Ground Zero, New York City
A little rain was not enough of a deterrent to keep thousands of protesters of the Ground Zero mosque off of the streets Sunday. The protesters turned out en masse to voice their objections to the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center, which would include a mosque, at this site of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
Many protesters held signs. “No Mosque at Ground Zero” read one. “Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever” read another. Patriotic cheering and songs interspersed the many speeches given by activists, scholars, and public figures.
“We’re opposed to building a mosque by Ground Zero,” protester Dara Levy told me. “Right here is the site of where nearly 3,000 people died. People will never get over that,” Levy said, pointing out that the attack was committed in the name of Islam. “So in the interest of tolerance and democracy, they should move it away.”
“The question is, why not move it? You see how many people it’s hurting by having a mosque in this area,” Levy's sister Lorna said as she pointed to the crowd, “so if you want to unite people for a moderate Islam – then move it. The majority of this city, state, and country is against the mosque.”
Lorna worked at the World Trade Center nine years ago, but was lucky to be on vacation when the terrorists flew the hijacked planes into her office building on September 11, 2001.
Larisa Ginzburg, a small business owner and entrepreneur from Long Island was not only angry at the planners of the Ground Zero mosque – she was upset with politicians, too, for supporting it. “I’m disgusted with the responses of Mayor Bloomberg and President Obama,” she told me. “I’m further disgusted with Nancy Pelosi and her call for an investigation,” Ginzburg said in reference to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call for an investigation into the people funding of those opposed to the Ground Zero mosque. “In reality, the funding of the mosque is what should really be investigated,” Ginzburg said in the reference to the organizer of the Ground Zero mosque, Imam Abdul Feisal Rauf.
No one is quite sure who is financing Rauf’s project. A representative of the Ground Zero mosque project has refused to rule out accepting donations from states’ sponsoring terrorist organizations, including Iran. However, it’s not clear whether Rauf’s actually taken financing from such contributors.
“I think it’s obscene, I think it’s a travesty,” Debra Burlingame, a board member of Keep America Safe whose brother was killed on 9/11, told me. “That building, what 50 feet away from us was destroyed on 9/11. There were seven buildings that went down around this site. If you were standing at that mosque when Tower 1 went down, you might not be alive today. There were remains scattered all over this neighborhood.”
At one particularly moving moment in the protest, 9/11 firefighter Tim Brown, the master of ceremonies of today’s protest, asked the gathered crowd to lower all their signs. Then, Brown asked the participants to raise a hand if they lost a family member on 9/11. A few folks throughout the crowd raised their hands. Keeping their hands in the air, Brown asked everyone who lost a family member or a friend on 9/11 to join them. More than half of the protesters raised their hands.
The protesters were not without their own protesters, however. A block away, on Church Street, a group of less than 100 Ground Zero mosque supporters were on hand. One counter-protester, Gary Phaneuf, wearing a faded red shirt with a hammer-and-sickle symbol on it, applauded the remarks President Barack Obama had made in support of the Ground Zero mosque after an iftar dinner at the White House a couple weeks back. “The president of the United States has courageously – this is his finest hour, in my opinion,” Phaneuf told me. Asked whether he was disappointed with the president for walking back his comments the next day, Phaneuf said, “Well, then that’s a fine hour,” suggesting that the hours since the iftar dinner were not nearly as fine.
The counter-protest lasted less than an hour. After it had ended, the Ground Zero mosque supporters moved toward the site of the protesters. After shouting began to break out between the opposed groups, the cops moved in to defuse the situation.
The protest of the Ground Zero mosque lasted nearly two and a half hours, despite intermittent rainfall. According to a New York police officer, the protest had been peaceful, without any reported incidents.
The rally ended with an impromptu march, just the single block to the site of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. The protesters marched down, and sang “God Bless America.” The pledge of allegiance to the American flag followed. The protest, then, was capped off with loud chants. “Not here, not now, not ever!” and, finally, with the group yelling in repeated unison, “Stop the mosque!”