(Photo: Demonstrators for and against the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque in front of the site in New York, August 25, 2010/Lucas Jackson)
Among the most visible supporters of a proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site have been the city’s Jewish mayor and a libertarian congressman from faraway Texas.
Notably absent from the controversy has been a nationally recognizable Muslim American leader in the style of the late Martin Luther King Jr. who spoke for blacks in the civil rights movement, Cesar Chavez who represented Latino migrant workers or, however briefly, Harvey Milk who stood up for gay rights.
Muslim scholars and political groups have spoken up forcefully in defense of the proposed $100 million cultural center, saying it should be protected by basic tolerance and the constitutional right to freedom of religion. But the Muslim statements have failed to capture national attention, much the way their repeated condemnations of terrorism and specific attacks by Islamist extremists have failed to reverberate in the American consciousness.
In the meantime the void has been filled in part by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has consistently defended the mosque project on the grounds of religious freedom, and U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a Republican whose libertarian views sometimes put him at odds with his party.
Muslim, Jewish, Christian and civic groups formed a coalition on Wednesday to back a plan for a Muslim center near the site of the World Trade Center attacks in New York that has sparked heated national debate.