9/11 and the mosque

The debate over the Islamic cultural center planned for Park Place made for a 9/11 anniversary last Saturday the likes of which have never been seen before. A day that is normally an occasion for solemn, dignified observance was filled with loud protests and counterprotests and all nature of believers, including extremists who descended on New York from who knows where.

Near City Hall, a rally called for tolerance and an end to discrimination against Muslims. Meanwhile speakers at a protest next to Ground Zero — in view of the new buildings finally rising there — condemned the project’s location as “wildly inappropriate” and the project as a “victory mosque.”

We certainly understand the pain of many 9/11 victims’ family members who feel that the mosque site is insensitive. The 9/11 terror attacks shook our city and our nation with a hatred and fanaticism that we had never known — and which many of us still cannot fully fathom: how terrorists could kill thousands of innocent civilians in the name of a religion. Indeed, extremist Islam is frightening to many of us — from Sharia law, to the unequal treatment of women and the suppression of free speech. However, all Muslims are not extremists; in fact, the extremists are only a small percentage.

That said, there were large helpings of fearmongering at Saturday’s anti-mosque rally. Dutch politician Geert Wilders’s warning that New York City could become “New Mecca” was ridiculous, based purely on demographics; as were other speakers’ railing against the “Islamization” of America. This country’s Muslim population is simply not that large, possibly up to 7 million; in short, America is not teetering on the brink of becoming part of the caliphate.

One speaker, a columnist for the conservative Newsmax Web site, went as far as to infer that the project’s Park Place address corresponds to some dire passage in the Koran. As he finished, he said cryptically to check Chapter 51, Verses 44-46, to see why Imam Rauf will never give up the site. We did check and only found an innocuous reference to “the people of Nuh” (as Noah is known in Islam). That “journalist” should be ashamed for propagating such baloney. The fact is, without plotting a conspiracy to take over America, Muslims have become part of our communities’ fabric, like the Bangladeshis who have been on the Lower East Side since the 1970’s. It’s troubling to learn, as we report in this week’s issue, that a member of that community says he was falsely arrested and called a “f—– Arab” by local police. (FYI: Bangladeshis are South Asian.)

Chinatown was one of the communities most impacted by the 9/11 attacks — in terms of economic fallout from street closures, including Park Row’s ongoing closure. Chinatown held a 9/11 memorial Saturday in Chatham Square. All three elected officials present — Comptroller John Liu and Councilmembers Peter Koo, from Queens, and Margaret Chin, who represents Lower Manhattan, including Ground Zero — said they support the mosque. Liu noted China’s long history of religious pluralism. Chin noted that much of the project’s opposition is political. “Hopefully, it will die down after the general election,” she said. No question, the mosque is being used as a wedge issue against President Obama. Tellingly, the loudest cheers at the anti-mosque rally came after former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton chided, “Shame on you, President Obama” for supporting the mosque.

Frankly, we’re heartened that the president and Mayor Bloomberg have staked out the high moral ground on this issue. That doesn’t change the fact that many New Yorkers and Americans strongly oppose the mosque.

Clearly, many agendas are at work here. But there’s one irrefutable fact: It’s time to stop the hatred, and for moderates of all faiths to work together to bring us together so we can live together. Amen.