NEW YORK – Talat Hamdani traveled to Mecca to pray that her missing son, an EMT, was safe in the days after 9/11. She held out hope that his Muslim background had led to his detention as a suspect, considering it better than the alternative.
When part of his body was returned to her — his lower half shattered into 34 pieces — it was final proof he had indeed been killed when Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center. As Americans take sides over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks away, Hamdani says it feels personal.
"Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died," she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. "America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom," and opposition to the cultural center "is un-American. It's unethical. And it is wrong."
The thousands of relatives of the 2,976 victims have no single representative and no unified voice, even as another 9/11 anniversary approaches. The conflict is dividing a group that in many ways has never been united, with some saying the cultural center would reopen old wounds too close to hallowed ground and others saying that opposing it is tantamount to bigotry.
And some, like Vandna Jain, walk a middle ground.
"It is unfair to persecute the group, however, in turn, there should be some respect for the feelings of the people that are forever attached to this site due to their losses," the New City, N.Y., resident, whose father, Yudh, died in the north tower, wrote in an e-mail. "I think people have a right to be upset about it, just as much as people have a right to build a mosque."