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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With Boris gone, the next Tory PM will be dangerously tough on immigration

Talking tough on immigration is good for your leadership chances, but not for future trade deals. 

On 24 June, Boris Johnson had just pulled off the gamble of his life. The blonde pretender's decision to back Leave had helped bring an insurgent campaign to victory and force the Prime Minister's resignation. The political establishment was in smoking ruins, but the path to No 10 was clear.

Less than a week later, though, everything had changed. Johnson was forced to tell journalists at his campaign launch that he was pulling out. It seems the issue that scuppered him was immigration.

Johnson has never been a convincing border patrol guard. As the country digested Brexit, he wrote in The Telegraph that: "It is said that those who voted Leave were mainly driven by anxieties about immigration. I do not believe that is so."

His fellow Leave campaigner Michael Gove seems to have thought differently. A leaked email from his wife discussed the need for "specifics" on what many believe to be immigration controls. 

Announcing his campaign launch on Thursday morning - minutes after alerting Johnson to the fact - Gove declared that voters "told us to restore democratic control of immigration policy".

Of course, Gove is not alone in the contest to be PM of Brexit Britain. But with the Classics scholar Johnson out of the way, a consensus on a tougher immigration policy looks likely. 

A relaxed Theresa May (pictured) laid out her arguments on Thursday morning as well, and although she backtracked from earlier calls to quit the European Convention on Human Rights, she  is clearly playing to the audience when it comes to immigration. 

During the EU referendum campaign, she quietly backed Remain but nevertheless called for "more control" over EU citizens working in the UK.

At her leadership launch, she expressed a desire to cut net migration by tens of thousands each year. "Any attempt to wriggle out" of regaining control "will be unacceptable to the public", she said. 

Stephen Crabb, another contender, has already described ending free movement as a "red line", while Liam Fox wants an Australian-style points based system to apply to EU migrants. 

Of course, condemning "uncontrolled" EU immigration is one thing. Agreeing on whether immigration per se is too high is another. Some Leave campaigners argued they only wanted a level playing field for EU or non-EU migrants. 

But the Tory candidates face a bigger risk. The public may lap up anti-immigration rhetoric, the party members might vote accordingly, but it leaves little room to manoevre when it comes to negotiating trade deals with the European Union. Even the cool-headed German chancellor Angela Merkel has made it clear access to the single market is reserved for those who accept the free movement of people, as well as capital and goods.

If the successful candidate also wants to be successful in government, they will have to find a way of redefining the debate, quickly.