Debate Over Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque Continues

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New York Gov. David Paterson says support is growing for his proposal of a land swap to move a proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque away from its site two blocks from the World Trade Center. Speaking this morning on WOR Radio, the governor encouraged developers to take up his idea.

"It would be very fore-sighted in the midst of this, you know, clearly this national episode, if they took the lead here," the governor said. "And I've always believed that sacrifice ignites compassion."

Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani also thinks the mosque and cultural center should be moved. Speaking on NBC's Today show, he said if it isn't, it will become a place of division, not one that promotes religious tolerance.

WNYC's Arun Venugopal answers questions about the ongoing controversy.

Arun, is the governor's idea of a land swap gaining any traction?

I think it's getting traction amongst people who generally oppose it anyway. You heard that phrasing the governor used, 'if they would take the lead here.' Basically, he's been trying for a couple of weeks and he's trying and trying --

In the public sphere -- he has not met with them.

Exactly, this is a very, I guess, strategic move I think on his part, to just float this balloon repeatedly. And the press is lapping it up, and you know, if you try to ask the developers, you don't hear anything back from them. Associates of the developers tell me there's no way this is going to happen. But basically, it's getting a lot of traction, as you say, with former Mayor Giuliani, other people, the Archbishop Timothy Dolan comes out -- I don't know what he has to do with this, but basically he's come out in support of this idea. So you have a lot of people who might be on the fence, or who are opposing it say, yes, move. And so it sort of I guess moves that ball along without getting any kind of reception from the people who are central to this, that's the mosque people themselves.

I understand the New York Civil Liberties Union has weighed in?

Their point is, if you're going to talk about a land swap, there had better not be any sweetheart deals here, because this is a clear issue of state-church divide, and they're saying you'd better sell this at market rate. The question is, can you make it actually attractive to them? I don't know.

And can Governor Paterson actually do this -- offer state land to get them to move without opening it up for bidding, very good question. You went down to the site of the mosque on Park Place, and it seems to have become something of an attraction?

This is really a pretty unremarkable building, it's rather ugly, the place, this Burlington Coat Factory. The windows are all boarded up. But now you have these three people out front who support the mosque, and they're holding signs saying "Support Freedom of Religion," "America Supports All Faiths." They're standing there, that draws attention from passersby, you have people shouting at them from their cars, walking by and kind of screaming at them, engaging in arguments with them. It's interesting, you have these kinds of heated debates, but you also have people who I saw who were fairly cordial, they agree to disagree. I saw people shaking hands at the end and walking on. Interesting place.

This kind of debate on the street is going to take on an entirely different dimension this Sunday, when dueling rallies are planned at the World Trade Center site.

You have this annual event that's been going on since 9/11 I guess, -- there's this thing called the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero, they have this annual motorcycle ride from across the country. They all come to Ground Zero. This time they're saying they want all the riders to do not just that, but to move on to this particular location, where this mosque and community center are going to be built. And a block or two away you're going to have this other group, a very new group, it's called the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia. They started a Facebook group. There's a woman named Elaine Brower, she's a Staten Island resident, she was instrumental in supporting the proposed mosque in Staten Island there that hasn't materialized. She's the mother of a Marine, she really supports the rights for them, and I asked her why it's so hard for people to come out in support of this mosque, and this is what she had to say:

"When you look at their websites, they talk about raising arms against the government, raising arms against Muslims. So I think people sort of retreat into a corner."

Whose website is she talking about?

She's talking about the opposition in general. You have very strong statements being made by people who oppose the mosque, and she's saying that is kind of driving supporters of the mosque who are underground, they're not really willing to come out in support of the mosque.


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Comments [7]


The want of the indulgence of biggotry and racism in America cannot be allowed. I will openly speak against anyone who opposes the idea of an islamic cultural center (NOT A MOSQUE!) being built by American citizens on land owned by American citizens.

p.s. Whoever Dsampson is... you are an idiot.

Dec. 01 2010 04:26 PM
raj from On the other end of the Isle of Manhattan

As we reduce the incentive for public places like the one proposed, we must next prepare for secret mosques, underground meetings... sounds like a bad movie...

Suggest that all chill out with a great movie "The Mission", maybe that will shed a light.

Aug. 20 2010 07:29 PM

I'm a "true registered born American" who lives two blocks from a mosque here in New York City. I find the national conversation on Park51 to be embarrassing. My local mosque is a good neighbor. It's on the same block as a Catholic school, a Pentecostal church and a wine bar. I think the Park51 project sounds wonderful and I wish them the best of luck. If they don't build in Tribeca, maybe they can move to my neighborhood instead...

Aug. 20 2010 03:02 PM

It is......entirely disrespectful of the American people. You Sir , or Madam, are wrong, No True, registered or born American in this country wants that "MOSQUE" per se..... in that space. Get your facts straight and look at the published and filmed evidence of exactly what that "Cultural Center" is REALLY going to be. While you at itb

Aug. 20 2010 12:16 AM

Hey! i think with this kind of Obama guy the world is gonna get it right by way of much of tolerance in his policies and dispositions towards Muslims especially. His stance on the proposed ground Zero mosque is a welcome one. The Muslims should not be discriminate against. High time we shun religious hatred and accept ourselves as one human race.

Aug. 19 2010 11:14 PM
anonymous from nyc

I propose a different land swap: Let the intolerant Islamophobic bigots move from the land of liberty to another country. Not sure who would want them...but perhaps there is a nice island somewhere. Not Manhattan, of course.

Aug. 19 2010 11:09 PM
mike from Ft Myers

All religions do have some gentle loving people. To condemn the mosque at ground zero is to condemn those Muslims that are gentle loving souls and really do nothing to those that wreaked destruction. You would make no point by stopping the mosque because it is ridiculous to believe the mosque if erected would be a security breach. You can’t hurt the jihad, the bad folks, by disrespecting the Muslim faith anymore than you could stop child rape by closing down Catholic churches.
I would put a mosque at ground zero in remembrance of those who fought and died for one of Americas freedoms: to believe what you want. Anything short of that is shallow and weak. To condemn the mosque is Hitleresqe, a mere pitiful angry gesture hurting and insulting those who are innocent, innocent as those who died when the World Trade Center fell. It is proper, true and my idea of American to, in spite of the atrocity the hurt and the loss we had, have and do endure to reach out to those good Muslims and show beyond any doubt that they are just as welcome to practice their religion here in America as everyone else. And there are good Muslims and you know there are. Anyone who says a Mosque at ground zero is disrespectful to the memory of those who died might want to know if those who died would agree to that statement. Death is a pretty big thing for one to finally experience and damn near everyone wants their own death to mean something to someone. I would not want my death to be used as a shallow excuse for the unfounded persecution of those people you unfairly blame for the misdeeds of someone else.
Who is to blame? Maybe it is the American people for not caring enough to participate in their own countries affairs. Why take responsibility when Muslims and their faith are a ready and convenient scape-goat. It is easier to blame others and never see oneself as responsible. Worse is to be successfully encouraged to blame Muslims by those who committed the atrocity. No matter what, if the Mosque is built it will never be in disrespect to those who fell in September 11 and it will be built to the detriment of terrorist’s ideals and those who wish America ill.

Michael H O’Neal

Aug. 19 2010 09:39 PM

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