THE MAN BEHIND THE MOSQUE
Sept. 27, 2011
PRODUCED & DIRECTED BY
SHARIF EL-GAMAL, Park 51 Developer: [on the phone] David. Hey, buddy, it’s Sharif. I hope you’re well. I love you, man, and I’m-
NARRATOR: Sharif El-Gamal is a Manhattan property developer.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I’m a New Yorker from Brooklyn. I’m not a community activist. I’m not a community leader. I’m not an Islamic academic. This isn’t something that I’ve been studying. I’m a New Yorker who is a real estate junkie who- who has- you know, that’s who I am.
[to cab driver] My brother, I have to be there before 1:00 o’clock, so I need you to get there as quickly as possible, please.
DRIVER: Before 1:00?
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Yeah.
DRIVER: Oh, my God.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I have to do Salaat-ul-Juma.
DRIVER: Oh, yes.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Are you Muslim?
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Salaam aleikum.
DRIVER: Wa aleikum salaam.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: So join me. Park the car and come.
NARRATOR: El-Gamal wants to build a mosque and an Islamic community center on Park Place, two blocks from Ground Zero. He has named the project Park 51. It’s better known as the “Ground Zero mosque.”
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: It’s the most famous building in the world. It might be more famous than the World Trade Center.
NARRATOR: Until September 11th, 2001, the building housed the Burlington Coat Factory, a discount department store. The ground floor is now a prayer hall, used by Wall Street commuters and local shopkeepers. The upper floors have been derelict since the attacks.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: We are about to enter into the pit of the belly known as the Ground Zero mosque. Children, close your eyes! Surprise! A vacant building. It needs a lot of work. So here we’re on the second floor, and this is all an empty space, really.
NARRATOR: Moments after the second plane hit the South Tower, its undercarriage crashed through the roof and several floors of the Burlington Coat Factory.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: It came through here, ended up here, OK? And so this is the top floor. And also came down here into the spot where we were below.
This project had nothing to do with Ground Zero. It had nothing to do with 9/11. I just thought about how valuable the real estate would be once everything is built. I never associated my faith or Islam with the horrific events of 9/11.
LEE HANSON: It was 8:52 in the morning and the telephone rang. And it was Peter, and he said “Dad, we’re on the airplane,” he said, “and we’ve been hijacked.”
He said, “It’s really getting bad.” I started to say something and then he said “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” I heard somebody scream. We turned around and we looked at the television and we saw that plane coming in. And we saw it hit. And we both knew that it was Peter’s plane.
CHARLES WOLF: The plane that hit the first tower, hit my wife’s tower, flew right over our apartment. I’m a pilot and I knew something was awry.
And I looked and I looked this way and this way, and I couldn’t tell anything. I’m, like, “What the heck?” And then someone from the street yelled, “Oh, my God! A plane has just hit the World Trade Center!” And I yelled back down to her from my balcony, I says, “Are you kidding me? My wife works there!”
My wife was vaporized. She was directly in the path of the first plane that hit at 8:46.
ROSALEEN TALLON: My brother was found in the rubble of the North Tower. We did receive Sean’s torso, parts of his leg, and part of his head, separated. He was found with 25 to 30 civilians, so I know that he must have been offering some assistance to those civilians in there. And that gives me comfort because he was doing his job.
CHARLES WOLF: What nobody wants to talk about, really, is that a lot of that ash that came down- you know, this is- this was- OK?
LEE HANSON: I never realized the importance of having some remains. They recovered a small bone from Peter’s leg. And I held it in my hand. Not very much, but it was part of Peter. I mean, he was my son. And it was like a- a very important thing to have that.
ROSALEEN TALLON: We were so fortunate to recover most of Sean. But we also got to know so many family members that never recovered any part of their loved one, never had a cemetery to visit. Their cemetery is Ground Zero.
The place I go to remember Sean and to look at is like a little spot in the sky where I picture he made his way up to in the North Tower. I can go to the corner of the Burlington Coat Factory, and I can look right at that spot. I can see the construction. It’s there.
I mean, there is even a part of the plane that hit that building. That’s Ground Zero.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: When I was born, my first name was Alexander. And I used to go to church. My mother, God rest her soul, was Polish Catholic. Two immigrants meet in New York from opposite sides of the world, you know? Egypt, Muslim. Polish, Catholic. New York- plop!
NARRATOR: There were always tensions in the home around religion. Soon after El-Gamal’s parents split, his mother died. He went to live with his father.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: You know, I had a very rebellious teenage and early manhood stage of my life. And after September 11th, there was a change brewing within me as an individual.
NARRATOR: El-Gamal got into real estate and rediscovered Islam, his father’s faith.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: What I want to take you to is where my journey with my faith started in New York City. My journey started right here, at 1214 Warren Street.
It was packed. People were praying on top of each other. I mean, my head would be in the legs of the man in front of me. That’s how- we were packed like sardines. You know, I didn’t feel proud of this mosque.
They had been there for close to almost 40 years in this neighborhood, right here, four blocks from the World Trade Center. The building ended up getting sold and they ended up getting evicted, and they ended up underneath that 2020, in a basement, in a bar.
The majority of them were immigrants coming back with a very specific mindset, afraid to do anything.
Salaam aleikum. How are you, my brother?
I made a promise to God and I made a promise to myself that I’m going to help this community with whatever skills I have, in buying a building or getting a real space.
And then I started finding buildings. And I got nowhere. Every time that we would get close to something, it just wouldn’t work out. You know, they would be afraid to make a decision.
And I got so frustrated at that point with these guys. I got so frustrated. I was angry with these elders who drove my community into a basement.
I bring in this young man and I mark out a grid and I tell him, “Your job specifically is to help find a building so that we can build a mosque.” About a month of him working for me now, he comes running up to me and he says, “I got one. There’s this building on Park Place between West Broadway and Church.” And he started showing it to me. I go, “Wow.” I go, “That’s interesting.” I go, “That’s a big building.”
NARRATOR: El-Gamal acquired the site on Park Place with American finance from a mix of Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim investors.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: We’ve acquired two pieces of real estate that are contiguous to each other. And one parcel I was going to build condos on, and the other building I was going to give to the community to build a mosque and a smaller community center.
NARRATOR: Now that El-Gamal had a site for his mosque, he needed a leader for it. He had grown to admire the imam of a small mosque in Lower Manhattan, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Imam Feisal now started introducing me to another side of Islam.
NARRATOR: Imam Feisal belonged to the mystical Sufi form of Islam. His writings promoted America as a model for Muslims worldwide. Most Muslim Americans had never heard of him, but he was an established figure in inter-faith circles.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I had never experienced such a spiritual khutbah. It was like a college professor was speaking to me about my faith.
NARRATOR: El-Gamal invited Imam Feisal to lead his mosque. The Imam had a bigger vision.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: He said, “Sharif, what if we were to build the whole thing as a community center?”
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, Al-Farah Mosque: The objective of our community center was to be a rallying point, was to be a place where people could get to know about each other, where people would get to know about each other’s religions. We want Muslims to learn about Christianity and Judaism. We want members of other faith traditions to know about Islam.
DAISY KHAN, American Society for Muslim Advancement: And I’d like to introduce you to the future young women who are going to uphold justice for us-
NARRATOR: Imam Feisal’s wife, Daisy Khan, runs the American Society for Muslim Advancement.
DAISY KHAN: We were trying to be proactive and create a counter-momentum against extremism so that we could give voice to moderate Muslims.
NARRATOR: What Feisal proposed was a $100 million cultural center named Cordoba House after the Spanish city symbolic to some scholars of religious tolerance under Muslim rule. El-Gamal went to see if the project would be welcome in New York.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: We ultimately want to build a community center, right? Though it’s going to be Islamic with Muslim values and heritage, it’s going to be open for all people. It’s going to be a community center.
We got the temperature of New York, from the local elected officials, to the politicians, to the community leaders, to the community board. All around, the light was green.
NARRATOR: El-Gamal knew he would struggle to finance his original condo project. In 2009, credit was tight. A community center, however, could attract public financing.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I can’t get a construction loan to do the condo project immediately. I figure, “What’s the risk of really exploring this idea?” What’s the risk? [laughs] What’s the risk?
NARRATOR: The groundswell against the project began on line with an activist named Pamela Geller.
PAMELA GELLER, Stop the Islamization of America: You didn’t hear about the Ground Zero mosque in the media! How’d you hear about the Ground Zero mosque?
ROSALEEN TALLON: We’re very appreciative that there is an effort put forth by people like Pamela Geller. The people that proposed this mosque, they never held a forum to reach out to the families at large.
PAMELA GELLER: And I’d like to introduce my colleague, my partner in crime, the dynamic- the other half of the dynamic duo, Robert Spencer.
NARRATOR: Geller and Spencer are co-founders of the group “Stop the Islamization of America.”
ROBERT SPENCER, Stop the Islamization of America: When the Muslim armies rolled into Jerusalem in 636, one of the first things they did was begin construction of the Al-Aqsa mosque. And where did they put it? On the Temple Mount!
NARRATOR: Geller and Spencer popularized a concept that would later define the controversy, the “victory mosque.”
ROBERT SPENCER: It’s a tendency in Islamic history to mark the sign of a jihad triumph with a victory mosque.
On September 11th, 2001, they took down the twin towers. Now they are trying to mark their victory!
NARRATOR: As Geller marshalled her forces, El-Gamal took the project to the Lower Manhattan Community Board, to seek its vote of approval. The Community Board hearing was open to the public. The room was packed.
DAISY KHAN: Calm down!
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: What I saw for the next four hours was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m a pretty brave guy, OK? I’ve never- I sweat my suit. My suit was wet. I saw this woman and this man that were kind of orchestrating this.
ROBERT SPENCER: Pamela and I went to that. And as it turned out, she was one of the first people called to speak. I think they didn’t know who she was.
PAMELA GELLER: This is humiliating that you would build a shrine to the very ideology that inspired the attacks of 9/11! [cheers and applause]
NARRATOR: In the crowd were 9/11 family members.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: You know, I tried to do a lot of listening, and there was people there that genuinely didn’t come for hate. They just were- they lost somebody. I’m so sorry for their loss, but I had nothing to do with it. My community did not have anything to do with their loss.
FOX NEWS REPORTER: After three hours of debate, the Community Board voted 29 to 1 to support building a mosque 600 feet from where the Trade Center number one stood.
NARRATOR: The Ground Zero mosque story ignited a fevered debate on Fox News.
SEAN HANNITY, Host, “Hannity”: Good idea? Bad idea?
BRIGITTE GABRIEL, Activist: It is a disrespectful idea! It’s a slap in the face!
JAY SEKULOW, Attorney and Radio Talk Show Host: And you’re going to put a monument to the terrorists at the site of 9/11? [crosstalk]
PANELIST: This is an opportunity to learn!
PAMELA GELLER: We’re all 9/11 families, they just took the hit for us, that’s all!
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: At that point, there was no turning back, that I had to try to do whatever I had to do as a human being to make this happen.
PAMELA GELLER: Not at Ground Zero!
NARRATOR: Overnight, the location of El-Gamal’s project on Park Place became a battleground. The story grew and grew.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: It caught fire. And I didn’t know what to do. It was never meant to turn into 3.7 trillion media impressions on the Internet, the number one story of 2010. That was not a- we did not plan that!
PANELIST: Whatever happened to the respect and sensitivities to those who lost their lives by the atrocities committed by radical Muslims in the name of their religion while they were screaming “Allah-u Akbar”?
BILL O’REILLY, Host, “The O’Reilly Factor”: You think the goal of this mosque is to build it as a triumph-
PAMELA GELLER: A victory mosque!
NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), Former Speaker of the House: The radical Islamists who are triumphalists who want to dominate the rest of us need to be confronted by us. And this mosque is an illustration of what they’re trying to do.
NARRATOR: To El-Gamal and Imam Feisal, the outcry came as a shock.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Caught completely off guard. Completely off guard.
NARRATOR: Feisal Abdul Rauf, a moderate, pro-American imam, found himself reinvented on Fox News as a dangerous radical.
ROBERT SPENCER, Stop the Islamization of America: Do you believe, along with Feisal Abdul Rauf, that there should be restrictions on freedom of speech and sharia, Islamic law, in the United States, with the stonings and the amputations and the oppression of women and the warfare against unbelievers?
BILL O’REILLY: He’s a very, very staunch Muslim, that’s for sure.
GLENN BECK, Host, “Glenn Beck”: Where’s Hamas? There’s the Hamas! See? It’s in the food chain!
JAY SEKULOW: The guy who will not deem Hamas to be a terror organization!
SEAN HANNITY: Sounds to me like somebody who ought to be investigated.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, Al-Farah Mosque: I have condemned Hamas. I have condemned terrorism. I have- was invited to speak to all 1,200 FBI agents in New York to not only explain to them about Islam but to explore how we can work with the law enforcement agencies to make sure that any potential radicals or terrorists in our mosques, you know, would be filtered out. We are very much aware that there is a radical extremist element in our faith community.
PAMELA GELLER: Why there? Why put a provocative mega-mosque at the cemetery-
JOY BEHAR, CNN Headline Show Host: It’s a community center, right, Daisy?
DAISY KHAN: Yes, it’s a community center with a prayer space inside.
JOY BEHAR:: With a prayer space.
PAMELA GELLER: A prayer space is a mosque. It’s a mosque.
JOY BEHAR: A mini-mosque.
DAISY KHAN: Yes, a mini-mosque.
NARRATOR: Confusion mounted over what the project was and why it was there.
PANELIST: I don’t understand the need to put it there.
FOX NEWS HOST: Imam, could you explain, what’s the need for putting it there?
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: Well, first of all, this is not a mosque. It’s a community center, just like the 92nd Street Y is.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Imam Feisal had nothing to do with picking the location. And that goes to the root of the problem that there wasn’t any media training. He was thrust into something that he was not prepared for.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: If we moved from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse.
NARRATOR: The weeks of unrelenting pressure took their toll. A rift was opening up between El-Gamal and the imam, even as the president came to their defense.
Pres. BARACK OBAMA: I believe that Muslims have the right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country, and that includes the right to build a place of worship in a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I couldn’t believe it. I mean, I remember I called up my father and I was crying, and I was, like, “Dad, President Obama made a comment on my project!” And it was just exhilarating. The president of the United States of America stood by us right now.
NARRATOR: As the controversy reached new heights, Imam Feisal left on a pre-arranged tour of the Middle East sponsored by the State Department.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Imam Feisal left the country. [laughs] Imam Feisal just left the country. Like, he left the country! It was bizarre, bizarre to go and speak on a tour, to speak at universities! It didn’t make any sense to me. And I was angry with him. I was, like, “Why did you leave at this point? Why would you,” you know, “leave me in the middle of this?”
NARRATOR: There was also a fundamental disagreement between the imam and El-Gamal.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Imam Feisal kept referring to this as an interfaith project, and I didn’t understand what an interfaith project is. I wouldn’t have- that wouldn’t have turned me on. I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a capitalist. I’m a capitalist and I do good things for my community.
MEGYN KELLY, Fox News Anchor: Ever heard of Sharif El-Gamal? You have now. Roll it!
CHARLES LEAF, My Fox 5 NY Reporter: Sharif El-Gamal, why won’t you talk to us, sir? Why are you running?
NARRATOR: With Imam Faisal off the scene, Fox News hunted down El-Gamal.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: The pressure that I started getting was incredible. I came so close to my breaking point as a man.
CHARLES LEAF: Where’s all the money coming from?
NARRATOR: Across America, the Ground Zero mosque had not played well in Muslim communities.
IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI, Islamic Society of Central Florida: The Park 51 project was really a major PR disaster.
NARRATOR: Imam Muhammad Musri is the leader of 10 mosques in Central Florida.
IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI: To me as a Muslim leader, hurting the feelings of so many people and disrespecting, walking all over their opinions and feelings, to try to build whatever that building is, no matter how holy it is, is not Islam.
NARRATOR: Musri would get drawn into a strange sideshow. The pastor of a small church in Florida declared he would burn the Quran unless the Ground Zero mosque was moved.
PASTOR TERRY JONES, Dove World Outreach Center: The Ground Zero mosque we felt was a good bargaining tool. There’s very much of a concern that it’s not only a mosque but some type of a victory statement, a victory mosque.
NARRATOR: Musri went to see the pastor.
IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI: I said, “Well, let me tell you this, Pastor Jones. I myself disagree with the project being built near Ground Zero. And I feel, as you do, that it should be at least moved.”
NARRATOR: Imam Musri tried unsuccessfully to contact Imam Feisal in New York. They never spoke.
NARRATOR: But Pastor Jones would later say Musri told him that Feisal had agreed to move the Ground Zero Moque. Whatever the truth, they had a deal.
PASTOR TERRY JONES: The imam has agreed to move the mosque. We have agreed to cancel our event on Saturday.
NARRATOR: That Saturday, the pastor did not burn the Quran as he had threatened. But for Muslims across America, the Ground Zero mosque and its imam had become a liability.
IMAM MUHAMMAD MUSRI: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was presented to the American mainstream as a genuine, you know, mainstream imam who commands a large following. But for the millions of American Muslims, he is not our voice.
NARRATOR: By winter, the relationship between Imam Feisal and El-Gamal had finally collapsed.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF, Al-Farah Mosque: This vision is my vision, you know? If I’m separated from it, the vision is separated. I mean, the concept is mine. Without the visionary behind the vision, it’s not clear that the vision can be realized.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: We need to come up with what our message is once and for all, where we’re not reacting to our friend, Imam Feisal, right?
NARRATOR: In January, El-Gamal ousted his former mentor from the project.
IMAM FEISAL ABDUL RAUF: I felt a sense of betrayal. He’s a control freak. He has sought to control that which is not his domain of expertise. We have spoken, but there’s a certain nature that is unchangeable. And that makes me sad.
NARRATOR: After months on the defensive, El-Gamal began fighting back. But time and money were not on his side.
Park 51, the project’s official title, was based out of El-Gamal’s real estate company.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I’m all over the place, and I’m not focused. You know, a shark eats little seals, right? That’s what I’m used to doing well. I’m not being a shark right now, so it’s a little confusing for me right now.
I want- our main focus right now needs to be awareness and fundraising. You know, last night- and I have a lot of sleepless nights because I think about this, OK, but they’re good sleepless nights. I need also-
JANAN DELGADO, Park 51 Staff: It’s simple. This company is going to erect a building 14 stories tall. The top 12 floors will be a community center, the lower two floors will be a prayer space.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: But right now, we need to get funds to pay the people, to pay you, to pay the people that are working here on a regular basis, to pay our debts, to pay the expenses. Does that make sense?
JANAN DELGADO: It makes sense.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: OK? Attitude check! We’re going to make it happen!
JANAN DELGADO: Right.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: Insha’allah.
JANAN DELGADO: All this depends on money. We’re listing a lot of tasks, but we don’t have money. What are we going to do about fundraising so that all this can actually work? Because we only have two staff members right now.
NARRATOR: In early 2011, Park 51’s staff consisted of two students, John Lichten, a non-Muslim from New York, and Janan Delgado, a New York University graduate from Ecuador. The management was El-Gamal and his business partner, Nour Mousa.
JANAN DELGADO: People still think that we are this massive thing that the media make us out to be, when in reality, our organization is very small. It’s stressful. It’s hard. It doesn’t please anybody. I don’t know who’s happy with this project at this point.
[www.pbs.org: An insider's view of Park 51]
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: And you’re going to invite very specific people to partake in that.
This idea today has no funds. I’m at a deficit. I’m running- it doesn’t work. I don’t even know how we’ve gotten this far.
We need to raise $2 million in 16 weeks. Takbir!
PEOPLE AT MEETING: Allah-u Akbar!
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: And we need all of your help. We can’t do this on our own. This house and this mesgid and this community center is only going to be built, insha’allah, with your full involvement, as well.
NARRATOR: The American Muslim community at large had turned its back on El-Gamal.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: We are a fabric of this society, and we need to be out there. And don’t take this for granted. We are all out of the closet right now. That was a little humorous joke, but we need to be out there and we need to show our faces.
Where’s the Muslim community? Where are the people that are like me? You know, today, I would expect that we’d have a line out the door of volunteers, of people saying, “Thank you. Thank you. For standing up for us. Thank you. Thank you for not backing down. Thank you.” We don’t have that.
You know, I’m, like, “Where are my people? Where are they? Don’t they understand? Don’t they see what we can potentially do here?” And that is the- and that hurts.
JANAN DELGADO: The most sensitive thing about this entire project has been how the 9/11 families feel about us being here. It’s problematic because, on the one hand, you have to take those emotions seriously and you have to respect them. You have to see where they’re coming from. They lost people. It’s not a joke.
On the other hand, if you accept the wrong idea that Muslims and Islam are responsible for 9/11, then, you know, what’s going to come after that? How far is going to be far enough? Until when are you going to continue having to apologize or be treated differently?
NARRATOR: Lee Hanson had lost his son, his daughter-in-law and his granddaughter on the second plane. He came to talk to El-Gamal.
LEE HANSON: She was 2-and-a-half when they took that plane ride. I used to sit back and hold her in my arms like this. And I can’t tell you how many times that, when I’m sitting in a chair like that, that I- that my arm goes like this and I can actually feel her there. I mean, feel her presence. And then she was really growing up to be a beautiful little girl.
And I saw them just before 9/11 and I said- just out of the clear, I says, “You know, Christine, I love you.” And she said, “I love you, too, Papa.” And I said, “Aren’t we lucky we have each other to love?” And she put out her arms and a great, big smile and did a happy dance. And I didn’t know that’s the last time I was going to see them.
If you go around the United States today, there are people that don’t know too much more about the issue except that they see it as a victory mosque. And I think it may be unfortunate for you, I mean, because your story is compelling, and I understand it, but the whole-
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: You know, Lee-
LEE HANSON: The whole approach to it- the whole approach to it was so poor that I think it’s poisoned the idea. I don’t think there’ll ever be a mosque built there.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: My site is not on Ground Zero. It’s two blocks from the World Trade Center.
LEE HANSON: Yeah, we could argue that out ’til the end of time.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: And I can- I-
LEE HANSON: But for me-
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: But I completely understand-
LEE HANSON: But for me, it is-
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: -your perspective. I understand it.
LEE HANSON: -it is hallowed ground and-
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I understand it and I respect it.
I never associated my faith and I do not even today associate my faith or my community with the criminal acts of 9/11 that were committed in my city.
LEE HANSON: Well, of course not. You talked about- you talked about all the experiences that you had from your side and your feelings. And I believe you and I believe you’re sincere. But that didn’t extend to us.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: I didn’t know it.
LEE HANSON: It didn’t extend to- well, there’ve been a lot of 9/11 organizations, you know, the- to-
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: But now it is my responsibility, and it is a commitment that I’m going to make in this project.
LEE HANSON: It’s too late. You know, it’s not going to make the difference. The harm has been done to having the mosque there. You have the right to do it. I say you have the right to do it. Everyone says you have the right to do it. But when you have the right to do something, giving up that right for a noble reason is what heroes are made of. And I’d like to see you come out of this a hero because I believe what you say. I believe you’re sincere. I really do. Build a mosque because if it’s needed, it’s needed. No problem.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: It’s needed.
LEE HANSON: Yeah. So build it someplace else.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: You know, unfortunately, this is New York City and it’s not like you can just go and say, “I want to do something here, here or here.” You do not get to just pick a piece of real estate and move.
Well, I sincerely want to continue this dialogue, and I want you to meet my wife and my kids.
LEE HANSON: I’d love to do that once the issue is settled.
JANAN DELGADO: How could you not be aware? What planet do you come from? That has been one of the major criticisms. But Sharif never knew that he had to apologize for 9/11. He’s been privileged. He is blond, blue eyes. If he’s with his family or by himself, you would never really be able to tell that he’s Muslim. He has not been the target of hate and bigotry in the same way as many people who look Muslim. He was not made to feel that way every single day of his life, like we are, like I am.
[www.pbs.org: Polling about America's Muslims]
[Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn]
DEMONSTRATORS: Stop the hate! Stop the hate! Stop the hate!
NARRATOR: The argument over the Ground Zero mosque is now being echoed across America.
PROTESTER: Sharia doesn’t love thy neighbor!
NARRATOR: Vandalism and opposition to mosque construction is being reported in two dozen states.
PAMELA GELLER, Stop the Islamization of America: Don’t put it here! There are hundreds of mosques in this city. There are thousands of mosques in this country. Why here?
ROBERT SPENCER, Stop the Islamization of America: You are being used! You are useful idiots! You are tools for the Muslim American Society!
PAMELA GELLER: I encourage you to continue fighting. They will try to wear you down. They will try to wear you down! Listen to me! You cannot stop!
CHARLES WOLF, Husband of 9/11 Victim: The vast majority of Americans have not had experience with Muslims. In fact, the only experience with Muslims that they’ve had is through the television camera, and the only Muslims that have gotten attention on television are the radical Muslims.
It was the men of al Qaeda that were responsible for 9/11 and the death of my wife and everybody else’s relative. It was not the entire Muslim religion.
SHARIF EL-GAMAL: My whole motivation behind doing all of this was to build a place where I could instill my values as an American and as a Muslim in my children. And I want them to have an identity. I want them to be proud of who they are. I want them to be confident. A lot of those things right now are lacking within our community, and it’s very frustrating.
It’s really, really hard to really put your foot down for something that you believe in, and you think maybe you’re five years too early. Maybe you’re just- maybe you’re five years too early.
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