Not any more

Wife of Canadian 9/11 victim critical of N.Y. mosque plans

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:25

NEW YORK — A bid to shift the location of the proposed “Ground Zero” mosque to a less emotional site made progress Tuesday as the office of New York Gov. David Paterson — who opposes the project as it stands — said he will meet with the mosque’s imam and developer “later this week.”

State funds will be offered to help with a relocation, according to an aide to Peter King, a New York Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and opponent of the plan to build the mosque near Ground Zero.

The development was welcomed by family of Canadian 9/11 victims who count themselves among critics of the $100-million project, which would see a Muslim house of worship and Islamic cultural centre built just two blocks from what many opponents consider to be the “hallowed ground” of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“In order to support this project we have to know what the message is, and the message here is not clear at all,” said Maureen Basnicki, who travelled from her Toronto home to New York to attend a recent town hall-style meeting with the developer, Sharif El-Gamal, and Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

“I went there with an open mind, but I don’t feel the questions were answered satisfactorily — basic questions like where will the funding come from.”

Many victims’ families believe a leading funder will be Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers in the attacks that claimed almost 3,000 lives.

“This all adds hurt and insult to our injuries,” said Ms. Basnicki, a mother of two whose husband, Ken, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

She also spoke of the planners’ “contradictions,” conceding that the cultural centre may welcome people of all faiths, but adding that the “mosque does not.”

Ms. Basnicki visited New York with Raheel Raza, the Canadian author of the book Their Jihad . . . Not My Jihad! Ms. Raza was questioning Tuesday the significance of a telephone call she said she received from the project developer after she expressed opposition to the mosque location at the meeting.

“She’s very scared after he called her, asked why she had gatecrashed his meeting with the 9/11 families, and then, after some conversation in which she said he’d dismissed their [concerns], said, ‘May Allah protect you,’” recounted her friend Tarek Fatah, who is also a prominent Canadian Muslim political activist. “In Muslim parlance that means, ‘Let’s see who’ll protect you when something happens.’ ”

Ms. Raza confirmed the tone of the conversation, which Mr. Fatah reported in a post on his Facebook page and on Twitter.

“He accused me of jumping into the meeting, but I said Maureen had invited me,” she recalled. “He [closed by] saying, ‘I’m an American, I’m a Muslim, May Allah protect you,’ at which point I hung up because he sounded threatening, intimidating and aggressive.”

A call to El-Gamal for comment was not immediately returned.

In Washington Tuesday, the Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom hosted a conference that challenged the outcry over the “Ground Zero” mosque — saying it reflected discrimination against Muslims across the United States.

“We remain deeply concerned that the question of freedom of religion for Muslims in America is not confined to the issue of the proposed project,” the organization said. “Indeed, Muslim communities throughout the United States . . . face zoning challenges, regulatory opposition, and even intimidations and threats of violence when they announce plans to build places of worship or enlarge mosques or Islamic centres that currently exist.”

To opponents, the controversy has spotlighted the slow progress made toward both completing the memorial at the site of the former World Trade Center, and prosecuting the five accused co-conspirators in the attacks, among them self-confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

“It pains me that [the mosque] is going to be done before the memorial,” said Ms. Basnicki, who noted only part of the memorial’s forest, pool and waterfall features is slated for opening on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 next year.

The case against the five accused co-conspirators has languished since U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last November it would be transferred to a U.S. federal court from the military commissions at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The mosque controversy also highlights the difficulties faced by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America in trying to oversee reconstruction of the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which was the only place of worship destroyed when the towers collapsed. Reports say talks have stalled between the Port Authority, which owns the land, and the church.

The mosque issue almost overnight became a central issue ahead of November congressional elections after U.S. President Barack Obama, addressing Muslim Americans at a White House dinner Friday, defended the developers’ right to go ahead with its plan.

While New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended Obama’s comments, many leading Democrats have split with the president — most notably Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, who is locked in a tight race for re-election in Nevada.

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