NEW YORK (CBS 2) — There is a bus ad paid for by a group that is against building a mosque at ground zero, and it is sparking a heated debate – both because of its emotionally searing content and because it flies in the face of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s strong support for the Muslim house of worship.
CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer reports on the controversial ad.
Starting next week the sides of 26 Metropolitan Transportation Authority buses will emblazoned with the ad. In one corner, a plane is flying toward the World Trade Center’s towers as they burn. In another the rendering of the proposed mosque at ground zero implies that leaders want to open the “mega mosque” on the 10th anniversary of the terror attack.
“I think it would be a horrible thing in this neighborhood because a lot of people who work in this neighborhood actually saw it happen. I think it would bring up some really traumatic memories,” said Kehinde Barkley of Flatbush.
“I don’t like that idea,” added Stuart Shestak of Bay Ridge. “I think it is an offensive thing and I just don’t like it.”
“I think that’s disgusting,” added Gabriella Hurst Ridgewood of Cedarhurst.
But then on the other side there were people who see nothing wrong with the idea.
“It’s freedom of expression. If that’s the way they want to express their views, it’s allowed; it’s America,” said Shibu Jacob of Haverstraw.
The ad is being paid for by the group “Stop the Islamization of America.” Its lawyer, David Yerushalmi, fought the MTA in federal court to get them to run it.
“This, ultimately, becomes a question of free speech,” Yerushalmi said. “The question is not whether Muslims can have mosques. Of course they can. This is the United States of America. The question is this mosque, with this imam and in this place and for Mayor Bloomberg to try and shut the debate down by shaming us is absolutely pathetic.”
But Muslim Americans who support the mosque are aghast.
“The real concern that I have is that this radical right organization is exploiting our American tragedy, one of the most horrible things that happened to our nation, in order to further their extremist agenda and that is just despicable,” said Zead Ramadan of The Council of American-Islamic Relations of New York.
The bus controversy comes as the State Department revealed plans to send the ground zero mosque’s imam, Faisal Abdul Rauf, on a multi-cultural government-paid trip to the Middle East, where opponents fear he will try to raise funds for the $100 million mosque and cultural center.
“We have informed him about our prohibition against fund raising,” said State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley.
Right now the bus ads are scheduled to run for four weeks but the group hopes to raise money to have then run longer.
The MTA said it does not endorse the views expressed by the ad, but it was accepted under the agency’s “governing legal standards.”