I used to manage a record store on New York City's Warren Street, right around the corner from the Burlington Coat Factory that is now the proposed site of the Cordoba Center, widely (but misleadingly) called the Ground Zero mosque. Four short blocks north of the Twin Towers, my colleagues and I used to jokingly call our store the World Music Trade Center.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, as I was on my way to work, pieces of airplane fell on the roof of our building and a tsunami of ash and grit got inside and ruined almost everything. Four customers I knew, and possibly others I had seen in the store or talked to, were killed that day; at least two of them were Muslim.
My staff comprised three Christians, two Jews, one Muslim, one atheist and my agnostic self. When we were able to reopen our store just before Christmas, we set up a display near the entrance, with a sign reading "Islamic Music from Around the World," which was exactly what we offered on that center rack. We also gave a prominent place in the Asian section, along one wall, to secular Afghan music that had been banned by the Taliban, especially a CD by a singer whose death in a car crash his fans believed to have been engineered by Al Qaeda.
Like many of the small businesses in the neighborhood, our store got a lot of people coming in after their pilgrimage to Ground Zero, wanting to spend some money to help repair a small part of what had been wrecked. We were glad to see them, but many of them turned around and walked out as soon as they saw the first word on our sign: Islamic. "O my God, can you believe this?" was the most moderate exclamation we heard. Other visitors looked through the CDs on display and perhaps picked up a few, some headed for more familiar sections, and some approached my colleagues or me to say "I don't know anything about Islamic music. Can you recommend something?" We were glad to; Islam has inspired a lot of fascinating and beautiful music. One gentleman, a delegate to the United Nations, having heard about our display, came to our store just to thank us for it. And then there was the guy who strode in and tried to overturn the center rack. When he couldn't (it was too big and heavy), he scattered some CDs on the floor, stomped on them, and walked out shouting "Burn in hell!"
We had actually been planning to move the Islamic music back to one side next to the Judaica section, but after losing some CDs to a jackboot, we decided that we had to hold our stand against fundamentalism and Islamophobia. We kept the display front and center. In the end, neither terrorists nor reactionaries but music pirates and internet freeloaders closed our store.
It was much smaller and far less significant than the Cordoba Center, but I think of that record store when I hear the calumnies hurled against "the Ground Zero mosque." Like its visionaries and supporters, my colleagues and I were trying to counteract ignorance and bigotry and hatred in whatever way we could. Because it was ignorance and bigotry and hatred that had fallen on us all of us, everywhere on 9-11. Remembering the days and weeks that followed, I admit to feelings of pride at having done a little something to defend our American freedoms of religion and expression. But sadness overwhelms the pride. After nine years and hundreds of thousands of violent deaths since 9-11, we still haven't learned that day's lessons. - Ken Braun
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The editor's own thoughs in the week following that day are still recorded here, along with a piece of music I think appropriate to the moment.