Interfaith centre at New York 9/11 site sparks controversy

July 16, 2010

Mark Kobayashi-Hillary is the author of several books, including ‘Who Moved my Job?’ and ‘Global Services: Moving to a Level Playing Field’.  The opinions expressed are his own. –

Not every Muslim is a terrorist, but every terrorist who attacked the U.S. on 9/11 was a Muslim.

That’s the kind of aphorism being bounced around the Internet because of the news that a nineteenth-century building located close to Ground Zero in New York may be demolished to make way for a community and cultural centre aimed at improving relations between Islam and the West.

Naturally the new building will include a mosque and there is outrage on the blogs and social networks after a three-hour hearing of New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission this week.

The focus of the hearing was officially to examine whether the building earmarked for demolition is actually worthy of preservation, but it seems that most of the campaigners asking for it to be awarded heritage status were more interested in heading off the proposed community centre.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opted to avoid defending either side by saying: “The government should never be in the business of telling people how they should pray or where they can pray.”

This YouTube video, titled ‘No mosque at Ground Zero’, is a passionate plea to stop the “Islamification” of America. The blogger argues that the U.S. is about to import the political correctness of Europe and he has achieved no less than a million views in the past few weeks. His views resonate with many in both the U.S. and Europe.

But he fails to observe that things aren’t all that great if you are a Muslim and living in Europe these days. State-sponsored actions such as the French ban on full-length veils – a ban that affects all of 2,000 Muslims in France – are gaining support.

I first noticed the YouTube video on my Facebook feed – a friend had posted a comment on it so I had a look at some of the other comments. A typical entry being: “America is so busy trying to keep the peace that they are blind to the enemy. You cannot ever please everyone and we shouldn’t even be trying to. If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

Islam has a way of making both America and Europe uncomfortable, but why? Why the claim that a cultural centre aimed at helping interfaith understanding is actually a contribution to ‘Islamification’?

Almost 3,000 people died in 9/11, and approximately 60 of those were Muslim. The 9/11 casualty figures are often revised because of the nature of the tragedy, but based on these estimates some two per cent of the casualties were Muslim.

The Muslim population of the U.S. is 1.8 million people, or 0.6 per cent of all U.S. citizens. Muslims actually suffered more than three times the 9/11 casualties you might expect from a random population sample, although obviously lower Manhattan cannot be considered to be a random sample of average American life.

The local community board in lower Manhattan has already approved the cultural centre construction project, so if the present building fails to achieve any form of heritage status then it will soon be torn to the ground.

Islam is a big target that is barely understood by many non-Muslims, so it’s easy to publish bile on the blogs, but isn’t an interfaith centre exactly what the U.S. needs at Ground Zero almost a decade on from the horror of 9/11?

Picture Credit: People look over the site of the former twin towers on the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2009. REUTERS/Gary Hershorn

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