The community center would occupy 45-51 Park Place, about two blocks north of the World Trade Center site. In July 2009, Soho Properties bought half of the lot (45-47 Park Place), which was occupied at the time by a three-story building that had been heavily damaged during the September 11 attacks. The other half of the lot (49-51 Park Place) is owned by the utility Con Edison and leased to Soho Properties. Although Soho Properties CEO Sharif El-Gamal initially intended to turn the site into a condominium complex, he was convinced by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, a well-known Muslim religious leader in New York City, to construct a community center instead. The project's chief investors-the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and the Cordoba Initiative-are both nonprofit organizations founded by Rauf.
Plans to build the community center were first made public in the New York Times on December 9, 2009, although they attracted little notice. On May 25, 2010, Lower Manhattan Community Board 1 backed the secular aspects of the project through a nonbinding vote of 29 to 1, although the religious component of the planned community center caused some anxiety among board members. By mid-2010, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, founders of the group Stop Islamization of America, had brought national attention to the project, which they vocally criticized and dubbed the Ground Zero Mosque.
Most Park51 opponents assert that this is not an issue of religious freedom or racism and that they object only to the location of the community center. They argue that building Park51 only a few blocks from Ground Zero is insensitive to the memory of 9/11 victims, who lost their lives at the hands of Islamic terrorists, and their families. More extreme opponents, however, have labeled the construction project a blatant Islamic threat. Others have speculated about Park51's funding sources, voicing concerns that the project's investors might take money from Hamas, Iran, or other entities hostile to the United States. Those opposed to Park51 include a number of families of 9/11 victims, the American Center for Law & Justice, the Zionist Organization of America, and the Center for Islamic Pluralism. Prominent politicians who have spoken out against the project include Republican senator John McCain, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, former Speaker of the House New Gingrich, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Supporters counter that opponents are motivated by intolerance and baseless fear and hatred. They assert that it is important to distinguish between mainstream Islam and the radical brand of Islam practiced by those who committed the September 11 attacks. Concerns have also arisen that the controversy over Park51 will fuel anti-Americanism around the world and serve as a powerful recruiting tool for Islamic extremist groups. Supporters of the project include the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Many New York City officials have backed Park51, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Manhattan Borough president Scott Stringer. Former president Bill Clinton, Texas representative Ron Paul, and other well-known politicians have also given their support.
Polls reveal that the majority of Americans, as well as the majority of residents living in New York state and the larger New York City metropolitan area, oppose the building of Park51 near the World Trade Center, although a majority of respondents also agree that the developers have a legal and constitutional right to build the community center at that site. A majority of Manhattan residents, however, support the building of Park51 at its planned location.
In addition to the issue of location, even the community center's name has proven controversial. The development's original name-Cordoba House-was inspired by Cordoba, Spain, where, according to Rauf, Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived harmoniously and cooperatively during the 8th through 11th centuries. Detractors contend that the name was a clear and hostile reference to the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. To minimize objections, the community center's name was changed to Park51, referring to its address on Park Place. Supporters of the project argue that the popular nickname "Ground Zero Mosque" is inaccurate and misused by the media in order to increase public anxiety about the development.
Spencer C. Tucker
Barret, Devlin. "Mosque Debate Isn't Going Away." Wall Street Journal, August 3, 2010; Ghosh, Bobby. "Mosque Controversy: Does America Have a Muslim Problem?" Time, August 19, 2010; Hernandez, Javier C. "Vote Endorses Muslim Center Near Ground Zero." New York Times, May 25, 2010; Kreimer, Nancy Fuchs. "Proposed Muslim Community Center Near Ground Zero: 'A Slap in the Face' or 'Repairing the Breach?'" Huffington Post, May 21, 2010; Rauf, Feisal Abdul. "Building on Faith." New York Times, September 7, 2010.