Islamic Center Controversy


BOB FAW, correspondent: Even today, nine years later, what happened at the Twin Towers horrifies, wounds, inflames.

SALLY REGENHARD: Our loved ones’ blood really consecrated that site forever and ever.

FAW: Sally Regenhard’s only son, 28-year-old firefighter Christian, a Marine, aspiring writer, and avid rock-climber, was killed on 9/11. No trace of him has ever been found.

post01-islamcenterREGENHARD: My son was a saint who was murdered by sinners.

FAW: Among the more than 2700 killed in Lower Manhattan that day was firefighter Bill Burke, who got his men safely out of the doomed towers before he perished.

MICHAEL BURKE: He got Engine 24 and the civilians they saved out. A fireman who worked for him said Bill Burke led the best of the best. He was better than all of us.

FAW: Nothing is more hallowed than Ground Zero for relatives like Regenhard and Burke.

BURKE: There’s just a sense of sanctity to the site that’s being offended here.

FAW: Ironically, Muslims proposing that 13-story cultural center on Park Place two blocks from Ground Zero insist they are trying to honor the site. Daisy Khan is director of the American Society of Muslim Advancement and wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, organizers of the project.

post02-islamcenterDAISY KHAN: We’ve been in the neighborhood for 27 years. It’s our neighborhood that got attacked, and it’s our obligation and our responsibility and really even our honor to rebuild it.

FAW: Daisy Khan insists that the center, which will include an arts theater, a place for prayer, athletics, and education, will be a testimonial to healing and interfaith harmony.

KHAN: The extremists have defined the agenda for the global Muslim community, and we wanted to amplify the voices of the ordinary Muslims who are, you know, law-abiding citizens, and it was my way of, like, helping rebuild by building a center that would create a counter-momentum against extremism.

REGENHARD: I want to make it clear that I and my—members of my group do not have anger towards Muslims. But it’s too close, it’s too painful, it’s too soon. I’m still trying to find remains of my son.

BURKE: It amounts to an insult. It comes across as intentionally provocative.

FAW: Proponent Khan, though, has drawn a line in the sand, arguing that being forced to move the site elsewhere amounts to “surrender.”

KHAN: I think it would be un-American to ask anybody to leave the neighborhood. We’re part of the neighborhood. I don’t think anybody should be driven out of their neighborhood. It’s about acceptance. Muslims are not being accepted as equals in this country yet.

MOSQUE PROTESTER: No mosque, not here, not now, not ever.

post03-islamcenterFAW: Indeed, throughout the country there are recent signs of what some call Islamophobia. Nearby, on Staten Island, an abandoned Catholic convent was to be sold to Muslims to build a mosque. But after much protest the board of the church that owned the convent voted the sale down. In Columbia, Tennessee a mosque was fire bombed. In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, vandals targeted equipment being used to build an Islamic center. And in Temecula, California the site of a proposed mosque brought forth both sides of the debate.

MANGO BAKH: Islam is not a religion. Islam is a totalitarian, terrorist ideology.

JENNIFER EIS: There is nothing to fear from them. They are our neighbors, and they want to be able to worship freely, just as our ancestors did.

FAW: Against that backdrop is it any wonder that a prominent anthropologist who’s recently completed a landmark study of Muslims in America concludes the Muslim community feels “under siege”?

AKBAR AHMED (American University): Americans are really going through a time of uncertainty, of some fear and some anger, and they want to blame someone, and in times like this that’s why you’re sitting on a tinderbox. It’s very easy to then suddenly target or make a community a scapegoat, so even something as simple and ordinary as constructing a house of worship becomes an act of defiance, controversy, debate.

post04-islamcenterFAW: The debate over that proposed Muslim cultural center here, so close to Ground Zero, has been framed as a choice between religious tolerance and honoring the dead. But some would argue the real question is not the Constitution but sensitivity—that given what happened on 9/11, shouldn’t moral claims take precedence over legal rights?

THANE ROSENBAUM (Fordham University Law School): The legal issue’s clear. There is a right to free speech, and there’s a right to the exercise of one’s religion. We have that. Now what? What happens in situations where the exercise of that free religion, right, is going to trample upon the profound sensitivities of an already vulnerable, traumatized group?

FAW: Thane Rosenbaum, a professor at the Fordham University Law School, says the relevant precedent is 1984 when, 40 years after World War II, Holocaust survivors objected to a Carmelite convent proposed near Auschwitz and Pope John Paul intervened and moved the building elsewhere. That kind of compassion, says Rosenbaum, should prevail at Ground Zero.

ROSENBAUM: This isn’t about bigotry. This isn’t about religious persecution. This really is about sensitivity and a profound sense of loss. There’s something that just doesn’t feel right about the haste, the speed, the urgency with which their mosque must be there. I don’t see the tolerance in that. It seems to me the tolerance there is only one-way tolerance: religious liberty and freedom at all costs.

post05-islamcenterFAW: In the midst of all the turmoil, some relatives of 9/11 victims—it is difficult to say just how many—do support the cultural center near Ground Zero. On that terrible day nine years ago, Herb Ouida was working on the 77th floor of one of the towers, while his 25-year-old son, Todd, was on the 105th.

HERB OUIDA: I said, “Have a great day, sweetheart.” I tell you those words because those were my last words to my son.

FAW: A son, he remembers, who overcame a long battle with anxiety to go on and graduate from the University of Michigan and have a bright future in finance.

OUIDA: I think religious tolerance honors those that were lost. What we’re saying for the Muslim world is we don’t trust you, we don’t like you.

FAW: We don’t want you.

OUIDA: We don’t want you, and that’s exactly a victory for al-Qaeda. I don’t want to give them that victory. I don’t want to give them that victory. I’d rather say to them, “We stood by what we believe in, despite what you did to us.”

post06-islamcenterFAW: Daisy Khan says most 9/11 families agree with Herb Ouida and support the Islamic center. But for relatives like Sally Regenhard, the refusal of those backing the Islamic project to consider another site is just one more indignity.

REGENHARD: You can never change hearts and minds by shoving your culture or religion down the throats of others. I think they need to understand that.

FAW: With both sides so entrenched, the outcome is uncertain. What is clear, though, is that this dispute is about far more than location or real estate.

OUIDA: I’m just afraid that we—that there’s something we’re unleashing here, something that we won’t be able to control if we don’t stop it.

AHMED: I think there’s a bigger crisis taking place right now, and that is really the battle for American identity itself. What is the America that’s going to come out of this?

KHAN: Are we going to erode our ideals, or are we going to continue to live up to our ideals and let this moment be a passing moment, and let this be the test, the litmus test?

FAW: It is much more than a litmus test, though, for some whose wounds may never heal.

REGENHARD: Right now we’re asking for sensitivity, and maybe my son could have accepted what’s happening now, but we mere mortals—we cannot.

FAW: In the midst of enduring pain, shrill protests, and calls for compromise, then, a head-on collision between legal and moral rights in a debate which could determine in post-9/11 America whether tolerance is a two-way street.

For Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly this Bob Faw in New York.

  • amused from NJ

    it is amusing to see that there are no voice of protests are raised when it inovles the presence of porn shops and the strip joint near the “Sacred Ground.” what does it say about the American Values? But then again it is also amusing to see nearly a quarter of the US citizens think that Obama is a Muslim.

  • amused from NJ

    The brutality carried out on 9/11 was not the cause, it was the effect of American foreign poolicy in place since the First World War. It could have been prevented had the US intelligence services were doing their job effectively. That a citizenry will allow its government to do things in its name and make no effort to be informed does not speak well of them.

  • Noelle

    I understand what both sides are saying. I do believe in religious freedom but I also believe more sensitivity should be shown to the 911 families. I am also concerned about the safety of those who will use the center if or when it is built. I have another concern. I am concerned that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church which was located near the towers and was damaged by debris on 911 has not been able to rebuild on their site which they own. I know that the Mayor recently stated either on a local radio show or to a local reporter that he is trying to assist the church. But this is after people have called him out on this. If we really say we are for religious freedom then everyone should have advocating for this church to be built including people advocating for the Islamic Center. I would really like to see the Imam and his wife public show support for the church to be rebuilt. I believe that would be a good first step in healing and reconciliation process. It also would show that support religious freedom. Since is is all about religious freedom, right?

  • Bruce

    Islamophobia has got nothing to do with it . Muslims bombed the high towers, the pentagon , etc, and now they want to build a mosque where all those people died? When will America wake up and see what is happening ?/ Talk about religious liberty. Ask the people in Dearborn Michigan whether they can talk about Jesus to muslims where the mosques are and not be arrested. Wake up america. Islam has repeatedly said that by 2017 the flag of Islam will be flying on the White house . Does that tell you something??

  • Amatullah

    From one of my favorite shows that is usually so respectful and fair, I am dismayed at the characterization of the dispute as “legal vs. moral”. It would actually be immoral to give in to objections that are all based upon falsehoods and misconceptions. The truth is the Quran speaks against murder of the innocent. “Regular” Muslims who value the freedoms here and work daily to be good members of this society are victimized by the extremists, also. The pain of loss is obviously real for individuals and the nation, but opposing this NY Islamic center is “punishing” the wrong people because allegedly a handful of Muslims inflicted the WTC loss. Finally I challenge the objectors to seek out and have a one-to-one conversation with a Muslim. Any mosque, Islamic center, or CAIR would be happy to connect with persons who would like to do so.

  • E. Wormser

    Knowing the Ouida family personally, I told Herb O. this morning that the issue is like calling every German a Nazi. He agreed.

  • Susan L

    The objection to the center stems from the feeling that having Muslims visible is somehow “insensitive.” But it really stems from the unexplored feeling that Muslims don’t have the right to be seen, because all Muslims are responsible for 9/11. an inherently un-American position. Rosenbaum should check his facts – there is a Catholic center of understanding at the entrance to Auschwitz, it just isn’t run by Carmelites. If Americans desert their core principles, then the terrorist extremists have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. This false controversy, whipped up by irresponsible politicians and deliberate propaganda based on misinformation and islamophobia, should be treated as the embarrassing aberration it is by people of good faith and belief in our Constitution standing firm and calling “shame” to those who are creating a mob hysteria.

  • Bob

    Religion & Ethics Weekly seems to have proven itself to be a Christian mouthpiece with Bob Faw’s Sept. 4 report on the New York City Mosque.

    He closed the report declaring the debate is a battle between legal and “moral rights,” as if our government of supposed freedom from religious oppression, really, when one gets down to it, subservient to the Christian version of God?
    In short, they claim God is on their side. Isn’t that the standard claim of all religious fanatics, whether they be Christian, Islamic or free lance nutcases?

  • Jean Barrett

    Are certain lost lives of greater value than others? Shall we make Iraq a holy place and stop time there because of the 4000 plus American lives that were lost there. Does a fireman’s mother’s grief outweight the grief of a soldiers’ mother. The religious community of this country can’t seem to get it into their heads that people of different religions or even no religion have exactly the same rights as Christians. I’m glad that I got past the superstition of religion a long time ago. It says little for the gods of the various beliefs that they can wreak all kinds of evils on us without giving anything back. Oh yes? I forgot, heaven.

  • Ellen Krokosky

    “Daisy Khan says most 9/11 families agree with Herb Ouida and support the Islamic center.” Since when is this? I’ve read more than once that most families are against the center. I say forget what the terrorists think and do what’s in our hearts and that is to move the center to another location.

  • Marco Montini

    Dear Mr. Rosenbaum, if you feel that the Muslims should have a sensitivity to the feelings of others (even though these others are asking them to give up their rights under Religious Freedom in the Constitution per every Supreme Court Ruling), do you feel it is also important for you and the others who feel the Muslims must move their Center (and give up holding onto their Constitutional Rights) to be sensitive to their feelings as well. I think many Jews must remember in history that there was prejudice (even here in the USA) against Jews, and the desire to remove them from neighborhoods. So, in your sensitivity to the feelings of injustice Muslims must feel about being asked to move thier center solely based on their religious preferences, don’t you feel people asking them to move must offer them some sort of “Peace/Olive Branch”? May I suggest that all of those who feel this is such an important thing for them, dig deep into their pockets to pull out enough money to buy a nicer and larger site for the Islamic center somewhere else in NYC that is also in at least as nice an area? I assume that the importance of moving the Islamic center is larger enough (given the fact that you and others are asking the Muslims to give up their Constitutional Rights) that it is more important than buying a new TV/Stereo/Vacation/etc that they might otherwise want to use that money on. If both sides are “Sensitive” to each other, spending the money by the side against the center to help and be sensitive to the feelings of the muslims being asked to give up their Constitutional Rights should not pose a huge problem. At least the Muslims feel that others are at least not trying just to “rob them” of their Civil Rights, but trying to just help the situation in a way that everyone can compromise together. Do you think the side of those against the Center would show this kind of “Sensitivity”? If they don’t want to (they would rather keep their money and still demand the Muslims give up their Civil Rights), then how can anyone of these ask for “Sensitivity” from the Muslims?

  • Channah

    I am ashamed at the way Americans are acting concering the Mosque. It was not Muslims who flew into the Towers-it was a few Muslim fanatics. This location for the Mosque is two long NYC blocks away-it is not at Ground Zero. There have been many Muslims living and working in this area, and the plans for the Mosque have been in the making for years. Wouldn’t you rather go to services in your own neighborhood? I am sure they would.

    Also, and most inportant, the community center will be open to all people of all religions for sports, projects, and fellowship—-learning to get to know each other. This is the way the YMCAs and the Jewish Community Centers work. My JCC has more non-Jews than Jews who belong.

    People are acting as if the Muslims here bought the land in anticipation of 9/11 so they could laud the act and
    spite America. This is not true.

    Yes, I am very ashamed.

  • Amy Taliaferro

    One thing that I think is missing in this conversation .. . which may not be immediately possible in heated debate, is the necessity for ongoing dialogue, education and direct interfaith experience.

    In addition to bigotry and whatever else . . . I think ignorance of what the Muslim religion is really about and who the majority of its true practitioners are, plays a fundamental role in perpetuating misunderstanding and fear. There is still the prevalent false association of Islam with terrorism . . . which, unless reconstructed in people’s minds, I believe leads to a false choice of tolerance or security..

    People need to understand that true security and meaningful honoring of those who lost their lives to terrorism, cannot be accomplished by the perpetuation of misinformed stereotypes and “othering.” The irony is that this type of dialogue, understanding & interfaith/intercultural exposure is specifically the goal of Park 51 organizers.

    Without untangling the real misconceptions and misinformation at stake here, misconceived, one-sided extremist stereotypes win out, opening a path toward spiraling hateful, divisive & self-righteous perception & action, instead of an evolving awareness of what is means to be a human being, and the wisdom to restore our collective dignity.

  • Portia

    Quida is right we will be “something we’re unleashing here, something that we won’t be able to control if we don’t stop it.” that is Al Queda! Did you know Mosque are training grounds for Muslims terrorist. do we really want that ? Government authorities are not allow to investigate a mosque because it is considered a “house of Worship.” When will we wake up American and understand that we cannot accept everything that comes to American posing as religious. What if its hatred and demise in religious disguise; Sometimes we have to hurts some feelings in order to preserve and protect this nation.


    Peace to Anti-Muslim! Islam is not Al-Qaeda! Islam are a Peace Loving people. How wonderful you are, if your are living with your Neighboring Islam People! I was amazed by some American People who claimed to be Smart and Intellectual and yet they have shown an Idiot understanding? Dare not to forget, that there are Also Muslims died in 7/11 attacked by this few Fanatic and Extremist Muslim! I am a Filipino, who has a limited knowledge in English Language but I was able to differentiate the ISLAM and Al-QAEDA!

  • Ken Naugle

    It is not amusing to see a quarter of Americans think President Obama is a Muslim, rather it is sad they choose to be so misinformed. Also, I guess the old “WWJD?” is just to trite these days. When you read his Sermon on the Mount, ALL OF IT, you cannot come away from that in any way justifying visceral anti-Muslim feelings. Many see no difference between Mosques and terrorist training camps, yet have never set foot in one. So where do they get these ideas? Someone told them, and that is gossip. Jesus would suggest that rather than seek vengance from Muslims, we should walk a mile, two even, with them. This community center, Mosque if you will, should be allowed exactly where it is. It is the only right thing to do, the Christian thing in fact.

  • Joseph Garvey

    Shame on those who would deny the right of peaceful and God-fearing Islamic -Americans the right to build a center, a place where they could gather and enjoy America’s promise of “freedom of religion for all”. These people are no more responsible for the terrorists that carried out the attack of 9/11 than Roman Catholics are responsible for Hitler’s (a Catholic) slaughter of millions of Jews and others during World War II. American purports to be a land where everyone is afforded the right of freedom of religion. Is this only to apply for Jewish or Christian faiths? I am a Republican who is sick to his stomach about members of my party pandering to the bigots who attack the Center as “morally” repugnant and demand that it be built elsewhere. Through their efforts they have given Barak Obama the moral high ground in a controversy in which he is entirely correct. On this issue they have made him a shining star. I expect to hear next from the bigots that the American Muslims should be “interned” like we did to the unfortunate American Japanese during World War II.