Volume 20, Number 36 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | August 25 - September 1, 2010
Downtown Express photo by Q. Sakamaki
Matt Sky, 26, a freelance web developer, shows his support for Park 51.
Week of protests, media appearances stir Park 51 debate
BY Aline Reynolds
It was raining on Sunday, but not hard enough to stop people from filling the streets near Ground Zero to rally, both for and against, the proposed Park51 Islamic Cultural Center.
Protestors gathered for the second time in front of 45-47 Park Place to contest the construction of what they call a “13-story mosque.” This time however, 200 supporters of the project showed up to counter-protest, stating the construction of the center is a Constitutional right.
The opposition group this time was the Coalition to Honor Ground Zero, a group specifically formed to challenge the Park51 project. Verbal arguments erupted on both sides, and police were there to maintain order.
“The message at the rally was clear: Do not give violent Islamic jihadists a moral and symbolic victory by building a mosque on hallowed ground,” according to the coalition’s news release.
“Enough is enough,” said Andy Sullivan, a union worker and creator of the Hardhat Pledge, a grassroots group of construction workers pledging not to work on Park51 if it remains at its proposed location. “The middle class has spoken and the people don’t want the mosque.”
Supporters of the project held signs that read, “Support Freedom of Religion” and “Stop Islamophobia.”
Police reported no arrests during the rallies.
Archbishop offers to help mitigate
An official other than Governor Paterson is proposing to play mediator to help mitigate the intense controversy brewing around Park51.
At an impromptu news conference on Wednesday, New York Roman Catholic Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan offered to arbitrate in the debate. He made the proposal at the Covenant House, a Catholic shelter for homeless youths in midtown Manhattan. Dolan is reportedly the highest-ranking religious leader to partake in discussions about the project.
The archbishop has declined to issue a public opinion about the project, wishing to remain neutral. However, he said he might support the relocation of the center.
While Dolan has spoke out against discrimination of Muslims since the argument began in the spring, questions arose about his true beliefs when he and other parish board members bailed out of a plan to sell a Staten Island convent to a Muslim group.
The New York Times reported, “A Catholic parish there had agreed to sell the building, but after strong local protests, the pastor decided to pull out of the deal and the parish board – which includes Archbishop Dolan – agreed.”
During the news conference, Dolan mentioned to the orders Pope John Paul II gave to Carmelite nuns to move a convent at the former Auschwitz concentration camp in response to Jewish protests in the 1980’s.
“John Paul II said, ‘Why don’t we get together civilly and thoughtfully and with dignity and maybe decide a good solution’ and he’s the one who said ‘let’s keep the idea and maybe move the address.’ It worked there. It might work here,” Dolan said.
Cordoba Initiative issues statement
The Cordoba Initiative is sticking to its original construction plans at the Park51 site, despite a tentative offer move the project to state-owned turf elsewhere in the city.
Contrary to several news reports, Cordoba’s leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, has had no correspondence or scheduled meetings with Governor David Paterson about looking into alternate sites for the community center.
“Cordoba Initiative and Park51 are committed to maintaining the current planned location for the Community Center,” according to a statement posted on the Cordoba Initiative website last Thursday.
Sharif El-Gamal, C.E.O. and chairman of SoHo Properties (the real estate firm that owns 45-47 Park Place, the former Burlington Coat Factory building), could not be reached today by press time. However, El-Gamal insisted the center would stay put in a recent appearance on local news channel N.Y. 1.
“Park51 is a community center. It is two blocks north of the World Trade Center site,” said El-Gamal. “In New York City, two blocks is a great distance.”
He continued, “This is a defining moment for you and I and the First Amendment, and I see us passing this test as Americans.”
He also told N.Y. 1 he is willing to speak to Paterson, but unwilling to move the center.
Paterson proposed the switch two weeks ago in attempt to calm the storm surrounding the community center.
“I’m very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out,” Paterson said at a news conference in midtown Manhattan.
Paterson added, “Frankly, if the sponsors were looking for property anywhere at a distance that would be such that it would accommodate a better feeling among the people who are frustrated, I would look into trying to provide them with the state property they would need.”
Lazio lashes out against Imam
G.O.P. gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio has posted a campaign ad on his website and on YouTube against the Park51 cultural center.
“New Yorkers have been through enough,” Lazio says in his new ad, referring to the Imam as a “terrorist sympathizer.”
“Where is this money coming from? Who is really behind it?” Lazio asks in the ad.
He also attacks his opponent, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, for defending the project Lazio has previously criticized Cuomo for his reluctance to investigate the center’s funding sources.
N.Y.C. police and firemen are particularly offended by the ad, saying, “[Lazio’s] actions are as irresponsible as they are reprehensible.”
They have requested that Lazio take the ad off his website.
Khan Appears on A.B.C.
ABC’s “This Week” host Christiane Amanpour invited Cordoba Initiative co-founder, and wife of the Imam, Daisy Khan to her show last Sunday to discuss the debate and how she and her colleagues plan to address it.
“It’s beyond Islamaphobia—it’s hate of Muslims,” she said in the interview. “Everybody is deeply concerned about what’s going on around the nation.”
Khan said the Cordoba Initiative is meeting with concerned 9/11 family members, politicians and others to discuss the issue.
“Right now, [moving the mosque] is not in the plans until we consult with all the stakeholders,” she said.
Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, also appeared on the show. Khan had reached out to her when Cordoba Initiative initially formed for advice on how to build a cultural community center.
“What this whole controversy has unleashed is a tremendous amount of misinformation opposition to the project, including at the monthly C.B. 1 full-board meeting.
“We’ve been neighbors – we’ve been good neighbors,” Khan continued. “And, as neighbors we feel we want to rebuild our city and our neighborhood.”
A host of republicans have attacked Cordoba. Amanpour played a clip of former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingerich from a recent a Fox News interview, “Nazis don’t have the right to put a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington; we would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There is no reason to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center.”
“[Gingerich] has never been to Tribeca, to our mosque which has been there for 27 years only 12 blocks away from Ground Zero, “Khan replied.
There is still no time frame for the project. Khan told Amanpour that the project is still a long ways off. Cordoba still needs to establish a board and a financial committee, she said, to come up with a fundraising strategy.
“We have promised that we will work with the charities bureau, that we will adhere to the highest and strictest guidelines set forth by the Treasury Department, because there is so much angst about this,” Khan said.
She didn’t comment directly on the amount of money the project leaders have already raised. According to various media reports, the Cordoba Initiative has less than one-fifth of the total $100 million the project demands.