Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero.
That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation. They are fed by the kind of bigotry exhibited by the would-be book burner in Florida, and, sadly, nurtured by people in positions of real power, including prominent members of the Republican Party.
The most important sight at ground zero now is Michael Arad’s emerging memorial. The shells of two giant pools are 30 feet deep and are set almost exactly in the places where the towers once were.
The huge waterfalls around the sides, the inscribed names of victims and the plaza are promised by the 10th anniversary next year. But two 70-foot tridents that were once at the base of the twin towers were installed last week. The museum will be built around them by 2012. And the first 16 of 416 white swamp oaks were planted on the eight-acre surface.
Surrounding that memorial will be a ring of commercial towers — eventually to be filled with workers, commuters, shoppers, tourists, the full cacophony of New York City. The tallest skyscraper is now a third of the way up. The developer Larry Silverstein has one of his skyscrapers taking shape — this one by the Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki. The bases of two more are finally beyond the planning stage.
The first outlines of Santiago Calatrava’s elegant PATH station are visible. Giant white ribs and other structures that will support the birdlike hall are moving into place. The temporary PATH station shuttles 70,000 commuters a day through the construction site.
After years of political lassitude and financial squabbling, rebuilding at the site began in earnest two years ago. That was when Mayor Michael Bloomberg exerted his considerable muscle to make sure the memorial is finished by 2011. At about the same time, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey established more control of the site. The authority and the mayor turned out to be a good team.
That cooperation and the visible progress are such a contrast with the way some political figures have been trying to use the Sept. 11 attacks to generate antipathy toward all Muslims. For weeks, politicians — mostly but definitely not all on the right — have been fanning the public controversy over plans to build an Islamic community center two blocks away from ground zero.
Then, Terry Jones, a minor preacher in Florida, managed to create a major furor by scheduling a ritual burning of the Koran for Sept. 11. Alarmed by hyperbolic news coverage, the top general in Afghanistan, the secretary of defense, the State Department and the president warned that such a bonfire would endanger Americans and American troops around the world.
It was bad enough to see a fringe figure acting out for cable news and Web sites, but it was deeply disturbing to hear John Boehner, the Republican leader in the House, equate Mr. Jones’s antics with the Muslim center.
In both cases, he told ABC News, “Just because you have a right to do something in America does not mean it is the right thing to do.” The Constitution does, indeed, protect both, but they are not morally equivalent. In New York City, a group of Muslims is trying to build something. Mr. Jones and his supporters are trying to tear down more than two centuries of religious tolerance.
It is a good time to remember what President Obama said on Friday, echoing the words of President George W. Bush after the attacks: “We’re not at war with Islam. We’re at war with terrorist organizations.”