Barack Obama - The Ground Zero Mosque
Throughout the summer of 2010, a controversy was unfolding concerning a mosque and community center that was to be built on grounds damaged during the 9/11 attacks. Critics of the project cited it's name, location, leader and source of funding as indications that the mosque was intended to be a "victory mosque" which would commemorate the victory of 9/11 for islamic extremists. Supporters note the legal right of the owners to build on the property and state that the project is meant to build bridges between communities rather than foster mistrust.
President Obama entered the controversy when he commented on it during a dinner to commemorate Ramadan at the White House. The controversy grew when the President seemed to backtrack from those remarks the following day, only to have the White House state that the President was standing by his initial statements. The White House has stated that it would make no further comments on the issue.
|The property in question was purchased in July of 2009 by the real estate company Soho Properties, whose Chairman and CEO is Sharif El-Gamal. Although El-Gamal planned to build condominiums on the property, he eventually changed his plans and decided to build a mosque and community center on the site. El-Gamal is a member of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's congregation in New York, who originally came up with the idea for the mosque and community center at this location. Imam Rauf is the founder, CEO, and Director of several Muslim outreach groups, including the Cordoba Initiative and American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) which are run out of the same offices. Sources differ as to whether Imam Rauf approached El-Gamal about the site, or El-Gamal proposed the site to Imam Rauf.
The project is a $100 Million, 15 floor building which includes a cultural centre, a 500-seat performing arts centre, culinary school, exhibition space, swimming pool, gym, basketball court, restaurant, library and art studios. The top two floors would house a domed space for prayers . The Wikipedia page on the project contains a more detailed history and an artists rendering of the proposed structure, which is seen to the right.
The Cordoba Initiative
The Cordoba Initiative describes itself as a group dedicated to improving Muslim-West Relations, and it's website addresses a number of questions that have been brought up about the project.
Solving some of the most intractable conflicts in the world today requires innovative strategies for cross-cultural engagement. Cordoba Initiative tackles this mandate with forethought, expertise and the ability to leverage contacts in influential positions within the Muslim World and the West. Thinking outside the box about international and intercultural conflict resolution also means thinking introspectively about each side's place within its own historical narrative with a view to devising internally oriented solutions.
Who is organizing this project?
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan originally proposed the idea of a Muslim Community Center in lower Manhattan, where Imam Feisal has had a mosque for 27 years. A real estate developer, Sharif Gamal, was a member of Imam Feisal’s congregation and suggested that a building located at 51 Park Place. might be a good location for the future community center. That was the beginning of the plan. Before any fundraising begins, a new non-profit organization will be formed to raise funds and organize the community center.
One of the chief controversies surrounding the project is it's location. At two blocks from the previous site of the twin towers, the building was struck by landing gear from one of the planes that flew into the towers. This proximity has led to the labeling of the mosque as "at ground zero," since the building in question was damaged during the attacks. The images below were taken from the wikipedia site on the subject.
In addressing the location of the building, the Cordoba Initiative has stated that their current location is also near ground zero and that they are seeking to remain in the same neighborhood.
Why are you building “a mosque near Ground zero?”
Strictly speaking, it will not be a “mosque,” although it would have a prayer space on one of its 15 floors. At the beginning, no one considered the fact that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf Abdul Rauf’s current mosque is 12 blocks from the Ground Zero site, while the Park51 Community Center location is only 2 and one-half blocks away. We never discussed wanting to be close to Ground Zero; our goal was to find a good real estate opportunity for a community center. 51 Park seemed to fit the bill.
But why so close to Ground Zero?
We were always close to the World Trade Center. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been the Imam of a mosque twelve blocks from the Twin Towers for the last 27 years. American Muslims have been peacefully living, working and worshipping in this neighborhood all along and were also terribly affected by the horrific events of 9/11.
We wanted to build a community center in our old neighborhood, and the Park51 location became available. (In our part of lower Manhattan, it’s hard not to be close to Ground Zero.) As Muslim New Yorkers and Americans, we want to help and be part of rebuilding our neighborhood. It is important for everyone to show the world that Americans will not be frightened or deterred by the extremist forces of hatred.
Imam Feisal Abdoul Rauf
Imam Feisal Abdoul Rauf has himself become a source of controversy. He has made statements that can be viewed as derogatory towards the United States and has refused to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization.
On September 19, 2001, just days after the 9/11 attacks, Imam Rauf was one of four men interviewed on 60 minutes about Osama Bin Laden and the attacks. He stated that the attacks of 9/11 could in some manners be attributed to the United States because of it's prior policies.
In August of 2010, Imam Rauf stated in a press conference that America was a "sharia compliant state," and explained that statement by describing 5 principles that islam and America share.
In relating to Imam Rauf's comments, the Cordoba Initiative makes the following statements on their website:
“Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf won’t condemn terrorism”
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has always condemned terrorism. Here are his words from his 2004 book, What’s Right with Islam is What’s Right with America: “The truth is that killing innocent people is always wrong – and no argument or excuse, no matter how deeply believed, can ever make it right. No religion on earth condones the killing of innocent people; no faith tradition tolerates the random killing of our brothers and sisters on this earth. God does not want us to kill each other.” He has repeated the same thing in hundreds of speeches around the world.
“Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has not condemned Hamas”
Hamas is both a political movement and a terrorist organization. When Hamas commits atrocious acts of terror, those actions should be condemned. Imam Feisal has forcefully and consistently condemned all forms of terrorism, including those committed by Hamas, as un-Islamic. In his 2004 book, he even went so far as to include a copy of the Fatwa issued after 9/11 by the most respected clerics of Egypt defining the 9/11 attack as an un-Islamic act of terror and giving permission to Muslims in the U.S. armed forces to fight against those Muslims who committed this act of terror. Imam Feisal included this in his book to prove that terrorism must be fought even if Muslims have to fight fellow Muslims to stop it.
Another source of controversy around the project concerns it's name. The building to be constructed has been referred to as "Park 51" - a result of the building's address - and "The Cordoba House". Cordoba was the site of the "Great Mosque of Cordoba." Critics of the Mosque and the Initiative have claimed that the name was meant to represent the conquest of Christian land in Spain by the islamic religion and the conversion of a large church into the Cordoba Mosque. The Cordoba Initiative claims that the use of the name for the movement and the house as follows:
The name Cordoba was chosen carefully to reflect a period of time during which Islam played a monumental role in the enrichment of human civilization and knowledge. A thousand years ago Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted and created a prosperous center of intellectual, spiritual, cultural and commercial life in Cordoba, Spain.
Speculation that the intent of the mosque could be to stand as a symbol of victory grew when opposition groups claimed funding would come from Iran, and other unnamed sources in the middle east. Project organizers refused to state that they would deny funding from openly anti-US groups.
It was discovered that by mid-September, the group had raised only $9,000 for the building of the site.
Not a Mosque
In May of 2010, Imam Rauf held a press conference outside the future site and stated that the Cordoba House was not a Mosque, but rather a "community Center".
Approval of Mosque
President Obama first spoke about the controversy surrounding the mosque on August 13, 2010. While speaking at the White House in a gathering to observe the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, President Obama said the following:
Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.
Clarification of Statements
The next day, President Obama was on a trip to Florida and was asked to clarify those statements. He stated that he was not commenting on the wisdom of building a mosque, but rather on the right of those building the mosque to do so.
I was not commenting and I will not comment on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. My intention was simply to let people know what I thought. Which was that in this country we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.
White House Clarification
Later that day, White House Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton issued the following statement noting that the President was not backing off from his initial assertion that the owners of the property had the right to build the mosque.
Just to be clear, the president is not backing off in any way from the comments he made last night. It is not his role as president to pass judgment on every local project. But it is his responsibility to stand up for the constitutional principle of religious freedom and equal treatment for all Americans. What he said last night, and reaffirmed today, is that if a church, a synagogue or a Hindu temple can be built on a site, you simply cannot deny that right to those who want to build a mosque.
 Website: Yahoo News Article: Obama supports 'the right' for ground zero mosque Author: PAULINE JELINEK Accessed on: 09/09/2010
 Website: The Politico Article: Mosque flap swirls around Obama Author: JAMES HOHMANN & MAGGIE HABERMAN & MIKE ALLEN Accessed on: 09/09/2010
 Website: Cordoba Initiative Article: Frequently Asked Questions | Cordoba Inititive Author: NA Accessed on: 09/11/2010
 Website: Financial Times Article: Zero tolerance and Cordoba House Author: Basharat Peer Accessed on: 09/11/2010
 Website: Wikipedia Article: Great Mosque at Cordoba Author: NA Accessed on: 09/11/2010
 Website: Wikipedia Article: Park 51 Author: NA Accessed on: 09/11/2010
 Website: New York Post Article: Iran cash might fund Ground Zero mosque Author: GEOFF EARLE & TOM TOPOUSIS Accessed on: 09/20/2010