The controversy surrounding the proposed Islamic Center in New York City continues unabated as supporters of the project organize a coalition to support religious freedom in the United States. An organized opposition is just as adamant that American liberties would be threatened if the Center were to be built.
A group of Islamic Center supporters announced creation of the Coalition of New York Neighbors for American Values at a news conference at the city's Municipal building. Members include Christian, Jewish and Islamic clergy, civil rights organizations and families of some who perished in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the famous World Trade Center in New York.
Representing those families was Donna O'Connor, who lost a pregnant daughter that day. O'Connor countered critics who have said building the Islamic Center just two blocks from Ground Zero, the area where the attacks took place, would dishonor victims and inflict pain on surviving family members. She said she shares the pain and dislikes reminders of it.
"If we lose this debate; that will be a greater pain. We've already seen across the country anti-Muslim violence, rallies and protests against mosques. So this is not just a protest against the ground at Ground Zero," she said.
Supporters note the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by Islamic terrorists, whose crimes should not be equated with the faith of a billion peaceful Muslims, including millions in America.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of New York's Shalom Center, cautioned that Americans should not do to their neighbors what they would find hateful if those neighbors did it to them. He also related a childhood story when his immigrant grandmother scolded fellow Jewish women for using pejoratives about American blacks. That story, he said, should serve as a lesson against stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists.
"That is the way they talk about us in Europe. And this is America! And you must not talk like that. And we must not act like that either," Waskow said.
Pamela Geller, founder of Stop Islamization of America, a group opposed to the Islamic Center, said that Donna O'Conner represents neither most Americans, nor 9/11 families, a majority of which is opposed to the project.
She also rejected Rabbi Waskow's arguments as idiotic, irrelevant, and intellectually dishonest.
She added that opposition to the mosque does not represent restrictions on the right to worship, but rather respect for those hurt by 9/11.
"We don't need lessons in sensitivity, but what needs, I think, to be learned here, is reciprocity; mutual respect, mutual understanding, of which there is none. Any criticism of Islam or candor about Islam is met with the most vile accusations and insults of racism, although Islam is not a race, and bigotry," she said.
Geller enumerated cases of Islamic intolerance, including the 2005 Danish cartoon controversy, when Muslims protested the depiction of the Prophet Mohammed as a terrorist. Americans considered that undue pressure against America's free press.
She also expressed fears Muslims would seek to impose Islamic law and educational standards in the United States.
Supporters say American Muslims have been good neighbors and note many of them died in the 9/11 attacks. And many Muslim leaders in America say they have had more freedom to practice Islam's true tenants of peace in this country than overseas.