Everything in, above and around Ground Zero is personal for Tim Brown, a retired New York City firefighter who used to work at the World Trade Center and lost dozens of friends on Sept. 11, 2001. Walking the perimeter of the fenced-off construction site prompts bitter complaints about the bureaucratic delays -- "people being greedy" -- that have ensured that the buildings won't be finished in time for the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and about the Freedom Tower's name-change last year -- "caving in" -- to One World Trade Center
So it's no surprise he has a major problem with the plans for Cordoba House, a $100-million, 13-story complex two blocks away that -- depending on whom you believe -- is either the Muslim version of the YMCA and New York's Jewish-themed 92nd Street Y, or a plot to claim Islamic conquest of lower Manhattan.
I recently met with Brown for a Religion News Service story distinguishing between a mosque near Ground Zero and the "Ground Zero mosque." (Ground Zero isn't visible from 45-47 Park Place, and Cordoba Initiative leader Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf insists that the prayer space there will only be a small part of the facility's offerings, which also include a swimming pool, eateries and childcare. Nevertheless, the nickname has stuck.) Fellow critics, including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, have fleshed out the talking points lately, but I'm still wondering how much of their outrage is specific to this location and/or the Cordoba Initiative. Given the vitriol spewing forth these days against mosque proposals in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Tennessee, Wisconsin and elsewhere, and the anxiety expressed by members of Masjid Manhattan about protesters confusing them with Cordoba House, it mostly smacks of general Islamophobia -- just with a more prominent address.
Highlights from my conversation with Brown:
How close is too close to Ground Zero for a mosque? What if the Cordoba Initiative had bought a building a few more blocks away? A few more subway stops away?
You can't put a rule on that. It's about being sensitive to the families.
Imam Rauf intentionally chose a location this close to leverage 9/11. We do not want the deaths of our friends and families to be used to leverage recruitment into the Islamic ideology of Shariah, the same ideology that drove the Islamic terrorists to murder them in the first place.
The community board supports this project. How do you balance what the 9/11 victims' friends and families want, versus all the people who live and work in the neighborhood now?
The families have a right to voice their opinion, and it should be given value. I suspect that as more people in the neighborhood find out the truth about Rauf's radical ties, their opinions will change.
There have also been heated protests against proposed mosques in Staten Island (now canceled), Brooklyn, and across the country. Is your objection to Cordoba House about this particular proposal, or any mosque?
The families and first responders are primarily concerned about Rauf and co.'s intention to
leverage the deaths of our friends and family members to recruit people into the Islamic ideology that is ruled by Shariah law. Most if not all mosques also promote Shariah law above the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. We will also fight to defend our law, including freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, equal rights among all people and economic freedom.
This imam has shown us his radical ties. We will continue to expose him and anyone else tied to the same radical tendencies that killed our loved ones.
How do you oppose a Muslim facility while maintaining America's promise of religious freedom?
This is not an issue of religious freedom. The Muslim terrorists who flew the planes into those buildings did not believe in religious freedom; they believed in Shariah law, just like Rauf and co. Shariah law dictates that it is the law above all others. Rauf and co. and those Muslim terrorists believe in the same thing. They are just taking different paths to get there. We call Rauf's path "soft jihad."
There are many Muslims who live and work in lower Manhattan. Don't they need a place to pray?
Do they need a 13-story building? Or is this truly a "victory tower" as Muslims have built in other places they conquered? The Imam himself has said they chose this site intentionally. Why?
Imam Rauf says he views it as an opportunity to show what moderate Islam looks like, as opposed to the extremist version behind the 9/11 attacks, and to be a bridge-builder.
The bridge Imam Rauf wants to build is a bridge to Islam, and it's a one-way street. He can build here -- if he wants to upset people, if he wants to stick it in our face, if he wants to build a victory monument.
What could Cordoba House have done differently, if anything? If another Muslim organization wants to build something within a few blocks of Ground Zero -- such as Masjid Manhattan, a mosque operating out of a basement whose members have been searching for a larger space for years -- would this be more acceptable?
Any group that wants to leverage 9/11 for their own personal or their group's gain is unacceptable. Remember, many of the families never recovered any part of their loved one. The Memorial will contain unidentified remains. This means that the Memorial will actually be the grave of their loved one. The Imam claims they are "bridge builders," yet they ignore the families that have already paid much too much. They should show some sensitivity and build elsewhere.
You've also said this proposal is "too soon," given that Ground Zero is still under construction and the tenth anniversary of the attacks is coming up next year. At what point do you think enough time will have passed so that a Muslim group can peacefully open a community center in that neighborhood?
Is this really a community center? Of is this just their way of selling it to the community?
This will be a Muslim-led Shariah Recruitment Center. Make no mistake ... They have misled us on many occasions and we have no reason to believe anything they say. The politicians that have charged toward their defense need to open their eyes. Their political correctness is endangering America's safety and security.
For more from this interview, visit Nicole's Belief Beat blog.