Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Clearing Up the Misconceptions Around the Proposed Islamic Center on Park Place

By Gregg Chadwick

"All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion."
- President Thomas Jefferson

Let's Define Our Terms About the Proposed Islamic Center on Park Place

I. Is the Proposed Islamic Center at Ground Zero?

No, the new building will not be at the the former site of the World Trade Center and cannot be seen from Ground Zero.

II. What is the Proposed Plan for the Building?

The Park 51 Group has proposed a thirteen story building which will include:

1. Recreation spaces and fitness facilities (swimming pool, gym, basketball court)
2. 500-seat auditorium
3. Restaurant and Culinary School
4. Cultural amenities: Art exhibitions, Musical Performances
5. Education programs
6. Library, reading room and art studios
7. Childcare services
8. A prayer area ( On the thirteenth floor will be an Islamic prayer room which will be run be run separately from Park 51 but open to the New York Community)
9. September 11th memorial and quiet contemplation space (open to all)

Cordoba House will be a center for multifaith dialogue and engagement within Park 51's broader range of programs and activities. Cordoba House will be developing under the leadership of Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf, a program manager for Park 51 in the interim stage.

III. Does the City of New York own the land that the Islamic Center will be constructed on?

No, the City of New York does not own the land. Nor does the Federal Government. This is private property and the owner purchased the vacant building when no one else could see the value. This building has remained empty since September 11th when a wheel from one of the planes came crashing through the structure. Many of the buildings nearby are vacant and the neighborhood is struggling to pull away from possible blight. Businesses that existed before September 11th have failed due to the loss of foot traffic. The Islamic Center will bring people and activity into the area and will benefit the struggling shop owners nearby.

IV. The Proposed Islamic Center is Not a Mosque?

"That it may even be called a mosque is debatable. It is designed as a multi-use complex with a space set aside for prayer -- no minarets, no muezzin calls to prayer blaring onto Park Place."
-Clyde Haberman of the New York Times

Matt Sledge explains, "The 92nd Street Y, on which the Cordoba House is explicitly modeled, has a whole host of Jewish events that take place inside of it, but no one calls it a synagogue."

V. Isn't the Proposed Cordoba Center offensive to the families who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001?

Many Muslims in the World Trade Center towers died during the September 11th attacks. Their relatives mourn and shed tears the same way the families of Jews, Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, Agnostics, and Atheists do. Some of the first responders were Muslims and perished when the Twin Towers collapsed.

VI. Just how far is the Proposed Islamic Center from Ground Zero?

Map by Matt Sledge in the Huffington Post

"From 45 Park Place, the former Burlington Coat Factory building that will make way for the Cordoba House, it's two blocks, around a corner, to get to the WTC site. Park Place doesn't lie between the construction site and any mass transit stations, so you would need to go out of your way to have it offend you."
-Matt Sledge

Matt Sledge in the Huffington Post explains his video: "If you look up the walking directions you'll notice that it takes a couple of minutes to walk the distance (approximately a tenth of a mile) between the two spots. Pretty much two minutes exactly when I took the trip with a shaky video camera. Here's the clip, first sped up to 4X speed then slowed down to 1X:"

VII. Who is in favor of building the Islamic Center?

Yesterday New York City's former Mayor Ed Koch agreed with President Obama, current New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the local community board overseeing the proposed Islamic Center's construction, that New York should "protect the legitimate rights of American Muslims to build" the proposed Islamic Center.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."
-President Barack Obama

Ed Koch writes that President Obama's "position will be remembered by later generations of Americans with the same high regard as President George Washington's letter in 1790 to the Jews of Rhode Island who built the Touro Synagogue in that state." Mayor Koch relates how Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to George Washington:

" -- a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance -- but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: -- deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine:"

President Washington responded with these powerful words:

"... The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

New Amsterdam
Gregg Chadwick
New Amsterdam
20"x16" oil on linen 2010

VIII. Is the area around the proposed Islamic Center zoned for religious centers?

Numerous religious centers and houses of worship exist in Lower Manhattan. St Peter's Church, the oldest Roman Catholic parish in New York City was built in 1840. The church was damaged during the September 11, 2001 attacks. St. Paul's Chapel, at 209 Broadway, an Episcopal church, sits opposite the east side of the World Trade Center site. It is the oldest surviving church building in the city. There already is a Mosque four blocks away from ground zero. It was created long before the Twin Towers were built.

IX. Who is Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf?

"A vast common ground does exist, a point that the leader of the Cordoba Center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, evokes in his book "What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America." There is no better way to defeat the morally bankrupt ideology of al-Qaida than to seek that common ground."
-Professor Parvez Ahmed

"Imam Feisal has participated at the Aspen Institute in Muslim-Christian-Jewish working groups looking at ways to promote greater religious tolerance," Walter Isaacson, head of The Aspen Institute told the Huffington Post. "He has consistently denounced radical Islam and terrorism, and promoted a moderate and tolerant Islam. Some of this work was done under the auspices of his own group, the Cordoba Initiative. I liked his book, and I participated in some of the meetings in 2004 or so. This is why I find it a shame that his good work is being undermined by this inflamed dispute. He is the type of leader we should be celebrating in America, not undermining."

Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf actively promotes peace and understanding between religions and defines what President Obama called for in his comments at the White House on Friday evening during a dinner to mark the start of Ramadan:

"A nation where the ability of peoples of different faiths to coexist peacefully and with mutual respect for one another stands in contrast to the religious conflict that persists around the globe."

X. What do New Yorkers think?

"The people who live and work here are not obsessed with 9/11. The blocks around Ground Zero are like every other hard-working neighborhood in New York, where Muslims are just another thread of the city fabric. At this point the only argument against this project is fear, specifically fear of Muslims, and that’s a bigoted, cowardly and completely indefensible position."
-Daryl Lang

Blogger Daryl Lang, a New York City resident, posted this week a provocative collection of photos that depict the current neighborhood around the World Trade Center site. Businesses in the two block radius range from a strip club, to fast food joints, to an off track betting parlor.

Photo by Daryl Lang from his post “Hallowed Ground”: A few photos of stuff the same distance from the World Trade Center as the “Ground Zero Mosque” from his wonderful blog: History Eraser Button.

XI. What do you think about the Proposed Islamic Center?

"If there is going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed institute. We should be encouraging groups like the one behind this project, not demonizing them. Were this mosque being built in a foreign city, chances are that the U.S. government would be funding it."
-Fareed Zakaria

September 11, 2001 will not be forgotten. But as the rubble is cleared and wounds heal, life continues in Lower Manhattan. Hard working New Yorkers of all faiths and cultures try to find their own small part of the American Dream. Are we going to allow fear mongers to push the Park 51 project out of lower Manhattan? Ed Koch reminds us of an ugly moment in American history and encourages us " not to do again, albeit in different form and to a different group, what we did to Japanese-Americans during World War II when we rounded them up without cause. No Japanese-American was ever charged with treason, notwithstanding that they were placed in internment camps for the balance of the war."
The Park 51 project should be built in Lower Manhattan and all Americans should celebrate our freedoms by supporting all faiths and all cultural groups. Moments such as these define the character of the United States.

"We're all about multiple points of entry, offering programming in the areas of arts and culture, education and recreation. Within that larger vision, Cordoba House will be a center for multifaith dialogue and engagement within Park51's broader range of programs and activities."
-From the Cordoba House website

More at:
Matt Sledge
Read Daryl Lang's complete post and view all of his photos at:
“Hallowed Ground” A few photos of stuff the same distance from the World Trade Center as the “Ground Zero Mosque”:
Park 51's Cordoba House website


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