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New York: clashes over Islamic centre near Ground Zero

Opponents say an Islamic and interfaith centre aimed at promoting tolerance will be a “monument to t

In New York on Tuesday night, a landmarks preservation panel heard heated arguments over the construction of a Islamic community centre near the former site of the World Trade Center in Manhattan.

Opponents say constructing the centre close to Ground Zero is insensitive to those who lost family members on 9/11.

The centre will feature Islamic, interfaith and secular programmes and will house a gym, a swimming pool and a performing arts centre. It is being sponsored in part by the Cordoba Initiative, which seeks to improve relations between western and Muslim cultures.

One opponent at the meeting called the building a "monument to terrorism". Of course, not everyone in the US agrees with that individual, but it is clear that such an improvement in relations is sorely needed. Not only is the project very far from fulfilling this description, but opposing the building could even be seen as un-American.

First of all, the centre would be built two blocks away from Ground Zero, not on the site. Second, the centre is not a mosque, but a building meant to serve a broader community and promote tolerance, which would also happen include prayer space for Islamic members. I like my monuments to terrorism to have swimming pools for certain, or else I won't go to visit them.

A recent survey about the French burqa ban showed that, while Europeans tend to support the ban, Americans disagree with the idea, with only 28 per cent backing it. This might well be because Americans tend to place a very high value on personal freedom and the right to religious expression.

I would hope that, regardless of location, the planning commission will see that free enterprise and the American tradition of separating church and state trump the concerns of an intolerant few.

Agreeing with the construction will send the message that Americans do not believe all Muslims are terrorists. Calling the centre a "monument to terrorism" solely on the basis that it will include Muslim prayer rooms among its other facilities might, at the very least, give off this impression.

The New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio called for a delay in the process so that the funding could be investigated.

Wait. We're talking about America, right? Is the US government going to spend taxpayers' dollars looking into every religious centre committing the crime of calling for better relations?

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Tags:Islam