Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Panel Frees Way for Ground Zero Mosque

A New York City panel has denied landmark status to a building near ground zero, freeing organizers to build an Islamic center and mosque there.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission's decision allows organizers to transform the 152-year-old building into an Islamic community center blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks.

National and New York politicians and the Anti-Defamation League have come out in recent weeks against plans for the mosque, saying it disrespects the memory of Sept. 11 victims. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has supported the mosque.

The commission voted 9-0 against granting landmark status to the building. Commissioners said the building didn't meet historic criteria to qualify as a landmark.
The mosque would be part of an Islamic community center to be operated by a group called the Cordoba Initiative, which says the center will be a space for moderate Muslim voices.

But opponents say building a mosque near ground zero would be an insult to the memory of those who died at the hands of Muslim extremists on Sept. 11, 2001.

The commission's job is to determine whether the building is architecturally important enough to preserve, not to consider the merits of the proposed mosque.

Oz Sultan, the program coordinator for the proposed Islamic center, said last week that the building has been changed too much over the years to qualify as a landmark.

"I think a lot of the negativity we're getting is coming from people who are politically grandstanding," Sultan said. "We're completely open and transparent."

Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, was quoted in The Wall Street Journal's Tuesday editions as saying that the center's board will include members of other religions and explore including an interfaith chapel at the center.

"We want to repair the breach and be at the front and center to start the healing," said Khan, a partner in the building and the wife of the cleric leading the effort.

But Anti-Defamation League national director, Abraham Foxman, said Khan's proposals fail to address the crux of opponents' criticism that erecting the mosque near ground zero is insensitive to 9/11 victims' families.

Last week, the leading Jewish organization came out against the mosque, saying that "some legitimate questions have been raised" about the Cordoba Initiative's funding and possible ties with "groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values."

Rick Bell, the executive director of the New York chapter of the American Institute of Architects, said the building does not deserve landmark status.

"The nature of the current building isn't worth preserving," Bell said.

If the commission agrees, demolition and construction of the mosque can proceed.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg supports the mosque's construction. But the project has drawn opposition from former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, among others.