Protesters clash over proposed Muslim center near 'Ground Zero'


FROM THE AUSTRALIAN. RIVAL protesters have clashed in Manhattan over plans to build an Islamic centre two blocks from Ground Zero.

About 500 demonstrators, including relatives of those killed in the September 11, 2001, attacks, as well as 30 bikers from the New York fire department, rallied yesterday against the project and denounced a feared Islamic takeover of the US.

Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the hijacked jet that hit the Pentagon, ridiculed reports that the imam behind the proposed centre - currently on a US government-funded speaking tour of the Middle East - is a moderate.

"In the Muslim world, a moderate believes you can take down America without violence," she told the crowd. "One of the most irritating questions I get asked by the media is: How far is far enough away (from Ground Zero)? Three blocks? Ten blocks? I say, with this imam, no place is far enough."

The clashes came as the drivers of the centre likened opposition to it to persecution of Jews. "We are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasised anti-Semitism," said Daisy Khan, who is spearheading the project with her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. "It's beyond Islamophobia. It's hate of Muslims."

Mr Rauf is described by many as a moderate Muslim leader who has long called for reconciliation between religions. But critics have focused on comments he made shortly after the 9/11 attacks, that while the US didn't deserve what happened that day, its policies were "an accessory to the crime".

Herbert London, president of the neo-conservative Hudson Institute, said the centre would represent an Islamic victory at the site. "We are engaged in a civilisational struggle. We have to defend America," he said.

John Press, the president of the Brooklyn Tea Party, said: "We are not against Muslims but we know Islam is expansionist and America has got to stand up to it. The mosque is not an innocent mosque . . . It's a victory memorial for Islam conquering the West."


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