Hudson New York 26 August 2010 By A. Millar
Approximately a thousand people turned up at Park Place on August 22, to demonstrate against the proposed construction of a 15-storey Islamic center to be located two blocks from Ground Zero.
Packed tightly into little more than one street block, demonstrators waved American flags, held up pictures of loved-ones killed in the al-Qaeda attacks of 9/11/2001, and placards saying "No" to the "Ground Zero mosque" and "No" to Sharia Law. Now and again, throughout the day, these were joined by umbrellas as the hot, humid day broke into showers.
Speakers at the demonstration emphasized that freedom of religion was not at issue. The point of the demonstration was to protest the location, and to ask for sensitivity for those still grieving.
Undoubtedly the speakers did not fit the narrative the mainstream media wanted, and have been pressing home for the last couple of weeks: "Islamophobia" is rampant and dangerous. Daisy Kahn, one of the organizers of the proposed Islamic center, told ABC News recently that the backlash "is like a metastasized anti-Semitism. It's not even Islamophobia, it's beyond Islamophobia it's hate of Muslims."
If the media really were concerned about a wave of anti-Muslim feeling, why not show the speakers, the majority of whom emphasized their solidarity with Muslims who love America, democracy, and liberty? Surely their voices, and their references to democracy-loving Muslims, would help to quash any "hate".
Human rights activist and former Sudanese slave Simon Deng addresses the demonstration.
There were plenty of television cameras and news photographers, pointed toward the stage, where speeches were delivered, with only a five or ten minute break between them, over a number of hours. The event was covered by the major networks, including CNN, ABC, and France 24, yet the media failed to mention the speakers. Telling half the story at best their reports fixated on the crowd, which included a number of tough looking fireman and members of a motorcycle club. CNN managed to capture a few seconds of former Sudanese slave and now human rights activist Simon Deng on stage the exact few seconds that he was not speaking. Passive, with the crowd around him waving placards and chanting, "No mosque," to the average viewer it would surely have looked like a mob descending on a defenseless Black man. Was that the point? Surely CNN would not stoop so low.
True, some protestors did take aim at Islam, not just the mosque. Several people carried signs with the word "sharia" in dripping red font, intimating blood. One or two held signs taking issue over the treatment of women in Islamic countries. One young man held a sign reading, "Put equal rights [for women] in your Qur'an." Later in the day, a group appeared at the back of the protest, and unfurled a large, printed, cloth banner, drawing attention to violent attacks on Christians and churches in Egypt. Off topic, perhaps, but certainly not hate-filled. Indeed, the defense of women and minorities is, in any other context, seen as laudatory.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of protestors were there merely to call for the Islamic center to be built in a different location, farther from Ground Zero. We are "here to voice displeasure at the position of the mosque," said John Cartier, the elder brother of James Cartier, a young fireman who took part in the rescue on 9/11/2001, and was killed as the South Tower collapsed. "Legally they can build it, but if this [center] is really [representative of] a religion of tolerance, the decision they are making is hurting a lot people." Along with several others at the demonstration, Cartier was wearing a leather jacket with the embroidered patch of the American Brotherhood club, founded in 2002 to honor his brother's memory. The patch depicted the Twin Towers, an American flag and the initials "JC."
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Islamic center, has said that the project is intended to reach out to the non-Muslim, American public, though, in light of the overwhelming public opposition to the project, many at the demonstration openly questioned his sincerity. "If you want to 'bridge the gap," one placard read, "then show some sensitivity and put a gap between this mosque and ground zero."
Modeled after the Manhattan Jewish Community Center (JCC), the 15-story Islamic center is estimated to cost 100 million dollars, and will house a prayer room or mosque, conference rooms, a library, and a swimming pool.
The project, originally called the Cordoba House, was recently renamed Park51, after the word "Cordoba" attracted negative commentary in the press for having been the city in Spain that became the Muslim-conquered capitol of a Caliphate (transnational Islamic jurisdiction) during the medieval period. Opponents of the project suggest that the name was meant to suggest the beginning of the transformation of the US from a nation governed according to the Constitution, to a nation under the rule of Sharia Law.
A block from Park Place, a small counter-protest accused those protesting the "Ground Zero mosque" of being motivated by racism and "Islamophobia." Among the approximately 75 counter-demonstrators was a group holding a large banner reading "Unite and Fight to Smash Racism," and giving The Socialist Worker's website address. Placards at the counter demonstration also included one "against racist, immigrant attacks," and another reading, "Imperialist war abroad [code for Afghanistan and Iraq] breeds bigotry at home."
Although not present at the demonstration, high profile opponents of the Islamic center include Los Angeles-based Muslim Neda Bolourchi, whose mother was killed in the 9/11 attacks, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, and Raheel Raza of the Muslim Canadian Congress. Miss USA, Rima Fakih, also a Muslim, recently added her voice to the debate, saying that she believed in the freedom of religion, but that the center "shouldn't be so close to the World Trade Center. We should be more concerned," she said, "with the tragedy than religion."
Dan Halloran, a member of the New York City Council, told the crowd, "New York City is the greatest city in the world," a place of religious tolerance, but that tolerance "starts when you say 'I understand your pain, and I am not going to inflict more on you." Holloran described Ground Zero as "sacred ground to New Yorkers."
Some of the demonstrators blamed politicians for not taking a stance against the mosque, most especially Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has given his full support to the projected Islamic center, and described the opposition as "populist." At one point, the crowd briefly chanted, "Down with Bloomberg." Later, Frank Gaffney, of the Washington-based think tank The Center for Security Policy, told the crowd that "Finally we have had a chance to learn about our elites, and the penetration of our elite by [the extremist Islamist network of] the Muslim Brotherhood." Turning to the much-trumpeted freedom of religion argument, he remarked, "Sharia is all about freedom of religion in that wherever it exists there isn't any."
One of the most powerful speakers took to the stage early in the event -- the much milder, yet charismatic, Simon Deng. Born in the village of Tonga in South Sudan, Deng was captured by the Arab militia at the age of nine, and forced into slavery. He escaped three and a half years later, and finally made his way to the US, where he works as a lifeguard. Deng is also the head of Sudan Freedom Walk, which aims to bring to attention and action to the slavery and genocide that is being perpetrated in Sudan.
Wearing a green, brown and gold African shirt, with his tribal facial markings visible in the bright light, Deng told the audience, "We will never forget what happened here on 9/11 .. There are millions of good Muslims who agree with us that this is no place for the mosque. Build it in City Hall where the mayor is ..We will never walk away when we are insulted", and "building a mosque is an insult to those that died."