Zeitoun and the “Ground Zero Mosque”

My wife and I just returned from a 8-day road-trip that took us from the Berkshires, through the Green Mountains, east through the White Mountains, ending with a day in Portland, Maine.  During the trip we hiked a mountain, idled by a stream, and generally unplugged from the noisy din of civilization.  I was blissfully unaware of the 24-hour news cycle, instead concerned only with the lazy whims of vacation-time.  I treasure vacations for many reasons, but one benefit that applies to all trips is the time to catch up on reading.  For me, that meant finally getting to Dave Eggers’ latest, Zeitoun.

Zeitoun is a true page tuner, one that I couldn’t put down and read in a day or so.  It is a non fiction account of the harrowing experience of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-American businessman, in New Orleans in the days after Hurricane Katrina.  Zeitoun, a Muslim, stayed behind to watch over his painting business and his rental units, but ended up saving people in his canoe.  Of course, the weight of this narrative, and the reason why this book is once again very timely, is the fact that Zeitoun, despite his honorable reputation, winds up experiencing the dark side of our society, our prejudice towards Muslims, and winds up detained where his family cannot find him.  I won’t spoil the story for you, but when you read what happened to Zeitoun, you might wonder, like I did, what exactly America has become.

In fact, given the controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque,” it is easy to see how intolerant we have become as a society.  Of course, tucked away in the White Mountains, I was blissfully unaware of the ongoing controversy until I returned.  Once I came within range of the media din and the 24 Hour news cycle, I could see clearly how stupid the entire controversy is.  The Islamic Community Center would sit two blocks from ground zero; an existing Mosque, Masjid Manhattan, sits three blocks away from the hallowed ground.  That’s right, there is already a Mosque only three blocks away from Ground Zero.  If the construction of the new Mosque is so unacceptable, shouldn’t we also tear down Masjid Manhattan?  Shouldn’t we tear down all Mosques in New York City, in the District of Columbia, in Pennsylvania?  After all, they are also “hallowed ground.”

Wait a second, lets not get ahead of ourselves.  The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion. If that is the case, why are Americans protesting the building of a Mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee?  Ahh, there is that prejudice rearing its ugly head.  It appears that certain Americans do not like Islam at all. I wonder how they feel about the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights?  A church in Gainesville, FL is planning a “Burn the Quran Day” on September 11; Tennessee Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey advocates that Islam is in fact not a religion but a cult, and thus does not deserve First Amendment protection; Indiana congressional candidate Marvin Scott compares ALL Muslims to Kamikazes.  It appears that in Republican eyes, the Constitution is only sacred part of the time (see discussion of Anchor Babies and immigration for another example).

In the midst of this senseless election-year controversy, Dave Eggers’ brilliant account stands out as a must-read book.  I was reminded in some ways of Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, because the narrative builds suspense effortlessly, and weaves together the past and present experience of Zeitoun and his family, to give you a whole picture of these Muslim patriots and the difficult trials they encounter.  Tune out the media din, and pick up Zeitoun.