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Imam: Mosque Furor Stoking Anti-Muslim Fears

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Thousands demonstrate against the proposed Ground Zero mosque. (credit: CBS 2)

Thousands demonstrate against the proposed Ground Zero mosque. (credit: CBS 2)

NEW YORK (CBS 2/AP) – The imam leading an effort to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site said the raging debate on whether it should be moved has stoked anti-Muslim feelings.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said in an interview that aired Sunday that the controversy over the mosque site has heightened concerns among Muslims of rising Islamophobia, and fear of Islam is possibly greater than it was immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

Rauf spoke on ABC News’ “This Week with Christiane Amanpour.” He also said that the project made the front page of papers when it was approved last December and was not questioned, and that it has become a debate for political reasons.

The interview aired one day after the anniversary of the attacks.

After the 9/11 ceremony in Lower Manhattan, quiet and respectful rally in peaceful opposition to the Ground Zero mosque was held, with one victim’s mother, Nellie Braginsky, asking a simple question: “Mr. Bloomberg, tells us, do you sleep well? Do you have a bad dream?”

She was one of many to highlight the mayor’s staunch support of the Islamic cultural center, formerly called the Cordoba House and now renamed Park51.

The flag waving, anti-mosque crowd stretched two blocks over three lanes of traffic. The estimated 3,000 people from across the country was led by their main speaker, Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician noted for his opposition to both Islamic terrorism and Islamic immigrants’ refusal to assimilate.

“A tolerant society like New York must defend itself against the forces of darkness,” he said.

Although mostly peaceful, one protester at the rally was taken away by police after burning pages of what appeared to be a copy of the Koran.

Meanwhile, a dueling, pro-mosque crowd gathered at City Hall Park, then marched through Lower Manhattan. Their message was it’s possible to be a Muslim and a patriotic American, and the proposed mosque would prove it.

“These people who attack this country are not belonging to us, who are American-Muslims who live here, have the right to get equality,” said Mahmoud Ali of Staten Island.

The counter-rally was smaller, about 2,000.

And many said the terrorists who struck on 9/11 were extremists who by their very actions, surrendered any claim to true Islamic beliefs. “Theologically, in the sight of God being the follower of God, that’s correct,” said Shamshad Ahmed of Masjid As-Salam.

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