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US divided over 'Ground Zero mosque'


US divided over 'Ground Zero mosque'

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For most Americans, Ground Zero serves as a reminder of when a nation, and the world, watched in disbelief as the United States came under attack on September the 11th, nine years ago.

Today construction of a memorial centre and Freedom Tower are underway. A tribute to the almost 3,000 people who died that day.

Lou Pabon was one of the construction worker’s who took part in rescue and clean-up efforts after 9/11.

Pabon says he still has vivid memories of when he helped remove the rubble of the twin towers

“This is hallowed ground because of what happened and it’s important that people don’t forget,” he says.

Never forgetting the victims of what became America’s worse attack since Pearl Harbour in 1941.

But how to honour them has sparked a controversy which has spread throughout the country.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wants to turn a former clothing factory into an Islamic Centre just walking distance from Ground Zero.

He says its goal is to encourage interfaith dialogue. His plan has divided Americans and families of 9/11 victims.

Judith Reiss lost her son, Joshm on September the 11th. He worked at Cantor Fitzgerland on the 102nd floor of the North Tower.

Judith says the Islamic Centre should not be built near Ground Zero. She says she is not anti-Muslim but points out that the Al-Qaeda militants were Islamic fundamentalists.

“It’s not a case of being Islamophobic. It’s not a case of disliking or hating muslims, it’s a case of this is an inappropriate place for a mosque. It’s an inappropriate place for a church, for a synagogue.”

45-51 Park Place is just 300 metres from Ground Zero. The building was damaged on 9/11.

The plan is to tear it down and build a 13-storey Islamic community centre, which would include a prayer room, auditorium, gym, and other facilities.

Mostly peaceful, demonstrations take place here on a daily basis. But the concern is that a growing national backlash against Muslims could become dangerous if left unchecked.

Talat Hamdani lost her 23 year old son Suleyman, who was an emergency paramedic.

She worries about the growing anti-Islam movement in her country.

“I am angry and I’m outraged but I am not surprised because when Suleyman went missing there were insinuations that maybe he was linked with those attacks.”

“I went through it nine years ago alone and faced this suspicion and this doubt about us being Muslim and all Muslims are categorically bad people and they’re all terrorists and I faced it alone nine years ago. So now we are facing it as a nation and as a community.”

In the New York borough of Queens, a street has been renamed Timothy Welty, a firefighter who died on September the 11th.

Since his death, his mother, Adele, has been to both Iraq and Afghanistan to visit families who suffered from US bombings.

She worries that with midterm elections coming up in November, politicians are using Ground Zero for their own political gain.

“They are moderate Muslims, not extremist in their views, not advocating violence. Muslims have been criticised because they have not spoke out strongly against those who advocate violence, but they were speaking out against violence but nobody was listening,” she says.

Far from building bridges of interfaith dialogue. the fear is the centre will further divide a nation still coming to terms with a post 9/11 environment.

A recent New York times survey revealed more than two-thirds of New Yorkers and Americans as well were against building an Islamic Centre here.

The horror of 9/11 brought the country together. But nine years later, cracks in that unity have grown.

It leaves this country of 300 million increasingly divided over a national identity said to be built on immigration, freedom of speech and tolerance.

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