Hallowed ground

A row over a planned Muslim community center near Ground Zero

This article was taken from The Economist. Click here for the link.

A man with a sign that said “All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11” was among several hundred people protesting this week about the plan to build a Muslim community centre two blocks away from Ground Zero. The rally was organised by “Stop Islamisation of America”, a group which holds that the centre would be disrespectful to those who died that day. Despite the abundance of American flags and the patriotic rhetoric used by the demonstration’s speakers—who included candidates on the campaign trail, a former firefighter and human-rights activists—the mood quickly turned thuggish. Two Egyptian men had to be protected by the police when some of the crowd threatened them after hearing them speak Arabic. The frightened men were Christian and were at the rally to oppose the project.

Cordoba House, the proposed centre, is to be a place of tolerance. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who will run it, hopes it will help improve relations between Muslims and the West. The 13-storey building will house a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool and an exhibition space as well as shops, restaurants and a place for prayers. Imam Feisal sees the 92nd Street Y, a community centre guided by Jewish principles but serving all faiths, as his model. Mark Williams, a tea-party leader, blogged last month that the centre would be a “13-storey monument to the 9/11 Muslim hijackers”. He was roundly condemned. “We are moderate. We are the anti-terrorists,” says Mr Rauf.

Fortunately, Cordoba House has many supporters in the neighbourhood. The local community board voted 29-1 to support the plan, and it has the backing of Michael Bloomberg, New York’s mayor. Construction, though, will not begin for a few years yet; the plans are not completed, and the centre’s funding is not in place.

Mohammed Ali warily watched the protest. He used to deliver food to the World Trade Centre. He still carries in his wallet his pass from Cantor Fitzgerald, a company that lost 658 people on September 11th. Today he operates a hotdog cart across the street from where the towers once stood. The demonstrators, some carrying anti-mosque placards, seemed to have no trouble buying water from a Muslim from Bangladesh.


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