With little sign of the hubbub that surrounded it last year, the Park51 Islamic community center (un-lovingly referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque") opened its doors to the public last night for a photo exhibit. And right before that the site's developer, Sharif El-Gamal, used the event to publicly admit mistakes made in the building's short history: “We made incredible mistakes,” he told the AP. “The biggest mistake we made was not to include 9/11 families. We didn’t understand that we had a responsibility to discuss our private project with family members that lost loved ones.”
Further, El-Gamal acknowledged that the center had failed at some of its basic duties as a community center: "Unfortunately, some of them were responsibilities that we did not know that we had. One of those responsibilities was really connecting with the 9/11 families, and really connecting with Muslim leaders, locally and nationally. So, those were our two biggest mistakes in the project."
Still, he is happy with the final product: “Park51 is about bringing people together,” he said during the opening, which was attended by about 150 people (and reportedly no protesters). "There was so much opposition. But this is what we're about. We want to serve every person or child in New York."
To get the center off on the right foot an exhibit of Danny Goldfield's NYChildren project (a collection of photos of children from 169 countries living in New York) was chosen and seemed to be well received. That exhibit will run there through mid-December. Meanwhile Park51 will now "host interfaith discussions, film screenings, author readings and children's yoga classes in the temporary ground-floor space, which will eventually be demolished to make way for the much larger community center El-Gamal originally envisioned."
Isn't it nice when, after all that kicking and screaming, things work out the way they are supposed to? Which is to say, peacefully and in the spirit of community.