NEW YORK (CBS 2) — On this ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, dueling demonstrations were held just steps from ground zero.
Thousands marched in Lower Manhattan, with one group supporting the proposed community center and mosque near ground zero, and the other standing in opposition.
The mosque’s proposed location stands just two blocks from what many people consider sacred ground, reports CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.
Saturday was supposed to be a quiet and respectful demonstration against the mosque on the anniversary of the Twin Towers attack, but the mother of a man who perished that day couldn’t contain herself.
“Mr. Bloomberg, tell us, do you sleep well? Do you have a bad dream?” Nelly Braginsky, who lost her son Alexander on September 11, 2001, said.
Mayor Bloomberg is one of the prime supporters of the so-called ground zero mosque, but for the people who don’t want it built so close to the site of the attack, he was ripe for criticism. The message from Braginsky.
“You want to pray, God bless you. You want to build a mosque, God bless you. But do not put a mosque on a cemetery,” she said.
The flag-waving crowd of mosque opposition stretched two blocks, across three lanes of traffic. An estimated 3,000 people from across the country crowded in to participate and have their voice heard.
The main speaker was anti-Islam Dutch politician Geert Wilders, whose bodyguard appeared to have an automatic weapon is his black bag.
“A tolerant society like New York must defend itself against the forces of darkness,” Wilders said.
The ceremony began with the military song “Taps,” and a moment of silence for those who perished on that fateful day.
Retired firefighter Louis Caccholi was trapped in one of the towers, and was one of the few in his company to get out alive.
“I’m against a mosque where they want to build it…it breaks my heart,” Caccholi said.
Also in Lower Manhattan was a sizable crowd that came out to show their support for the proposed mosque and cultural center, as CBS 2’s Lou Young reports.
They stood at City Hall Park, and then marched through Lower Manhattan, to underscore their belief that being American and Muslim are not mutually exclusive. For many, the downtown mosque would be proof of that.
“These people who attacked this country are not belonging to us,” Staten Island resident Mahmoud Ali said. “American Muslims who live here have the right to get equality.”
An estimated 2,000 people took part in the protest, attracted not so much by support for the mosque as horror at the tone of the opposition.
“My take is that we’re not at war with Islam,” Kathy Manley, of Albany, said.
Many at the demonstration say the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks, by those very actions, surrendered any claim to Muslim faith.
However, the name-calling continued on Saturday. One unidentified protester who opposed the mosque was led away by police after buring several pages of a Koran in the open protest area closest to the mosque’s proposed location.
Steps away, a Koran publisher was giving away free copies of the Muslim holy book. The hope, Sajjad Khalfan said, is that people will read the book and decide for themselves. He had his own words for the 9/11 attackers.
“A handful of wackos, unfortunately, have taken credit,” Khalfan, of Woodside, said. “I wouldn’t call them Muslim.
There were a number of confrontations between supporters and opposition of the mosque. Police removed them from the area, but did not arrest them.