Who Owns New York City?

All politics starts local, but it doesn’t always end that way: often, local decisions influence national policy, or produce legally cognizable harms, which both residents and non-residents should aspire to redress. But when neither of those factors are present — where a local decision truly stays local, and neither reflects nor impacts anything other than the policy preferences of the locals — how much should other people care about it?

The libertarian answer, shared by most conservatives, tends to be “not at all.” Interesting, then, that the far-right feels entitled to state their objections to a New York City community board’s decision to approve the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero. Setting aside moral arguments about how a downtown mosque is probably good, and not just “not bad,” it’s not clear why nonresidents have any stake at all in the question of how New York City chooses to treat local Muslim citizens.

As our cultural capital, New York is something in which all Americans have some kind of stake. But no matter what building a mosque near Ground Zero says about New Yorkers’ laudable ability to separate Islam from fundamentalist Islam, it’s not a decision that alters any of the parts of New York that should matter to America, writ large. In a city so dominated by tourists, this is a true local issue, to be resolved by New Yorkers, for New Yorkers. The Financial District may be truly American land, because of its centrality to our collective history, and Ground Zero should properly be treated as hallowed ground. But how New York City chooses to organize itself around and in relation to those nexuses isn’t anyone’s business but ours — especially where, as here, the result is to conspicuously and poignantly state the City’s openness to all Americans, regardless of faith, and our determination to not let that relationship be soured by a madman who would pit us against each other.



  1. New Yorkers have come to grips with 9/11. Why can’t these people?

    1. If they came to grips with it they couldn’t use it to whip their base into a raging xenophobic froth.

  2. Er.

    Last point first: people shouldn’t give a shit about a mosque being built, full stop.

    First point last: Ground Zero has long since become a national quasi-monument. Remember all the national (and international) mourning and support in the immediate aftermath? Millions of people still have “9/11, Never Forget”-style bumper stickers. Fresh ones, even. Would you express shock at people in Mississippi being pissed if the Liberty Bell was moved into the lobby of a Chili’s? Yes, I realize the legal standing of the property is different, but I think that’s only because the real estate of the WTC site is clearly owned by someone. They chose not to take a preservation easement and make it a park, which is their business, but that doesn’t make the site any less significant on a national level. Anyhoo… the local-issue-only angle is unconvincing.



    1. The local-issue argument depends on me distinguishing it from your Liberty Bell example, and I think I can win that. If you’re not aware of the debate, because the mosque is so far off-campus (two blocks, but those are long blocks, and really different parts of the city), you won’t have to be when visiting Ground Zero. It’s a context supplied as part of the city, not part of the monument.

      1. I’ll concede I know nothing about the geography, and of course I’d be unsurprised to find out it’s a tenuous link only played up to make a stink. I just think you mix the two arguments pretty freely. You refer to the proximity to Ground Zero yourself and didn’t seem to challenge that perception. Just didn’t get to it, or shifting stances now to win a point, lawyer-boy? ;)

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