NEW YORK—A group of city firefighters, police officers, and relatives of those who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks gathered near the World Trade Center site on Monday to condemn Park51’s potential re-application for federal grant money. The planned Islamic community center’s previous application for a grant was denied last week.
Planned for construction two blocks away from the WTC site, Park51 currently houses a mosque on one of its floors.
“It’s outrageous that my tax dollars would go to fund the mosque,” said firefighter Tom Guarnieri, who worked on and off for several months on the cleanup effort after 9/11.
There have been no confirmed reports indicating that Park51 will re-apply for a federal grant, but protesters believe it will happen.
Along with concern about the use of tax dollars to fund the planned community center, there was concern about who would be financing the operation.
“If they were able to provide proof beyond a doubt that this money is not tainted in any way … and nobody that is involved with the organization has any links to terrorism, then by all means, they are entitled to their mosque, this is the United States of America,” said Guarnieri.
“We would appreciate it more if [federal funds] went toward infrastructure projects like repairing the bridges, roads instead of raising the tolls all the time,” said Michael, a construction worker. “You should take our tax money and reinvest into the country. I don’t think going toward the mosque is where my money needs be going.”
Last year, Park51 applied for $5 million out of $20 billion in federal funds pledged for developing Lower Manhattan after 9/11. That application was denied last week.
There is an open position for a qualified grant writer currently on Park51’s website.
A community center or a mosque? An interfaith prayer center for free expression or a terrorist breeding ground? Park51 has been consistently engulfed in controversy since plans for it surfaced last year.
“As a Muslim, I’ve supported many mosques,” said Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, a non-profit that advocates for liberty and freedom through the separation of mosque and state. “At the end of the day, I think this is in poor taste.”
Jasser, who spoke in a phone interview, said Park51 should be doing more to counteract radical ideology.
A CBS poll released in August of last year found that 71 percent of Americans were against building a mosque so close to the WTC, while just 22 percent were in favor. However, 67 percent of those polled said that the developers have a right to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
“Being Muslims, we all felt the right thing was to give something back to the neighborhood,” says Ameena Meer, a creative director and writer who works with Park51, in a blog post on their website. “Especially, a neighborhood that had been deeply hurt by criminals calling themselves Muslims. We wanted to SHARE our space—our private property—with everyone.”
Other blog posts are from a Jewish Rabbi and a Catholic supporting Park51.
“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a press conference last August. “We would betray our values—and play into our enemies’ hands—if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists—and we should not stand for that.”Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf was slated to be Park51’s religious leader and started the project with the help of his wife Daisy Khan and Sharif El-Gamal, founder of Soho Properties, which owns the building.
Rauf did not return a request for comment.
With additional reporting by Jenny Tang.