Prayer hall or provocation?
By Gregg Carlstrom
The site of the planned mosque and Islamic community centre in lower Manhattan [AFP]
Barack Obama, the US president, spoke forcefully on Friday night in support of the proposed mosque and Islamic community centre near the site of the former World Trade Centre in New York that was destroyed in the September 11 attacks.
The project is popularly called the “Ground Zero mosque”, perhaps a slight misnomer on two counts.
It will not be located at Ground Zero, but rather at 45-47 Park Place, two city blocks (200 metres) north of the World Trade Centre site. The buildings currently at that location were damaged during the September 11 attacks.
Nor is it only a mosque: Planners will spend up to $100 million to build an Islamic community centre called Cordoba House, which will house a mosque, an auditorium, a swimming pool and a bookstore.
Public opinion cuts sharply against the project. Dozens of politicians have condemned it, and opinion polls show it is unpopular, with a majority of Americans opposed to its construction.
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, delivered a stirring defence of the project last week, appealing to the city’s long tradition of religious diversity.
“The simple fact is that this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship,” Bloomberg said.
The project has been attacked on three grounds. One of them is simply anti-Muslim bigotry based on smears and false claims, like conservative columnist Andrew McCarthy’s assertion in National Review that the mosque is part of a “civilisational jihad” against the West.
A second criticism is the location, which some Americans say is insensitive to the victims of the attacks. David Paterson, the governor of New York, offered to find land for the community centre elsewhere in the city.
Critics say it would be inappropriate to build a mosque on the “hallowed ground” of Ground Zero.
Yet there is already a mosque two blocks north of the Cordoba House site, Masjid Manhattan, which has been open since 1970.
As several commentators have pointed out, there is also a strip club – New York Dolls – just one block north of the mosque site. No one has complained about that profaning of the sacred.
And the building will not displace any important historical landmark: The planned community centre on Park Place was most recently a Burlington Coat Factory, a national chain of discount department stores.
National polls find strong opposition to the project: A Rasmussen poll conducted in July found 54 per cent of Americans oppose it, with just 20 per cent in favour.
Interestingly, support for the project is stronger among those who will actually live near it.
In the borough of Manhattan – where the mosque will be located – 46 per cent support the community centre, with just 36 per cent opposed.
Feisal Abdul Rauf
The imam behind the mosque has been accused by critics of radicalism, despite his years-long affiliation with the US government.
Feisal Abdul Rauf is scheduled to travel to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates later this year on a public diplomacy trip sponsored by the US state department. It will be his second such trip to the Gulf; the first was organised in 2007, by the Bush administration.
Abdul Rauf will travel to the Gulf this year on a state department-sponsored trip [AFP]
Abdul Rauf visited Egypt in January as part of an exchange programme run by the state department. He has also advised the FBI.
Yet he has still been accused of holding radical views. Two Republican members of the US house of representatives – Peter King, from New York, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, from Florida – sent a letter to the US state department accusing Abdul Rauf of radicalism.
“Abdul Rauf has cast blame for 9/11 on the US, and even refuses to call Hamas what it is, a foreign terrorist organisation,” they wrote. “This radical is a terrible choice to be one of the faces of our country overseas.”
Abdul Rauf’s Hamas comments came in a June radio interview: He did not endorse the group, but declined to label it a “terrorist organisation”. “The issue of terrorism is a very complex question,” he said.
(King, incidentally, has a decades-long history of support for the Irish Republican Army, which is officially branded a terrorist organisation by the government of the United Kingdom.)
Shortly after the September 11 attacks, Abdul Rauf told CBS’s 60 Minutes programme that “terrorism has no place in Islam”, but suggested that US policies have encouraged groups like al-Qaeda.
“I wouldn’t say the United States deserved what happened on 9/11, but the United States’ policies were an accessory to the crime that happened,” Abdul Rauf said.
That is hardly a fringe opinion in the United States: The chairman and vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, the US government panel that investigated the attacks, wrote in a 2007 Washington Post op-ed that US foreign policy has contributed to a “rising tide of radicalisation and rage in the Muslim world”.
Obama gave strong backing to the community centre and mosque on Friday [AFP]
Bloomberg was asked about Abdul Rauf’s views, and declined to criticise him.
“My job is not to vet clergy in this city,” Bloomberg said. “Everyone has a right to their opinions. You don’t have to worship there… [this country] is not built around only those religions or clergy people that we agree with. It’s built around freedom.”
The mosque cleared the final obstacle to construction last week when New York’s preservation board voted not to extend historic status to the building at 45-47 Park Place. That designation would have made it impossible to continue the construction.
“As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country,” Obama said during his iftar speech. “That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan.”
Source: Al Jazeera
Obama backs ‘Ground Zero mosque’
Barack Obama said the US’ commitment to religious freedom must be “unshakeable” [Reuters]
He said the country’s founding principles demanded no less for the project which has sparked debate around the country.
For several weeks, opponents of the plan in New York City have publicly protested against it claiming it is an insult to the memory of nearly 3,000 people who died in the 2001 attacks.
Obama gave his support to the mosque during an annual White House dinner marking the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, weighing in on the controversy for the first time.
Background: Prayer hall or provocation?”Let me be clear. As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country,” he said.
“That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.
“This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable,” Obama added.
The White House had not previously taken a stand on the mosque, which would be part of a $100m Islamic centre two blocks from what has become known as Ground Zero.
Obama has tried to reach out to the global Muslim community since taking office, and the over 100 guests at Friday’s dinner included ambassadors and officials from numerous Muslim nations, including Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.
“Our capacity to show not merely tolerance, but respect towards those who are different from us, and that way of life, that quintessentially American creed, stands in stark contrast to the nihilism of those who attacked us on that September morning, and who continue to plot against us today,” he said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been a strong supporter of the mosque project, welcomed Obama’s words as a “clarion defence of the freedom of religion”.
But top Republicans including Sarah Palin, the former vice-presidential candidate, and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, have already announced their opposition.
The Cordoba Initiative, the group behind the project, describes it as a Muslim-themed community centre with a view of making it a hub for interfaith interaction, as well as a place for Muslims to bridge some of their faith’s own schisms.
The mosque has won approval from local planning boards but faces legal challenges.
Opponents, including some relatives of the victims of the September 11 attacks, see the prospect of a mosque so near the destroyed trade centre as an insult to the memory of those killed. Some of the victims’ relatives, however, are in favour.
Landmarks commission holds raucous hearing on proposed mosque near Ground Zero
July 13, 2010 By Carter B. Horsley
The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a rather raucous public hearing this afternoon on the proposed designation as an individual landmark of the five-story loft building at 45-47 Park Place Building in TriBeCa.
The building was acquired two years ago and its owner, Cordoba House Initiative, wants to demolish it and erect a Muslim Center.
The building is described by the commission as “a fine example of the Italian Renaissance inspired palazzo that flourished in the former textile and dry goods district on and around Broadway near City Hall Park.”
It was partially damaged in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and many speakers at the hearing argued for its designation as a landmark because loved ones they had lost in the terrorist attacks at Ground Zero and one man said he lost 40 percent of his lungs in the attack.
The majority of the audience in the large auditorium at Hunter College at 681 Park Avenue was in favor of designation even though Shelly Friedman, the attorney for the owner, reminded the commission that it had first been considered for inclusion in an historic district in 1989 and had not been found worthy of individual designation and that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer were in agreement that it was no worthy architecturally nor historically as an individual city landmark.
The landmarks committee of Community Board 1 recently voted not to recommend its landmark designation but one of the speakers argued that the landmarks commission should not take a vote until after the full board votes July 27.
Emotions ran pretty high at the meeting and one very tall man wearing an Obama T-shirt was finally asked to leave after two hours of haranguing other witnesses for scape-goating all Muslims in a manner much like the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and an elderly Muslim man was constantly interrupted by a large black woman. Video and still photographers mobbed every speaker as if it were a bloody ringside battle of fisticuffs and elbows.
The building retains much of its historical fabric, cornice and fire escapes, according to the commission, including its original ground-floor Corinthian colonnade cast by Daniel D. Badger & Company.
One speaker described the proposed new building, which would be about 15 stories high, contain community facilities and have a class Muslim facade of geometric abstractions as “a citadel of Islam supremacy,” adding that “nothing could be more negative.”
One of the calmer speakers was Jay Townsend, a candidate for the Republican nomination for U. S. Senator from New York, who maintained he was the only one of seven candidates for Senate that was in favor of having the building declared a landmark: “We’re not really bigots,” he declared to a large round of applause.
Mayor Bloomberg yesterday indicated he was against a suggestion by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Rick Lazio that an investigation be launched into who the $100 million mosque would be paid for, and according to an article today by David Seifman in The New York Post said “I don’t think we’re going to go and start investigating funding sources for religious organizations or vetting people who preach, pray, in religious organizations.’” Mr. Lazio attended the commission’s hearing today and repeated his suggestion that the mosque’s funding be examined.
The commission will keep its record on the proposed designation open and its decision is not expected for a few weeks.
Ground Zero mosque project moves forward
August 3, 2010, Rachel Hiles
This morning New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission denied landmark status for 45-47 Park Place, the proposed location for Cordoba House/Park 51. If landmark status had been granted to the property, it would have prevented the owners, Soho Properties, from demolishing the current building in order to build a new Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero—a controversial project recently covered here on the Tricycle blog. Though the project has been protested vehemently by politicians, talk show hosts, and even Sarah Palin, CNN’s Belief Blog points out the building is already being used peacefully by Muslims for prayer.
This is not the first time that a religious group has been denied a space to practice due to religious intolerance stemming from a traumatic and violent local event. Following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during World War II, Japanese living in the area were persecuted, especially members of Shinto organizations—a Japanese practice which has heavily influenced Buddhism in Japan. From religion-online.org:
Japanese leaders, including Shinto priests, were rounded up and deported. It was impossible to resettle all of the Japanese, as California had done, for they constituted nearly one-third of the population. The people of Hawaii simply had to learn to live together despite their qualms. Suspicions continued for a while: Shinto shrines were considered a hotbed of subversive activities by some and were vandalized.
This climate of intolerance and anger led to the closure of Kotohira Jinsha-Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangua, a Shinto shrine just five miles from Pearl Harbor. Though the shrine had been operating peacefully in the community for over twenty years, Kotohira Jinsha was forced to close its doors after their leader, Reverand Isobe, was deported to Japan. After briefly reopening without a priest, the shrine’s property was seized by the government in 1948 and soon put up for sale. Eventually, Kotohira Jinsha brought a lawsuit against the government. From the shrine’s website:
All religious and cultural activities were terminated as the war continued. In 1943, the interned Rev. Isobe was deported to Japan, forcing officers to call a special meeting on July 21, 1945 to decide the fate of the shrine. Kotohira Jinsha officially announced the temporary closure of the shrine and its activities on April 6, 1946.
After the war, members enthusiastically restored shrine activities on December 31, 1947, despite the absence of a priest. However, the shrine faced another crisis on June 8, 1948, when its property was seized by the Federal Government. An emergency meeting was called and a special committee formed to initiate measures for the return of the shrine and its property.
The lawsuit by Kotohira Jinsha was the first ever initiated a Japanese organization in the history of the United States, paving the way for similar lawsuits by other Japanese organizations. On July 31, 1965, a stone memorial was erected in honor of shrine members who persisted against overwhelming odds in a lawsuit against discrimination by the Federal Government. It was also meant to serve as a constant reminder of the hardships and indignities suffered at the hands of a nation misguided by wartime hysteria, racial prejudice and fear, which we must not allow to happen again to any group, regardless of race, religion or national origin.
Since its reopening in 1950, Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha has operated peacefully as an integral part of the local community. As is the case with the resistance to both the Shinto shrine and the Ground Zero mosque, a pervasive feeling of vengeance often befalls areas that have undergone violent trauma. Frequently, those who share an ethnicity or religion with the attackers become the perceived enemy—even if they have lived peacefully and harmoniously in the community for many years. The story of the Kotohira Jinsha shrine should serve as a reminder that unwarranted intolerance and oppression is hateful, thoughtless, and often totally unfounded.
Images: dnainfo.com and e-shrine.org