The so called “Ground Zero Mosque” (the real name of the project is Park 51) is proposed as a 15-story Islamic Community Center containing a mosque, a swimming pool, and a 500-seat auditorium. Detractors first called the project the “WTC Mosque” but then someone came up with the name “Ground Zero Mosque” because that name stirred up a more emotional response. It certainly worked!

The proposed Park 51 complex is NOT intended to be located on the site where the World Trade Center stood; if built, Park 51 will be 2 blocks away from there. This begs the question: How much distance is an appropriate “comfort zone” for those that do not want the Community Center/Mosque built “near” ground zero.

There are 600,000 Moslems who reside in New York — this number is growing rapidly — but compared to the entire population of New York City (Approx 8.4 million) that’s not a large percentage of Muslims to non-Muslims. This population of Muslims is now served by well over 100 mosques.

Supporters of the Community Center are loudly proclaiming their “right” to build a mosque at the planned location and calling those who oppose the mosque: “bigots” (and other things) but the fact is, no one in a leadership position who opposes the project is saying that the project planners do not have a “right” to build the mosque. The “right” that has been proclaimed by the supporters of Park 51 is NOT being contested and is, in fact, supported by our Constitution.

Opponents to Park 51 certainly have their reasons to oppose the mosque; they feel that a mosque that near the site of what is being called the largest terrorist attack in history is insensitive to those who lost friends and family members on 9/11/2001 — mainly because it a religious structure that celebrates the religion of the terrorists who carried out the attack. Furthermore, opponents assume that this Islamic Center, that close to the former WTC site, is not just an Islamic Center but is intended as a monument being constructed to celebrate Islam’s supposed “victory” over American “infidels” on 9/11. On top of that, the man who is leading the effort to build this mosque on this site (Muslim cleric Feisal Abdul Rauf) refuses to acknowledge the fact that the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas (classified as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department) is a terrorist organization and also went on the “60 Minutes” television show shortly after 9/11 and made the statement that U.S. foreign policy could be considered an “accessory” to the 9/11 attacks.

Rauf’s supporters are quick to point out that, on the same 60 Minutes telecast Rauf made the statement that “Fanaticism and terrorism have no place in Islam.”

The co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Zahar, recently made the statement on a New York radio show that Muslims “have to build” a mosque near ground zero, they “have to build everywhere” so that followers can pray, just like Christians and Jews build their places of worship. In spite of the only slightly controversial nature of this statement, Immam Rauf’s organization (the Cordoba Initiative) would not respond. This suggests that even though Rauf will not call a terrorist a terrorist, he wants to, at least publicly, distance himself from terrorists.

(Note: The Cordoba Initiative promotes itself as an “advocacy group” that promotes improved relations between Islam and the West.)

Interestingly, Imam Rauf’s most powerful supporter is the U.S. State Department. According to State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley, “He (Rauf) is a distinguished Muslim cleric,” who’s work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known. Crowley said that Rauf brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States. The U.S. has been using Rauf to do just that since 2007 (yes, during the Bush presidency) by sending him to many Arab nations through their Educational and Cultural Affairs Bureau.

Right now Rauf is touring many European and Arab nations (a trip wholly funded by our tax dollars) to promote his Park 51 project and raise funds to complete that project.

Another perhaps not directly related factor in this controversy surrounds St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church. This beautiful four-story church was destroyed when WTC Tower 2 collapsed on it on 9/11. Church officials have been negotiating with the NY Port Authority to be allowed to rebuild the church but after nine years of negotiations it looks like the church will not be rebuilt. In the words of the Rev. George Economou, the pastor of St. Spyridon Greek Orthodox Church in Newport: “I am puzzled as to why the Muslims would be allowed to build a center so close to Ground Zero while a church that stood at that site many years, even before the World Trade Center, would get such a run-around.” Hmmmm!

Whatever position you take on the Lower Manhatten Mosque controversy and whatever your feelings about Imam Rauf or about Muslims in general, you have hopefully relied on facts as well as judgement and emotions. What I have written above is, to the best of my knowledge, fact based and I have tried to leave my personal feelings out — there is much, much more you can read to arm yourself with facts. Though facts are sometimes hard to deal with (as are personal feelings) — they are always a necessary ingredient if you really want to understand an issue.


New York Times: Islamic Center Exposes Mixed Feelings Locally and Muslim Community Center in Lower Manhattan (Park51)

WKBT.COM: Hamas leader: Ground zero mosque must be built Group: State Department Is Wrong to Sponsor Imam Trip

The Providence Journal: Plan to rebuild Greek Orthodox church at ground zero remains puzzle to R.I., N.Y. clergy

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