A Rasmussen poll last month revealed that 58 percent of New Yorkers opposed the building of a mosque and community center at 45-57 Park Place which is only 2 blocks from where the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks took place. Opponents say a mosque that close to Ground Zero is insensitive and insulting to the family members of the 9/11 victims. They’ve called the planned mosque a “monument to terrorism” and a “victory mosque”.
Those who support the mega mosque, however, have labeled opponents as Islamaphobic. They assert that allowing the construction of the Islamic cultural center would demonstrate America’s religious tolerance and improve interfaith relations. They say the center would serve as a place for moderate Muslims.
The building located at 45-57 Park Place in downtown Manhattan, was purchased last year by the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement for $4.8 million from Soho Properties, a Muslim-run real estate company. It was reported that this was an all cash purchase.
The hysteria surrounding this building began when it was revealed that the Cordoba Initiative proposed to build a 13-story mosque and Islamic cultural center on the site. It has been reported that the cultural center will include a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool, art exhibition spaces, bookstores, a basketball court, a culinary school, a library, art studios, meditation rooms, restaurants and a memorial to the 9-11 victims.
When news of the plans for the “mega mosque” near Ground Zero broke several months ago, critics hoped to stall the project by having the building declared a landmark worthy of protection because pieces from one of the hijacked 9-11 planes hit it.
However, on August 3, 2010, the New York City Landmarks Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark designation to the site paving the way for construction of the controversial mosque and community center to begin.
The fury and intense debate surrounding the proposed Muslim Cultural Center project, renamed Park 51, has drawn in politicians from the left and right and religious groups from Christians to Jews. Emotions run high. But when the layers of all the words, rhetoric and posturing are peeled away, the question remains, what is it about Park 51 that is eliciting such intense emotions?
Is the problem the fact that the property is owned by Muslims? Is it the fact that a building so close to Ground Zero will be used as a location for Muslims to gather and pray? Is it the physical presence of a gleaming, towering 13-story mosque possibly with dome and tower overlooking Ground Zero that is the source of opponents’ fury? Or is it the fear that the mosque will probably be built faster than the 911 memorial which the City of New York and the 911 families have been unable to build after 9 years, because negotiations have been marred by controversy and bitter dispute?
Until and unless opponents are able to pinpoint the real reason for their objections to Park 51, they will not be able to devise the correct strategy to stop it.
The problem can’t be the fact that Muslims own the building because they have owned the building since 2009, and there were no protests from opponents when they purchased it in July, 2009 for $4.8 million in an all-cash deal.
If the objection is to the use of the building, then the zoning laws control. However, those in the neighborhood say that the use is not the problem because the group’s leader, Imam Abdul Rauf, has held services in a small mosque in the neighborhood since 1983, and no one has objected to that use. In addition, the same building has been used as a place of prayer since it was purchased in 2009, and there have been no protests to that use.
If the problem is the actual physical presence of a 13-story shiny, towering mosque, then requesting landmark status is the way to go because the landmark committee does have the power to prevent any change to a landmark building. However, the committee denied the request.
So, is the problem then rooted in feelings of envy and inferiority – what some may call sour grapes? Is it the fact that another group will one-up the 911 families who believe that they have exclusive ownership of everything within a 10 mile radius of Ground Zero, yet they can’t get together and make the memorial happen?