Wake Up America (5/27/10)
Angry relatives of 9/11 victims last night clashed with supporters of a planned mosque near Ground Zero at a raucous community-board hearing in Manhattan.
After four hours of public debate, members of Community Board 1 finally voted 29-1 in support of the project. Nine members abstained, arguing that they wanted to table the issue and vote at a later date.
The board has no official say over whether the estimated $100 million mosque and community center gets built. But the panel's support, or lack of it, is considered important in influencing public opinion.
Holding up photos of loved ones killed in the Twin Towers and carrying signs such as, "Honor 3,000, 9/11 -- No mosque!" opponents of the proposed Cordoba House on Park Place called the plan an insult to the terror-attack victims.
"That is a burial ground," said retired FDNY Deputy Chief Al Santora, referring to the fact that victims' remains were scattered for blocks.
Santora's 23-year-old son, Christopher, was the youngest firefighter to die that day.
"I do have a problem with having a mosque on top of the site where [terrorists] can gloat about what they did," said Santora, with his wife, Maureen, by his side.
About 150 people attended the emotional Greenwich Street meeting, were some shouted down others as they took their turns.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the head of the Cordoba Institute, which is in charge of the project, insisted that the site would help "bridge the great divide" between Muslims and the rest of America.
"We are Americans, we are Muslim Americans," Rauf said. "Many of us were born in the United States. We have no higher aspirations than to bring up our children in peace and harmony in this country."
But the crowd got ugly when he added, "Freedom of assembly is the right of all Americans."
Amid boos, one woman shouted, "Not at the World Trade Center!"
Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan, followed him to the microphone to pitched the planned community facility as "much needed party space and much needed venue space" for the area.
She was roundly booed.
Some audience members preached tolerance for the Muslim leaders.
Before the meeting, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, a supporter of the mosque, stood in front of the site and said, "What we're rejecting here is outright bigotry and hatred."
Catholic priest Kevin Madigan, of St. Peter's Church, which is about a block away, agreed.
"I think they need to establish a place such as this for people of goodwill from mainline Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths so we can come together to talk," Madigan said.