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Competing Rallies Held Over Proposed Islamic Center in New York City

  • Carolyn Weaver
  • Peter Fedynsky

Linda Jacknow, 70, of Long Island, N.Y., right, an opponent of the proposed Islamic center and mosque to be built near Ground Zero argues against Aviva Stampfer, 21, of Manhattan, N.Y., left, and Blake Luley, 23, of Brooklyn, N.Y., both in favor of the p

Several thousand people gathered in the city to voice opposition or support for the center near ground zero

The 9th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States coincides with a controversy over construction of an Islamic Center near the site of New York's fallen Twin Towers. Several thousand people gathered in the city to voice their position on the Center, either for or against.

On the eve of the September 11 anniversary, with beams of light shining from the site where the Twin Towers once stood, more than 2,000 people took part in a candlelight vigil supporting the right of Muslims to build an Islamic center in lower Manhattan. Organizers said they did not want to entangle the mosque controversy with the anniversary commemorations.

Isaac spoke for one group of young participants, reflecting the sentiments of most supporters of the Islamic Center.

"Well, this is a free country," he said. "They should be able to worship their religion, because they had nothing to do with anything that happened back then."

But the controversy and commemoration did get entangled, as various groups held September 11th demonstrations both for and against the Islamic Center.

At one rally of supporters, Reverend Alan Bentz-Letts of the United Church of Christ said Muslims are as diverse as any other group. He said they should not be equated with the actions of terrorists who attacked the United States nine years ago.

"The bigots lump all Muslims together," Bentz-Letts said. "They do not distinguish between good and bad, non-violence and violence, between moderate and fanatic. They lump them all together in one stereotype."

Just a few blocks away, however, those rallying against the planned Islamic cultural center said it would insult the memory of the 9/11 dead -- and stand as a symbol of Muslim supremacy.

Fabrizio Bivona and other speakers criticized the Imam who is leading the project.

"So the answer to anyone's question if this guy's doing it to be provocative or to build bridges, well, we're going to find out tomorrow if he continues with this monstrosity or if he stops this disaster now," Bivona said.

Keynote speaker (for the rally against the planned Islamic center), Dutch Member of Parliament Geert Wilders, has long campaigned against Islamist influences in the West. He said they could also undermine American democracy.

"President (Abraham) Lincoln, he said, and let me quote: "those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves," Wilders said.

Not all families of 9/11 victims oppose the Islamic center. And most opponents claim not to be prejudiced against Islam, only against the location of the planned center. But between the two September 11 rallies, there seemed to be no middle ground.