TENSIONS BUILD AT MEETING ON GROUND ZERO MOSQUE
A June 6th rally opposing the construction is planned
BY: FERN SIDMAN
A palpable tension filled the air on Greenwich Street in lower Manhattan on Tuesday evening May 25th, as an emotionally charged meeting was held by Manhattan's Community Board 1 over the proposed construction of a 13-story mosque and cultural center just blocks away from Ground Zero, the site of the 9/11 twin towers terror attacks.
After four hours of rancorous public debate, hostilities reached a zenith when members of the board voted 29-1 with 10 abstentions in support of the plan. Several board members proposed a postponement of the vote until the next meeting in order to obtain more detailed information about funding of the project and the organizations sponsoring it, but the motion failed.
The Cordoba Initiative, headed by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is the chief sponsor of the project that is to be called The Cordoba House, a name that refers to the city in Spain which, in the Middle Ages, was a center of Islamic culture and learning. Cordoba was also the seat of an Islamic caliphate in which Jews and Christians suffered under second-class dhimmi status. It was the site of a large-scale pogrom, perpetrated by Muslims, in the year 1011.
The mosque will be built at 45 Park Place, is the site of a four story edifice built in 1857 and was a Burlington Coat retail store until 9/11, when part of the plane's landing gear crashed through the roof. The building which currently houses a mosque will be razed to make room for the new structure. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission could conceivably thwart the intended project if they determine that the building has historic status, thus rendering it a landmark. Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Commission said a hearing is scheduled to take place on that very subject.
Failing to abide by Roberts Rules of Order, project opponents jeered at the speakers and yelled comments such as, "You're building over a cemetery!" while holding signs that read, "Show respect for the 3000" among other things. Among the groups standing in opposition to the proposed mosque are the Families of the 9/11 Victims, the Tea Party activists of Staten Island and Brooklyn, the New York City Firefighters, Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), Jihad Watch and the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam (HRCARI).
Pamela Geller, executive director of "Stop Islamization of America' (SIOA), an organization that is spearheading the June 6th rally to protest the proposed mosque blasted the Cordoba Initiative and its leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, saying the project is "an insult to the people who were murdered there on 9/11 to build a mosque that will teach the same holy book, the same belief-system, that motivated the 9/11 terrorists." She added that, "In Islam there is a history of placing mosques over the cherished sites of conquered people: the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, where the Dome of the Rock now stands, and the conversion of the Hagia Sophia cathedral in Constantinople into a mosque are two of the most famous examples, but there are thousands of others. In the Islamic world a mosque at Ground Zero would be no less unmistakably a sign of Islamic triumphalism and supremacism."
Before the vote, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer said that he understood the sensitivities of the families of the 9/11 victims. "I don't think anybody wants to do anything to disrespect those families. They made the ultimate sacrifice" he said. "At the same time, we have to balance diversity and look for opportunities to bring different groups together." Stringer released a statement on behalf of the community board saying that support of the construction of the mosque "sent a clear message that our city is one that promotes diversity and tolerance."
Stringer has been the target of disparaging remarks by Tea Party activist Mark Williams who has called the proposed center a monument to the terror attacks. Stringer has defended his position in support of the plans to build the mosque and has denounced what he perceives to be offensive speech directed at him or at Muslims.
Council member Margaret Chin said early in the meeting that those who assume a posture of strong resistance to the plans for the proposed mosque are "haters and bigots." The reference was directed at members of the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam (HRCARI) and others who held aloft signs condemning the decision of the board to support this endeavor. According to a 1991 article in "The City Journal" author Richard Brookhiser revealed Ms. Chin's political agenda. He states, "For Ms. Chin had risen to prominence by way of the Communist Workers Party, a Maoist sect that decided several years ago to begin infiltrating mainstream politics."
Satya Dosapati, a leader of the Hindu Human Rights Watch and an active member of the Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam said that "my observation has been that people are waking up to the very real threat that Islamic radicalism represents." Mr. Dosapati is working on mobilizing the large Hindu population in central New Jersey and is arranging buses to the rally on June 6th. "We need exceptionally large numbers of people to attend this rally if we want our voices to be heard. We are assembling at 12 noon on June 6th at Zucotti Park on the corner of Church and Liberty Streets and we beseech all those who are concerned about the future of democracy, liberty and freedom to come out."
Imam Rauf insists that the $150 million project is meant to heal the wounds of 9/11. "We've approached the community because we want this to be an example of how we are cooperating with the members of the community, not only to provide services but also to build a discourse on how Muslims and non-Muslims can cooperate together to push back against the voice of extremism", he said.
Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy says there are more productive ways to fight Islamic extremism and has questions about the financing. According to reports, the building that occupies the site was purchased last year for $4.85 million in cash by Soho Properties, a real estate company run by Muslims. Imam Rauf, who is also the founder of the American Society for Muslim Advancement was an investor in that transaction.
Dr. Jasser said that with such a financial commitment, there needs to be full disclosure about where the money is coming from. "There should be transparency about who those investors are; whether that money is coming from a domestic source or not, and if it's coming from foreign interests we need to know, because I think that's a liability, and it shows that there is another agenda rather than domestic security and tranquility" he said.
Robert Spencer, director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of ten books on the nature of Islam expressed doubts about the purportedly benign views of Imam Rauf. "After the 9/11 attacks, Imam Rauf was quoted on the CBS 60 Minutes program of September 30, 2001 as saying, "US policies were an accessory to the 9/11 crime. In the most direct sense Osama Bin Laden was made in the USA". It is clear from the language that Imam Rauf uses now as opposed to back in 2001 that he is a prototypical dissembler as he boldly insinuated that American foreign policy was to blame for the heinous atrocities that took the lives of close to 3,000 people on 9/11" he said.
"Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is an open proponent of Sharia, which institutionalizes discrimination against Jews, Christians, women, and others, and denies freedom of speech and freedom of conscience" said Pamela Geller of SIOA. Her sober warning was crystal clear: "If we do not confront this threat now, then in the future we will see increasing assertiveness from Islamic supremacists in this country; demanding that we accept elements of Islamic law, and increasing conflict as free Americans see their rights being abridged and Muslims set up as a privileged class here."