If Youssef Makki is still alive, he must be wondering what all the fuss about a mosque “at” ground zero is all about.
And if he's dead, he just might be turning over in his grave.
I met Makki in May of 1996. He was a giant of a man, and a high-ranking officer in the Sudanese People's Liberation Army, which at the time was waging war against the fundamentalist Islamic regime then running roughshod over his people in the Nuba Mountains and the people of southern Sudan.
And yes, Makki was a Muslim. He had taken up arms against some of his fellow Muslims because he didn't like their particular brand of Islam: their fanaticism, their intolerance, their commitment to Sharia law and their conviction that, as Makki put it, “they feel they have a message to send to the world and that they are the only ones who can send it.”
The civil war that raged in Sudan started around 1973, which means that Makki and other Muslims may have been fighting against the fundamentalist regime at a time when America's government was actually sending arms to fundamentalist Islamic nut jobs in Afghanistan who would later rule the country as the Taliban. Years later, one of those nut jobs — a guy known as Osama bin Laden — ordered his minions to fly jets into the World Trade Center Twin Towers, killing thousands. And now we self-righteously blame all Muslims, even those who fought against bin Laden's brand of Islam, for the attack.
By the way, years later it was revealed that bin Laden was in Sudan the same year I was, only farther north, in the comfortable arms of that fundamentalist government. Not nearly close enough for my liking to the forces of the SPLA, which possibly might have solved our problem for us five years before it became a problem.
We may have learned our lesson too late about which people we should arm and why, but the Youssef Makkis of the world had the Osama bin Ladens pegged right from the very start. As much as many Americans might not want to believe it, not all Muslims are alike. And not all think alike.
That being said, there should be no mosque “at” ground zero. Youssef Makki himself might oppose it. But here's where this imbroglio gets tricky, and it hinges on the clear difference between the two prepositions “at” and “near.”
The proposed mosque and community center in lower Manhattan is not “at” ground zero. It's two blocks away. According to one blogger, people at the proposed mosque site can't even see ground zero. Those standing at ground zero won't be able to see the mosque either. As the blogger put it, “You'd have to take a two-minute walk [from ground zero] to be offended.”
The word “at,” according to my Merriam-Webster's Concise Dictionary, is “used to indicate a point in time or space.” Near means “close to” or “not far away.” Those family members who lost loved ones at the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, might indeed feel more pain if they visited the site and saw a mosque, but some observers note that would be physically impossible.
But those mourners should ponder this: The victims of the war the Sudanese government recently waged in the province of Darfur were all Muslims. Should we hold them accountable for what happened on Sept. 11, 2001? Should we hold accountable men like Youssef Makki, who with his Christian brethren waged war against Muslims like the ones who took down the Twin Towers?
Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.