About one hundred local dignitaries and family members of 9/11 victims joined Rep. Peter King (R.-N.Y.) and former Rep. Vito Fossella (R.-N.Y.) at a rally on Sunday to protest the location of the proposed Islamic mosque and community center two blocks from Ground Zero.
The protest was held at the FDNY Rescue 5 memorial on Staten Island. Rescue 5 lost 11 members on September 11, 2001.
In a letter announcing the gathering, Fossella, who represented Staten Island in Congress, explained the choice of location for the protest, and said that opposing the proposed location for the mosque was a matter of right versus wrong.
“Staten Island lost more sons and daughters on that day than any other community. It has been our solemn duty, responsibility, and frankly a privilege to honor the memory for those who lost their life nearly 9 years ago. We must continue to honor those memories and to never forget them,” Fossella wrote.
“Recently there have been efforts made to construct a mosque near Ground Zero. This proposal has met with tremendous opposition, not only throughout New York City, but across the country as well. We believe that this is not the right location. Just because something may be permitted, does not mean that it’s the right thing to do,” Fossella said.
At the rally, Fossella echoed those words, questioning the decision by developers to site the mosque so close to the former World Trade Center.
“We made promises to be the voices of those that died on September 11, 2001. A mosque on that site undermines the efforts to ensure that that hallowed ground remains sacred,” Fossella said. “[Muslims] can worship if they want. They don’t have to worship [there]. This country is 3 million square miles. We ask one simple question: ‘Why here and why now?’”
Rep. King, who represents Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island, framed the controversy surrounding the development as one of sensitivity.
King said that the developers and supporters of the mosque were failing to show proper regard for the feelings of victims’ families and the greater community, while at the same time demanding that opponents show sensitivity to the Islamic community’s rights of worship.
“The time has come to tell people that sensitivity goes both ways,” King said. “Yes, we have to be sensitive to other people’s religions, but those religions also have to be sensitive to the memory of those who died on September 11.”
Staten Island’s current congressman, Democratic Rep. Michael McMahon, was not present at the rally, a fact not lost on the two men running to oppose him in the November election. McMahon’s website contains a statement on the controversy calling on “all parties” to “work with local community leaders to find a more appropriate site.”
Michael Grimm, who is seeking the GOP nomination for the Staten Island seat, also did not attend the protest citing a previously scheduled charity obligation.
Grimm told HUMAN EVENTS that McMahon was not doing enough to oppose the project. “I don’t think Rep. McMahon has been outspoken enough. He’s issued maybe one press release,” on the mosque, Grimm said. “He needs to be an outspoken advocate of the people in the district. It’s telling that Peter King was at the protest today and not McMahon. Where was McMahon, today?”
Grimm—a former Marine and FBI agent who was assigned to the New York office on September 11 and who recalled working “bucket brigades” with fire and police personnel to clear rubble in the wake of the attacks—said that for him, the controversy provoked a very “visceral and emotional” reaction.
Grimm said that the issue had nothing to do with 1st Amendment rights, endorsing Fossella’s statement that it was a matter of right and wrong.
“I consider Ground Zero sacred ground, hallowed ground. It is inappropriate to build a mosque there. Those behind the Ground Zero mosque say it’s about building a bridge [to the community]. This is not the way to do that,” Grimm said. “[The developers] should understand that this is a very sensitive matter and voluntarily move it to another location.”
Grimm’s Republican primary opponent, Michael Allegretti, was at the protest. In an e-mail to HUMAN EVENTS, Allegretti said that the event was a reflection of the deep-seated hurt caused by the proposed mosque.
“Today’s event was mostly peaceful, though very emotional. The pain is still raw, and today’s protest showed that. It gave those who feel so strongly about the issue a way to express their feelings,” Allegretti wrote. “I was humbled to address the gathering and speak with so many thoughtful New Yorkers afterward. It is clear that the majority of New Yorkers and Americans feel the same way about this issue.”
Like Grimm, Allegretti—a former investment house broker whose family runs a local fuel oil business—said that Rep. McMahon has not been a vocal enough opponent of the proposal, crediting the congressman’s view on the mosque but criticizing his inability to change minds within the Democratic caucus in the House.
“Though Congressman McMahon wasn’t at today’s event, he has come out on the right side of the issue. It’s good to see that he has common sense, though it’s sad that he has such little influence within his Democratic leadership in Congress,” Allegretti said.
Polls consistently show that majorities of New Yorkers are opposed to the building of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. A recent Quinnipiac University survey found seven in ten opposed to the project. A larger protest is scheduled for Saturday, September 11, in lower Manhattan.
With New Yorkers so adamantly opposed to the mosque, protests will likely continue until developers either change the location of the center or drop plans altogether.