NY archbishop voices concern over tone of debate on mosque proposed near ground zeroBy AP
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
NY archbishop worries about tone of mosque debate
NEW YORK — The tense climate around a proposal for an Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero could put New Yorkers in danger of losing their sense of tolerance and unity, values they embraced in the days after Sept. 11, the leader of the area’s Roman Catholics said Tuesday.
“We’re just a little bit apprehensive that those noble values may be a bit at risk in the way this conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place,” Archbishop Timothy Dolan said after a meeting with Gov. David Paterson about the issue.
A national survey underscored the complex views of Americans toward the mosque project, with 51 percent agreeing with opponents of the Muslim center, while 34 percent said they supported it. The poll of 1,003 randomly chosen adults was conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and showed that a majority, 62 percent, also said Muslims have equal rights to build houses of worship.
In an impassioned speech at a dinner Tuesday in observance of Iftar, the daily meal in which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said not allowing the mosque to be built two blocks from ground zero would be “compromising our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.”
“We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting,” Bloomberg said at the event, which was attended by about 100 people, including members of the Muslim community and city officials such as police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.
The mayor said he understood the “impulse to find another location for the mosque” but a compromise won’t end the debate.
“The question will then become how big should the no-mosque zone around the World Trade Center be,” Bloomberg said. “There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it, too, be moved?”
Bloomberg, a billionaire philanthropist, said earlier Tuesday, in response to a question, that he was unlikely to donate money to the mosque effort. Bloomberg, who’s Jewish, said most of his donations to religious causes tended to be his mother’s temple and his temple.
Sharif el-Gamal, the mosque site’s developer, and Daisy Khan, a co-founder of the group planning the mosque, also attended the dinner. After Bloomberg spoke, el-Gamal said he was “very honored and blessed” to be an American and a New Yorker.
“Mayor Bloomberg’s speech embodied the values and the mores that we as Muslim Americans live and cherish,” el-Gamal said.
Khan said Bloomberg “delivered a passionate speech in defense of our deep American values.”
While supporters of the mosque say religious freedom should be protected, opponents say the mosque should be moved farther away from where Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people on Sept. 11, 2001.
Dolan said both sides of the debate have legitimate stances.
“I sure don’t have strong feelings on where the mosque should ultimately be,” he said during a brief news conference after meeting with the governor.
They spoke about how religion can be brought to bear on the debate over the proposal in an effort to encourage reconciliation and community, rather than divisiveness, Dolan said, and expressed willingness to be part of the dialogue if asked.
New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who represents the lower Manhattan district where ground zero is, suggested Tuesday that Islamic leaders should move the proposed mosque. Paterson has made the same point.
Organizers have the right to build the center at a building two blocks north of ground zero but should be open to compromise, Silver said.
“In the spirit of living with others, they should be cognizant of the feelings of others and try to find a location that doesn’t engender the deep feelings the currently exist about this site,” Silver said.
Paterson has yet to meet with anyone from The Cordoba Initiative, the project’s organizer.
Its co-founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is on a Mideast trip funded by the U.S. Department of state. He alluded to the controversy at a dinner Sunday night for student leaders at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Manama, Bahrain.
“The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success,” he said. “It is my hope that people will understand more. … This is something we are doing for your generation.”
Rauf also thanked President Barack Obama, who has said Muslims have the right to practice their religion and build the Islamic center in lower Manhattan. The president later said he wasn’t endorsing the specifics of the plan.
The White House on Tuesday said that Obama would have no further comment on the issue and that the administration will not get involved in talks about relocating the facility. Republicans have vowed to make Obama’s supportive comments a campaign issue in this fall’s midterm elections.
Rauf, who has rarely spoken publicly about the project, said that he was leery of the media and that they are portraying a negative image of Muslims to the West. He also said he doesn’t like Muslims portraying a bad image of the West to the Muslim world.
He said in an interview published Tuesday by the daily Bahraini newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej that the media had “succeeded in portraying stereotypical images, focusing on the negative and criticizing the other. … We should be self-critical instead of focusing on criticizing the other.”
Associated Press writers Michael Gormley in Albany and Sara Kugler Frazier in New York contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS typos in 1st Dolan quote.)
Tags: Bahrain, Barack Obama, Individual Giving, Middle East, New York, New York City, North America, Philanthropy, Religious Issues, United States