Ground Zero rally 311.
(photo credit: AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NEW YORK — The proposed mosque near ground zero drew hundreds of fever-pitch demonstrators Monday, with opponents carrying signs associating Islam with blood, supporters shouting, "Say no to racist fear!" and American flags waving on both sides.
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The two leaders of the construction project, meanwhile, defended their plans, though one suggested that organizers might eventually be willing to discuss an alternative site. The other, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, said during a Middle East trip that the attention generated by the project is actually positive and that he hopes it will bring greater understanding.
Around the corner from the cordoned-off old building that is to become a
13-story Islamic community center and mosque, police separated the two
groups of demonstrators. There were no reports of physical clashes but
there were some nose-to-nose confrontations, including a man and a woman
screaming at each other across a barricade under a steady rain.
Opponents of the $100 million project two blocks from the World Trade
Center site appeared to outnumber supporters. Bruce Springsteen's "Born
in the USA" blared over loudspeakers as mosque opponents chanted, "No
mosque, no way!"
Signs hoisted by dozens of protesters standing behind police barricades
read "SHARIA" — using dripping, blood-red letters to describe Islam's
Shariah law, which governs the behavior of Muslims.
On a nearby sidewalk, police chased away a group that unfurled a banner
with images of beating, stoning and other torture they said was
committed by those who followed Islamic law.
A mannequin dressed in a keffiyeh, a traditional Arab headdress, was
mounted on one of two mock missiles that were part of an anti-mosque
installation. One missile was inscribed with the words: "Again? Freedom
Targeted by Religion"; the other with "Obama: With a middle name
Hussein. We understand. Bloomberg: What is your excuse?"
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has fiercely defended plans for the
proposed mosque, saying that the right "to practice your religion was
one of the real reasons America was founded."
The mosque project is being led by Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, who
insist the center will promote moderate Islam. The dispute has sparked a
national debate on religious freedom and American values and is
becoming an issue on the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections.
Republicans have been critical of President Barack Obama's stance: He
has said the Muslims have the right to build the center at the site but
has not commented on whether he thinks they should.
Rauf is in the middle of a Mideast trip funded by the US State
Department that is intended to promote religious tolerance. He told a
gathering Sunday at the US ambassador's residence in the Persian Gulf
state of Bahrain that he took heart from the dispute over the mosque,
saying "the fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of
"It is my hope that people will understand more," Rauf said without elaborating.
At the pro-mosque rally, staged a block away from opponents'
demonstration, several hundred people chanted, "Muslims are welcome
here! We say no to racist fear!"
Dr. Ali Akram, a 39-year-old Brooklyn physician, came with his three
sons and an 11-year-old nephew waving an American flag. He noted that
scores of Muslims were among those who died in the towers, and he called
those who oppose the mosque "un-American."
Gila Barzvi, whose son, Guy, was killed in the towers, stood with mosque
opponents, clutching a large photo of her son with both hands.
"This is sacred ground and it's where my son was buried," the native
Israeli from Queens said. She said the mosque would be "like a knife in
She was joined by a close friend, Kobi Mor, who flew from San Francisco to participate in the rally.
If the mosque gets built, "we will bombard it," Mor said. He would not
elaborate but added that he believes the project "will never happen."