Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s plan to build “Park51”, an Islamic cultural center complete with recreational activities and a prayer room, sparked huge conflict when conservative bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, founders the group “Stop the Islamization of America”, brought it to the public eye. The controversy lies in the location of the Mosque, planned to be situated a mere 2 blocks away from “Ground Zero”, the location of the September 11 attack on the twin towers. The debate continues to grow as supporters for and against building Park51 voice their opinions, making it a key political campaign issue for the upcoming 2010 midterm elections (meaning the election for seats in the US Congress). This altercation has further soured relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in America, creating new intense opposition to Islam across the US (Pastor Terry Jones planned to burn a stack of Qur’ans on the anniversary of 9/11 for example).
Outspoken opposition has mainly come from conservative politicians and their supporters. Many see it as an insult to those families who lost relatives or friends in the 9/11 attacks. Debra Burlingame, co-founder of “ 9/11 Families for a Safe & Strong America” told Fox News on august 8th
“This is a place which is 600 feet from where almost 3,000 people were torn to pieces by Islamic extremists…. it is incredibly insensitive and audacious … for them to build a mosque … so that they could be in proximity to where that atrocity happened… The idea that you would establish a religious institution that embraces the very shariah law that terrorists point to as their justification for what they did … to build that where almost 3,000 people died, that is an obscenity to me.”
Republican Senator John McCain and former running mate Sarah Palin have spoken out against Park51, as well as many of their fellow Republicans. Former House Speaker Republican Newt Gringrich commented on the original name of the Mosque (“Cordoba House”)
“Cordoba House is a deliberately insulting term. It refers to Cordoba, Spain – the capital of Muslim conquerors, who symbolized their victory over the Christian Spaniards by transforming a church there into the world’s third-largest mosque complex… every Islamist in the world recognizes Cordoba as a symbol of Islamic conquest” (Fox News July 29th)
In response to this the Economist wrote “Like Mr bin Laden, Mr Gingrich is apparently still re-litigating the victories and defeats of religious wars fought in Europe and the Middle East centuries ago. He should rejoin the modern world, before he does real harm.” (The Economist August 5th)
There are also many politicians, organizations, and even 9/11 victims who support the project, however. On August 13, in a speech at the White House dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, President Obama acknowledged the right of Muslims to build the center. Obama commented, “Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. And that includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.” (Forbes.com august 14th)
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke in favor of the Ground Zero Mosque on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart saying ‘People say “well in Saudi-Arabia you can’t build a church”, Yes, that’s the difference between Saudi-Arabia and America’, and “This Mosque has been operating for over a year, there is nothing new here, the difference is we’re in election season… This is plain and simple people trying to stir up things, to get publicity, and trying to polarize people so they can get some votes.” Polls show that a majority Manhattanites themselves support the building of the Mosque, while an updated Marist poll in September 2010 showed that support for Park51 had grown, with 41% in favor and 51% opposed throughout the nation.
Saturday’s 9/11 ceremonies in New York turned mean when when mobs began to protest outside the proposed Islamic center. A few incidences of Koran burnings took place across the country, a few of these activist were even detained by the police. These acts of violence and discord prove that there may not be a clear end in sight for the Ground Zero Mosque debate, or the sour relations between Muslims and anti-Muslims in the US.
By: Jake Linne, IB12