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Ground Zero debate proves to be elusive in Crossroads

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Aug. 28, 2010 at 3:28 a.m.

Suzie Buck, of Muskogee, Okla., demonstrates in front of a proposed site for an Islamic cultural center Friday in New York.

Ground Zero mosque factsPark 51 was originally purchased in July 2009 by Soho Properties and was originally intended to be converted into a condominium complex.

Lower Manhattan Community Board, a local neighborhood board reviewed and approved the revised plans for an Islamic Center in May.

The Islamic Center will include a 9/11 memorial.

At least two other mosques are located near ground zero.

Funding for Park 51 has not yet been established.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg endorses the project.

Hundreds of protesters lined the streets of Lower Manhattan last week to oppose construction of an Islamic community center and mosque about 600 feet, or two blocks from ground zero.

The sentiment in the Crossroads seems to mirror the rest of the country - about 68 percent according to a recent CNN poll - stands firmly opposed to the so-called ground zero mosque, near what many view as a cemetery for nearly 3,000 Americans who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Many Victoria clergymen contacted for the story declined to comment on the issue. One Victoria pastor spoke out about his own reasons for opposing Park 51, but only on condition his Victoria-based church would not be mentioned.

"I do not see the wisdom in allowing a monument to be built honoring a religiously inspired attack that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of unsuspecting non-military personnel, as well as many courageous New York firefighters by a people whose religion teaches them that 'One nation under God' is the great Satan of the world," the Rev. Bill Pass said.

The Rev. Dan Fultz, of Grace Presbyterian Church, said the Islamic Center should never have developed into the issue it's become, but people will make what they want to of the situation.

Those who want to view the building and its location as something hurtful will, he said. The same is true for those who want to make something healing out of it.

"I think that's the potential we all have in our hearts, and that's the decision we need to make," Fultz said. "I hope more people will look for ways to find healing and reconciliation than find divisiveness."

The Rev. Barney Matocha, of Trinity Lutheran Church in Victoria, said he was not opposed to the mosque.

"I don't really understand why everyone is making a big deal of this," he said. "I'm sure there are a lot of people who are upset because of what took place, but just because those responsible for the attacks were Muslim, it doesn't necessarily mean that they share the attitude or the mindset of all the people of" Islam.

He suggested the most appropriate action would be to build a chapel for all faiths.

The controversy and opposition to the mosque is "not the approach that creates people sitting down and learning from each other."

Crossroads Muslims said they see the project as a harmonious venture that could play a role in uniting faiths.

"From what I understand, the center is being built to create a sense of togetherness, rather than separation, to open it to non-Muslims and to have a communication between all people," Victoria Islamic Center President Shahid Hashmi said. "The whole idea where I understand it started was to have a cooperation between all the different faiths, the major faiths: Christianity, Judaism and Islam."

The project, officially known as Park 51 and previously known as Cordoba House, is being proposed as a $100 million, 13-floor community center with a mosque occupying one area of the building. Other aspects of the Islamic center include a theater, performing arts center, a 500-seat auditorium, fitness center, culinary school, and food court, among others.

"This is not just a mosque, it's a cultural center, and a mosque will be just one floor of the whole 13-story building that they have planned for," Hashmi said.

Hashmi insists the New York City Islamic center has gained attention in the media only because of the impending November elections. Some of the more outspoken politicians on the controversial project are attempting to levy political influence by radically misrepresenting Park 51 as a mosque rather than a community center.

"We know it has been an issue because this is an election year. I'm pretty sure after November, the issue will die down," Hashmi said.

Even though Park 51 is intended to be more of a YMCA-like building, because of its Muslim affiliation, it is common to have a designated area for prayer and worship.

For example, in Houston, "if you go into a shopping center where the majority of shops are owned by Muslims, you will see a small section of that shopping center designated to worship because five times per day Muslims are obligated to pray," Hashmi said. "Listen, 13 floors of a mosque you will never see anywhere except . in holy Mecca in Saudi Arabia."

Sympathizing with the families who lost their loved ones on 9/11, Hashmi said he understands the opposition to the project. Even so, he asks that people remember that several Muslim-Americans were among those who lost their lives at the World Trade Center.

"We are sorry for everybody who lost their lives, and we're sorry for many who are dying right now as a result of this," Hashmi said.

Hashmi said part of the opposition is warranted because Islamic leaders have not done a better job at promoting Islam's peaceful intentions.

"The bottom line, to be honest, is it Muslims' fault because Muslims in general, Muslim leaders have failed to teach or to make these other people understand what real Muslim is all about," Hashmi said. "All you see in the news: There is a bombing there, a murder there, and the two words for Western media that have become synonymous is terrorist and Muslim."

Even so, if the Islamic Center never comes to fruition, or is moved farther away from ground zero, both Hashmi and Victoria Islamic Center's Imam Osama Hassan, said they would support that decision.

"This is the problem, build or not build, it's not making a difference," Hassan said.

For Hashmi and Hassan, Park 51 is not meant to be a political statement and they would support the project at any proposed location.

"I don't know if this is possible, but maybe it's possible to have the building somewhere else. Maybe it's possible to have one floor of that building a prayer hall for the Muslims, which is what everybody is making a big issue about and calling the whole center a mosque. Maybe other floors could have part of a synagogue and part of a church," Hashmi said. "I mean that could be one of the solutions.

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