Daily Israel Report

Planned Mosques in US Cause Confrontations

Mosques being planned in different communities around the US have resulted in heated protests, says NY Times.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 8/9/2010, 2:57 AM / Last Update: 8/9/2010, 3:02 AM

Israel news photo

With the heated debates regarding the planned mosque near Ground Zero in New York making headlines in recent weeks, a New York Times report that was also published in the San Francisco Sentinel over the weekend serves as a reminder that not only the Big Apple has experienced confrontations due to a planned building of a mosque.

The report highlighted what has taken place in other locations across the United States in which mosques are proposed. For example, hundreds of protesters marched in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where a large Muslim center was proposed near a subdivision. Republican candidates have already denounced these plans, said the report.

In late June, members of a local Tea Party group in Temecula, California, protested during Friday prayers outside a mosque that is seeking to build a new center on a nearby vacant lot. The Muslim community in Temecula has grown to 150 families who have outgrown their makeshift worship space in a warehouse. Their imam, Mahmoud Harmoush, (who is also a lecturer at California State University, San Bernardino), explained that the group wants to build a 25,000-square-foot center, with space for classrooms and a playground, on a lot it bought in 2000. He added that his community had contributed to the local food bank, sent supplies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and participated in music nights and Thanksgiving events with the local interfaith council. He said that “nobody notices” when all these activities are done by his community. “Now that we have to build our center, everybody jumps to make it an issue,” he added.

Meanwhile in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, Christian ministers led a noisy fight against a Muslim group that sought permission to open a mosque in a former health food store bought by a Muslim doctor.

The report also cited that the reasons for the protests are no longer things such as traffic and noise, but rather an issue with Islam itself. American citizens nowadays are in the midst of a debate on how to uphold the country’s democratic values, and whether allowing Muslims the same religious freedoms enjoyed by other Americans would indeed threaten these values.

Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, said: “It’s one thing to oppose a mosque because traffic might increase, but it’s different when you say these mosques are going to be nurturing terrorist bombers, that Islam is invading, that civilization is being undermined by Muslims.”

Proof of Bagby’s words might be found in a quote by Diana Serafin, who opposes the Temecula mosque: “As a mother and a grandmother, I worry. I learned that in 20 years with the rate of the birth population, we will be overtaken by Islam, and their goal is to get people in Congress and the Supreme Court to see that Shariah is implemented. My children and grandchildren will have to live under that.”

She added: “I do believe everybody has a right to freedom of religion. But Islam is not about a religion. It’s a political government, and it’s 100 percent against our Constitution.”

A two-year study conducted by professors with Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina, has concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism. Many mosque leaders, according to the report, have put significant effort into countering extremism through efforts such as building youth programs, sponsoring anti-violence forums and scrutinizing extremist teachers and texts.

Perhaps the most controversial planned mosque is still the one which is planned near Ground Zero in New York. Last week, the plan to build a Muslim center which includes a mosque adjacent to the ruins of the Twin Towers passed a crucial hurdle when New York City's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-0 not to declare the building now occupying the site protected. This means it may be demolished and the planned mosque and Islamic center may be built in its place. 

Retired Brigadier General Dov Shefi, a former chief military prosecutor and now attorney general of the Defense Ministry who lost his son in the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, told Arutz7 last week: "I think that the establishment of a mosque in this place, a place that serves as a memorial site for 40,000 families, is like bringing a pig (an unkosher animal) into the Holy Temple. It is inconceivable that in all the city of New York, this site was specifically chosen to establish an institution that represents the culture that led the terrorists of Al-Qaeda to carry out the greatest crime ever.”

Shefi added that "America sometimes loses its mind. America raised the banner of the freedom and liberty, allowing everyone to express an opinion, but this belief often makes them lose sight of reality."

Shefi is not alone in his battle against the plan. The New York-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) joined the opposition to the plan last week, and said in a statement: “Ultimately, this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain – unnecessarily – and that is not right.”

Sarah Palin and former House speaker Newt Gingrich have also voiced their opposition to the plan, yet despite the opposition and massive protests that have taken place, the project appears to be going ahead. Following the decision by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg hailed the decision with a forceful speech on religious liberty.