Passions Of The Mosque

9/11 Families Divided Over Construction Of Mosque At Ground Zero

NEW YORK (AP / WCBS 880) — Talat Hamdani traveled to Mecca to pray that her missing son, an EMT, was safe in the days after 9/11. She held out hope that his Muslim background had led to his detention as a suspect, considering it better than the alternative.

When part of his body was returned to her — his lower half shattered into 34 pieces — it was final proof he had indeed been killed when Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center. As Americans take sides over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks away, Hamdani says it feels personal.

“Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died,” she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. “America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom,” and opposition to the cultural center “is un-American. It’s unethical. And it is wrong.”

The thousands of relatives of the 2,976 victims have no single representative and no unified voice, even as another 9/11 anniversary approaches. The conflict is dividing a group that in many ways has never been united, with some saying the cultural center would reopen old wounds too close to hallowed ground and others say that opposing it is tantamount to bigotry.

And some, like Vandna Jain, walk a middle ground.

“It is unfair to persecute the group, however, in turn, there should be some respect for the feelings of the people that are forever attached to this site due to their losses,” the New City, N.Y., resident, whose father, Yudh, died in the north tower, wrote in an e-mail. “I think people have a right to be upset about it, just as much as people have a right to build a mosque.”

Jim Riches, a former New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at the trade center, believes the dispute has nothing to do with religious freedom.

“We’re not telling them not to practice their religion. … It’s about location, location, location,” he said, asking why the mosque couldn’t be built farther away from the land that he still considers a cemetery. “It’s disrespectful. You wouldn’t put a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor.”

Liza Murphy feels differently. Her brother, Charlie, died at ground zero, but she says she doesn’t lay claim to the sprawling, 16-acre site.

“It’s a place where a terrible tragedy took place, but I don’t see what makes it sacred,” said the Brooklyn resident. “Nine years later, that now belongs to the public. And my brother and his death are private and belong to me.”

Murphy says she has no objection to the planned mosque and wouldn’t want to judge one group of Muslims based on the actions of another.

But Peter Gadiel says he owes no apologies for singling one group out. Since his son, James, was killed at the trade center, Gadiel has argued publicly that all Muslims should share some collective guilt for what happened on 9/11.

“The fact is that Islam does not coexist well with other religions, and you can’t separate that from Islam,” the Kent, Conn., resident said, explaining his stand against the mosque. “If that sounds intolerant on my part, that’s too bad.”

The families’ impassioned responses to the prospect of the mosque have influenced the public debate.

Gov. David Paterson has suggested moving the project further away from the trade center site out of respect for opponents’ feelings, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of the mosque, calling it a test of the separation of church and state.

President Barack Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build the Islamic center as a matter of religious freedom, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.

Of course, people would be needed to do the actual construction work. WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell spoke to some hard hats who say they would refuse to work on the project.

LISTEN: WCBS 880’s Peter Haskell reports

Relatives of those slain on Sept. 11 have made their diverging voices heard on a number of issues over the years — from whether to try the suspects in a civilian court to the location of a proposed freedom museum at ground zero that is no longer planned for the site.

Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, at the trade center, says emotions among family members are especially raw right now.

“This is anniversary season. It’s really, really hard,” the Manhattanite said. “Passions are up and this is bringing up a lot of hurt in people.”

He says he worries that any decision to respond to public pressure and move the mosque would be used by extremists to paint Americans as intolerant.

“The powers of evil were piloting those airplanes,” he said of the Sept. 11 attackers.

Now, with the mosque dispute, “here is where we’re falling into the terrorists’ trap … trying to tear each other apart. Good people fighting other good people — does that sound like evil at work?”

(Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments

One Comment

  1. I says:

    “But Peter Gadiel says he owes no apologies for singling one group out. Since his son, James, was killed at the trade center, Gadiel has argued publicly that all Muslims should share some collective guilt for what happened on 9/11.”

    Does Mr. Gadiel share some level of guilt for dropping A Bomb on Japan?

  2. lordpet says:

    New York Muslims didn’t attack the Trade Center on 9/11. They died along with everyone else. Why shouldn’t they build an Islamic JCC there if they want to? There’s nothing sacred about Park Place. There’s no point in relocating it because then it would no longer serve the local community, plus intolerant people would still object anyway. 9/11 was a terrible day but it is time to let the dead rest in peace and for everyone to get over their 9/11 PTSD. This will not be The Osama Bin Laden Center for the Celebration for 9/11, as the Muslim who is developing this site is got the idea for it from the JCC he belonged to and it will have female imams. It’s not radical, it’s harmless.

    1. agnes says:

      Jews still complain about Holocaust it was over 60 years ago tell them get over it and see what would happen

  3. Normgarry says:

    The Constitution allows them to be able to build this Mosque but, the right-wing Christians are doing their best to usurp the document they falsely claim they believe in.

    I’m a New Yorker… frankly, I am angry the Towers haven’t been rebuilt yet (it took 11 years to build em the first time) and we are wasting time arguing about this.

    Truth is, this is a violation of the Muslim’s first amendment rights if they aren’t allowed to build it.

    I just wish Obama had stayed away from this because its a “state issue” and I’m tired of racists painting him as a muslim.

  4. bato says:

    [ “Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died,” she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. “America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom,” and opposition to the cultural center “is un-American. It’s unethical. And it is wrong.”]

    We have difficulty considering the issue of muslims killed in 9/11. They have not raised any ‘loud noise’ against the Islamic militants.
    The muslims are not targetted individually by this Park51 controversy. The survivors of killed muslims are hurt also, it only happens they are part of the greater idiology that creates the problem… They cannot blame the families that are hurt… but greater is the number of those Americans that sympathize those that are hurt.
    So the issue remained controversial and becoming strongly political…This what pro-democrats (groups and media outlets) are worried of.

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