At Pentagon, a lesson in tolerance N.Y. mosque debate should heed

While the debate continues to brew around the mosque being built near Ground Zero in New York City, Muslims have been worshiping at another Sept. 11, 2001, crash site in Washington, D.C..
By Petula Dvorak
Friday, August 20, 2010

Let me take you back to 2002, a year after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the horror and disbelief of that terrible day still very fresh in our minds.

Now, would you believe that in November of that year, right next to the spot where 184 people lost their lives in the Pentagon, the military opened a sanctuary where Islam could be celebrated?

This is truly on sacred ground, mind you. Not two blocks away, wedged between the Gap and Sephora in Pentagon City mall, out of sight of the original crash site.

This prayer room is a mere 30 steps from the place where terrorists crashed the nose cone of American Airlines Flight 77 through the wall and killed Pentagon secretaries and military officers, soccer moms and Little League dads in a screaming "I-have-control-of-this-plane-and-I'm-going-to-die-in-the-name-of-Allah" instant.

In this Pentagon chapel, Muslims can unroll their prayer mats once a day and give praise to Allah. On Fridays, they bring in an imam to conduct a service.

Cue the outrage:

"How dare they?"/"This is an insult to patriotic Americans everywhere, and especially to the families of those who died that day and the good men and women who are risking their lives for their country in the fight against terrorism!"/"Let's stop this now!"

Oh wait, there was no outrage. No hyperventilating by cable news anchors. No outpouring of hateful rhetoric on blogs and Web sites.

"Nope, never heard a word about it," folks in the Pentagon chaplain's office told me Thursday after we visited the crash site memorial and the chapel next to it. "No one has had a problem with it."

It is a humble space, spartan except for a U.S. flag and a stained-glass window that depicts a Pentagon and a screaming eagle. The only sign that it's not a lecture hall or meeting room is the piano in one corner and the stack of camouflage-covered New Testament books of psalms and proverbs on a shelf.

Since it began use eight years ago, Korans have been opened and closed hundreds of times, Islamic prayers have been whispered by the thousands.

The families, friends and colleagues of those who died or were injured in the 2001 terrorist attack have never complained to the Pentagon about the inclusion of Muslim services, officials said.

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