement 2 by CAIR)
  • We Have More in Common Than You Think (public service announcement 3 by CAIR)

Gathering

(3 minutes) 

Ask students to share their associations with the word support. Explain that we all need support, especially when faced with the kind of challenging situations that are hard to handle by ourselves. 
 

Check Agenda 

(2 minutes)
 
Explain that in today's lesson you'll be talking about a highly controversial issue that's been played out in the media since May, but has become more visible in recent weeks as we get closer to the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001.

 

In The News

(15 minutes)
 
Ask your students to share what they've heard about the "Cordoba Project" or "Park51" in the news or elsewhere. 
 
Next, ask your students to share what they've heard about the "Ground Zero Mosque" in the news or elsewhere.
 
Explain that the Cordoba Project, or Park51 as it is known by its founders, has been called the Ground Zero Mosque by opponents to the project. The founders plan to develop a 15-story Muslim community center at 51 Park Place in Lower Manhattan—two blocks away from Ground Zero. Park51 will include a performance art center, a restaurant and culinary school, a gym, a swimming pool and other public spaces including a Muslim prayer room.
 
Ask your students if they can share what they know about what happened at Ground Zero in 2001.
 
Elicit and explain that on September 11, 2001, Muslim extremists hijacked and flew two planes into the World Trade Center, a pair of skyscrapers in downtown Manhattan. After several enormous explosions, both buildings collapsed, killing almost 3,000 people inside. It was the biggest attack on U.S. soil since the assault on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese in World War II. In the days after 9/11, the people of New York came together to console and support each other during this difficult time. At the same time, though, some Muslims, Sikhs and others around the U.S. were threatened or even attacked because they looked like those who were behind the attacks. The site where the buildings came down has been known as Ground Zero ever since. It has become a place for people to go and commemorate and mourn those who were killed that day.
 
Ask your students some or all of the following questions:
  • Based on the information that was just shared, is the name Ground Zero Mosque an accurate name for the center? Why? Why not? 
  • How about the name Park51: Is it accurate? Why? Why not?
  • Why do you think opponents to the project chose to use the name Ground Zero Mosque?
  • Why do you think this name has attracted more attention than the name Cordoba Project or Park51?
Discuss how language can be a very powerful tool. Language can be used to clarify things and build bridges between people. But language can also be used to mislead and put up barriers between people.
  • How do your students think this is being done in this particular case?
  • Do they think the people behind the name Ground Zero Mosque are supporters of the project? Why? Why not?
 

9/11 Happened to Us All

(10 min)

 
Ask students if they know what a Public Service Announcement (PSA) is?
 
Elicit and explain that a Public Service Announcement is an advertisement intended to raise awareness about a certain issue with the hope of affecting people's attitudes and possibly encouraging them to make a difference. It differs from other advertisements in that it's not intended to sell a product but instead aims to serve the public interest.
 
Instruct your students to watch the following two Public Service Announcements (PSAs) called "9/11 Happened to Us All." They were created by the Council on American Islamic Relations.
 
 
 
 
Discuss some or all of the following questions as you debrief these two PSAs:
  • Does anyone have any thoughts or comments about what they just watched?
  • What do these PSAs tell you about what happened on September 11, 2001?
  • Why do you think the PSAs are called "9/11 Happened to Us All?"
  • Why do you think the Council on American Islamic Relations developed these PSAs?
Elicit from your students and share that Muslims were among those killed in the attacks on September 11, 2001. Muslims were among the rescue workers who went to the World Trade Center buildings on September 11 to help. Muslims are among those who were shocked by the devastation on September 11, and who grieve the loss of loved ones in the attack. To associate Islam only with the extremists who planned and executed the atrocities of September 11, 2001, is a very limited part of a much bigger story. This kind of limited perspective can be used to promote negative attitudes and behaviors towards all Muslims.
 
Question: How do you think the firefighter and the medical responder in the PSA feel when people blame Muslims for the devastation on September 11, 2001?
 

We Have More in Common Than You Think

(10 min) 

Instruct your students to watch the following PSA, also from the Council on American Islamic Relations, called "We Have More in Common Than You Think." CAIR developed the video in response to the increased negative attitudes and behavior towards Muslims since September 11, 2001.
 
 
 
Consider some or all of the following questions as you debrief this PSA:
  • Does anyone have any thoughts or comments about what they just watched?
  • What does this PSA make you think you about Islam?
  • What do you think about the woman saying: "The ability to practice our religion is at the heart of American freedom"?
  • What about the man saying: "If we don't have our rights, you don't have your rights"?
  • How do you think this ties into the Park51 controversy?

Closing

(10 min)

 
At different times and places throughout history, people's rights have been taken away because the voices promoting fear were able to drown out those of justice. This was possible in part because the majority of people sat by and actively ignored what was happening, or people were too unaware to actually understand what was happening until it was too late.
 
Read out loud the following poem, which was written by Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemoller. Niemoller ended up in a concentration camp because of his opposition to the Nazis:
 
First they came for the communists, 
and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, 
and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, 
and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me, 
and there was no one left to speak out.
 
 
Questions you might discuss with your students:
  • What do you think about the poem? How might it relate to the Park51 controversy. 
  • What does the poem say about getting involved? 
  • How do you think you can get involved?
     

This lesson was written by Marieke van Woerkom for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Please email us at info@morningsidecenter.org.
 
Marieke van Woerkom is an educator and trainer who works with Morningside Center. She has helped young people and adults around the world learn skills to resolve conflict and foster cross-cultural understanding.