The furor over a proposed Islamic center of worship near Ground Zero in Manhattan came to a head during the week of July 12 following a contentious hearing before a New York City landmark commission. People from both sides of the discussion are not ready to back down as the controversy heats up.

On one side of the controversy are those who want the existing building at the location declared a landmark, which would prevent its demolition. On the other side of the debate are those who do not want the existing building declared a landmark so as to be able to tear it down and replaced with a new multi-million dollar mosque.

“All you people here yelling at me don’t even know,” Dania Darwish, a young Muslim woman who claims members of her family were victims in the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said during the hearing according to CNN. “Maybe if a mosque were built, then you guys would know what Islam was about.”

While the three-hour hearing held by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission featured many impassioned pleas such as Darwish’s, but at times the atmosphere in the room turned downright ugly. There were boos, vocal expressions of disrespect toward speakers and even face-to-face arguments.

The interfaith center and mosque’s proposed location is 45-47 Park Place. The current building at that location dates back to the mid-19th century, and the commission is conducting a study of whether or not to designate the building a landmark.

If the commission does not designate it a landmark, a coalition of Muslim groups including the Cordoba Initiative and the American Society for Muslim Advancement, will tear the structure down to build the new center.

The Sept. 11 attacks were carried out by Muslim extremists, and many see the creation of an Islamic worship center so close to the site as disrespectful to those who died that day.

Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter were aboard the first plane that crashed into the World Trade Center, told The New York Times that he would have a difficult time seeing past a mosque being built so close to Ground Zero.

“I don’t deny anyone a church or a mosque, but if I were to walk by that mosque, I would think of my son’s plane,” he said.

Rick Lazio, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in New York, questioned the funding for the facility. “I would ask that, given the context of this decision, you’d give people the time to have these questions answered,” he told CNN.

Many prominent Islamic groups said they believe the opposition reflects xenophobia. They say opponents need to see that, overwhelmingly, Muslims around the country are proud American citizens.

“This is America. People have the right to buy property, develop and worship as they see fit,” Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the AFRO. “They’re not going to be stopped by … anti-Muslim bigots who are seeking to marginalize the American-Muslim community and demonize Islam.”

Nonetheless, Hooper said he is concerned that fear instilled by the opposition will block construction of the center “In today’s world, sometimes, if you’re able to frighten enough people through misinformation and disinformation you can get your way,” he said. “God willing, it will be built.”


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO