Wednesday, November 2, 2011


A hand-picked jury is debating the merits of the various submissions to a design contest for a memorial at ground zero. The jury does not know the identities of the entrants. Claire, whose husband was killed in the 9/11 attacks, lobbies for "the garden" and wins over the majority. The jurists are thrown into a tailspin, however, when they learn that the winner's name is Mohammed Khan—obviously a Muslim. Someone leaks this juicy tidbit to the press before the official announcement, and political bedlam ensues. The author treats this controversy with the seriousness that it deserves and posits two sides to a moral dilemma with no perfect solution. My favorite line is the book is this quotation from a music executive: "'It just makes me uncomfortable, and being uncomfortable makes me even more uncomfortable.'" This perfectly describes my feeling about the situation. We all love that American stands for freedom, but our gut feeling is that having a Muslim-built memorial for a site destroyed by Quran-quoting terrorists is a recipe for disaster. Is the memorial really a martyr's paradise? Such was not Khan's intent, but his motives are not clear to the public, because he's not talking. Born in Virginia, he's indignant that his lineage has caused his allegiance to be called into question. From the public's perspective, he's an enigma, but he's really just too proud to buckle to the scrutiny he deems unfair. Claire, for all her high-minded initial support of Khan, begins to vacillate when a loathsome reporter plants a seed of doubt about Khan's political leanings. The reporter's lack of ethics and her success in duping Claire made me angry. I wanted there to be some non-Muslim who supported him unequivocally. Alas, Khan's egotism and intransigence ensure that even American Muslims ultimately abandon his cause. I love the title and all of its possible meanings. There's a comment in the book that Islam is submission, but isn't all religion submission to a higher power? Then there's also submission to public opinion, to emotion, to ambition, to political pressure—all of which come into play here. My only criticism would be that we never get close enough to Claire or Khan to experience their inner turmoil. The author brings focus more to ourselves and our own principles, and how we as a country and as individuals respond to this type of polarizing argument.

1 comment:

Trin Carl said...

You have some great books on your five star list that I will definitely look into reading.