The debate over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” hit the streets of New York Sunday.
The weather fit the mood – gray skies and rain – and there were a few scuffles and shouted exchanges. But police officers and barricades kept several hundred demonstrators on each side separated.
The proposed site is several blocks away from the World Trade Center, attacked in 2001 by Islamic terrorists, in a neighborhood that includes bars, strip clubs, and an off-track betting facility. Still, it is “hallowed ground” to many who oppose the Islamic Center – including politicians using it to batter President Obama.
This has led to increasing talk of moving the site of the proposed center, which is not a “mosque” as most people might envision it with a dome, minarets, and amplified calls to prayer but more like a YMCA or Jewish Community Center – architecturally plain with an auditorium, swimming pool, and meeting rooms as well as a prayer space (but no loud speakers).
Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, has offered to mediate the issue. A model, he suggests, is when Pope John Paul II ordered nuns to move from a convent at the Auschwitz Nazi death camp after protests from Jewish leaders.
“He’s the one who said, ‘Let’s keep the idea, and maybe move the address,’ ” Archbishop Dolan told the New York Times. “It worked there; might work here.”
On ABC’s “This Week” Sunday, Daisy Khan, wife of the proposed Islamic Center’s leader Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, did not rule out the possibility of selecting a less controversial site away from 9/11’s ground zero.
“We’re meeting several stakeholders right now, because we understand the pain and the anguish that has been displayed throughout the country,” said Ms. Khan. “And we indeed want to build bridges. We don’t want to create conflict. This is not where we were coming from. So, this is an opportunity for us to really turn this around and make this into something very, very positive. So we will meet and we will do what is right for everyone.”
At the same time, Khan pointed out, “We have the Muslim community around the nation that we have to be concerned about, and we have to worry about the extremists as well, because they are seizing this moment. And so we have to be very careful and deliberate in when we make any major decision like this.”
New York Governor David Paterson has offered to help find an alternative site.
To many observers, the “Ground Zero mosque” issue has become an excuse for more widespread opposition to Islam – including the persistent and growing belief among Americans that President Obama is a Muslim.
A Time magazine survey this past week “revealed that many Americans harbor lingering animosity toward Muslims.”
“Twenty-eight percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court,” reports Time. “Nearly one-third of the country thinks adherents of Islam should be barred from running for President — a slightly higher percentage than the 24 percent who mistakenly believe the current occupant of the Oval Office is himself a Muslim.” (That’s higher than the recent Pew Research Center survey showing that 18 percent think Obama is a Muslim.) Just 55 percent said they think most Muslims are “loyal Americans.”
Local battles over mosques are raging in several places around the country, none of which has any direct connection to the events (or victims) of 9/11.
“The people who say the mosque is too close to Ground Zero, those are the same people that protest mosques in Brooklyn and Staten Island and Tennessee and Wisconsin and California,” Ali Akram, a local doctor who supports the project, told Reuters. “What radius will they go for? There’s no end to it.”