FaithWorld

New Yorkers see the right to build Islamic center, but also want it moved

mosque signsNew York voters contradicted themselves over a planned Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, with majorities saying both that Muslims have the right to build one but that they should be forced to move it, a poll issued on Tuesday finds.

Fifty-four percent of those polled believe Muslims have the right to build the center and mosque near “Ground Zero” because of American freedom of religion, but a similar 53 percent said that right should be denied because of the sensitivities of relatives of those killed on September 11, 2001. (Photo: Demonstrators in front of theIslamic center  site in New York , August 25, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

The Quinnipiac University poll surveyed 1,497 New York state registered voters from August 23 to 29, at the height of the controversy that Republicans who oppose the mosque have seized on for a political edge over Democrats ahead of November 2 mid-term elections. Read the full story here.

lazioKuwait-born Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is touring Gulf Arab countries to speak about religious radicalism, said his plan for a $100 million cultural center and mosque in Lower Manhattan had become a campaign issue for the November 2 mid-term elections. (Photo: Rick Lazio, Republican candidate for governor of New York state, speaks against the Islamic center at a public hearing that approved the project, July 13, 2010/Keith Bedford)

President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg support the right of Muslims to build the center. But it is opposed by most conservative politicians, some Democrats, and others who say its location is insensitive to families of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the September 11 attacks by al Qaeda militants in 2001.

NY Islam uproar shows lack of Muslim leaders, prompts more interfaith support

center support 2 (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.

Muslim center dispute sparks New York rallies — article link, video, photo gallery

mosque rally 1 (Photo: Muslim center supporter at a New York rally, August 22, 2010/Jessica Rinaldi)

Supporters and opponents of a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site staged competing rallies in downtown Manhattan on Sunday, kept apart by police and barricades.

Hundreds of opponents chanted “No Mosque,” sang patriotic songs and waved photographs of violent attacks by Islamic extremists.  One sign read: “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the terrorists were Muslim.”

NYC Muslims want more space to pray/ Latest links to Islamic center dispute

mosque space 1 (Photo: Manhattan building now on site of proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque, August 17, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

Muslims in lower Manhattan who have prayed in a crowded basement or in the streets say they are not looking for confrontation with opponents of a new mosque. They simply need the space.

Some New Yorkers traumatized by the September 11, 2001 attacks have emotionally opposed a proposed Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Republican politicians seeking to wrest control of Congress from Democrats in November elections have seized on the issue.

The controversy has sucked in President Barack Obama and stirred debate about the meaning of religious freedom in a nation founded in part on that principle. Competing rallies for and against the Muslim project are planned to mark this year’s ninth anniversary of the attacks.

Did Bloomberg inspire Obama’s speech about NYC Muslim cultural centre?

obama mosque 1There was an interesting echo at the White House when President Barack Obama came out in favour of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural centre near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (see our news report here).  Controversy about the project, which opponents call the “Ground Zero mosque,” has been swirling in New York for weeks and went national recently when Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the critics’ campaign. But until the annual Iftar dinner he hosted on Friday evening, the president had kept out of what his spokesman called “a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” (Photo: President Obama addresses White House Iftar meal, 13 August 2010/Jason Reed)

Reading his comments, it looks like Obama not only let NYC authorities decide the issue — favourably for the project, as it turned out, as both the local community board and the landmarks commission voted overwhelmingly to let it go ahead. He may also have taken pointers for his speech from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has stood solidly behind the project despite all the emotion it has stirred up.

obama mosque 2After the Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the last administrative hurdle to the plan — rejecting the opponents’ bid to protect the 1857 building standing on the proposed Cordoba House site from being torn down — Bloomberg delivered a forceful speech on August 3 defending two long-standing American traditions.

New York mosque opponents react, mayor defends religious freedom

nyc mosque 1A planned mosque and Muslim cultural center near the site of the September 11 attacks, which has triggered national debate, faces a new hurdle after a lawsuit was filed aiming to block the controversial project. (Photo: Demonstrator holds a sign in support of the proposed Cordoba Mosque to be built in New York, July 13, 2010/Keith Bedford)

The lawsuit, filed on Wednesday by the American Center for Law & Justice in Washington whose mission is defending religious freedom, challenges Tuesday’s decision by the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission not to grant landmark status to the 1857 Italianate building currently on the site.

“This issue has nothing to do with religious freedom,” said Brett Joshpe, a lawyer for ACLJ. “Given what the (planned new) building represents, the placement of the project at that location is inappropriate and inflammatory.”

Bishop of Arabia dismayed by minaret ban in Swiss homeland

minarets-trainMany supporters of the Swiss ban on minarets justified it with the argument that limitations on mosques in Europe were permissible because Christians can’t build churches in some Muslim countries. This was also a recurring theme in comments to FaithWorld (see here and here). But doesn’t this tit-for-tat approach simply provide further arguments for Muslim authorities who don’ t want to concede more religious freedom to their Christian minorities? (Photo: Posters for “yes” vote to minaret ban in Zurich train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

One man uniquely placed to judge this is the Swiss-born Roman Catholic Bishop Paul Hinder. Based in Abu Dhabi, he is at the frontline of the “reciprocity” debate on treatment of Christian minorities in the Middle East. In an interview in today’s French Catholic daily La Croix, Hinder says he was “dismayed” that the minaret ban passed in a referendum last Sunday. “For us Christians in Arabia, it will certainly not make our work easier, although some might think they have done us a favour by saying yes to this initiative,” he said.

“Nobody can deny that the ban on minarets punishes a specific religious community, whose members in Switzerland have done nothing wrong,” he added. “I certainly understand the irrational fears of many Swiss faced with the heightened visibility of religion that they previously knew only by hearsay but now find right at their doorsteps or in the apartment next door.”

U.S. sees “mixed picture” on world religious freedom

seoul-prayer-protest (Photo: CHristians pray during an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, 3 Oct 2007/Han Jae-Ho)

The United States sees a mixed picture on world religious freedom, with progress in interfaith dialogue weighed against government repression and sectarian strife in many countries.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which particularly criticized Iran and North Korea among other countries for harsh limits on religious expression.

“It is our hope that the … report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world,” Clinton said, adding that all people should have the right to believe or not as they see fit.

The report tagged North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan among the worst offenders, placing them on a watch list put out earlier this year.

Berlusconi allies seek to ban burqas in Italy

niqabItaly’s anti-immigration Northern League party is pushing for legislation to prosecute women who cover their faces with burqas and veils, prompting a new debate on Muslims’ religious freedom in the Catholic country.

The Northern League, allies of conservative Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, want to amend a 1975 law, introduced amid worries over homegrown guerrilla groups, which punishes with hefty fines and up to two years in jail people covering their faces with anything preventing their identification by police.

It would extend an existing partial ban on face-covering clothing to include “garments worn for reasons of religious affiliation,” and removes the expression “justified cause” which has prompted some courts to allow them on religious grounds.

Germany asks if Islam impedes on freedom of speech

GERMANY/A decision by the German publisher Droste not to print a murder mystery about an honour killing because it contained passages insulting Islam has raised questions in Germany about religion impeding on freedom of speech.

Droste publishers said they would have published the book, entitled “To Whom Honour is Due”, had author Gabriele Brinkmann softened the tone in some sections In one, for example, an angry character tells another to dispose of a Koran using a crude phrase we would not reproduce here. “The author was not prepared to change the derogatory passages, which would have  been a condition for the publication,” Droste said in a statement on its website. (Photo: The Merkez Mosque in Duisburg, Aug 21, 2009, Reuters/Ina Fassbender)

Little did they realise what a stir this decision would cause in Germany, which is sensitive to any compromise on freedom of speech and where security fears over Islamists have blocked several artistic ventures in recent years. “For me, it is about the principle. That is why I went public about this. I won’t hurry to be obedient and carry out self censorship,” Brinkmann told German media.  “Justified fear or cowardice?” asked the headline in the daily Hamburger Abendblatt.