Pros and cons of mosque near Ground Zero

Richard Carter | 8/24/2011, 3:41 p.m.
"It's easy to choose between wrong and right. What's hard is choosing what wrong is...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"It's easy to choose between wrong and right. What's hard is choosing what wrong is more right..."--Annette Bening, "The Siege" (1998)

Now that the smoke has cleared somewhat over the proposed mosque near the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, it may be instructive to step back and take another look. Indeed, this is one of those controversies that has merit on both sides.

For the record, I agree wholeheartedly that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has the clear right to operate such a mosque anywhere in the city. However, I am dead set against the mosque being so close to what has become known as "Ground Zero"--a term first identified with where atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to end World War II.

Like many in New York, I believe in religious freedom. However, the issue here is insensitivity to families and friends of the 2,752 people murdered in the city in attacks by Islamic extremists. The mosque site is too close to our Ground Zero. It is a provocative act and an insult. It is why polls show 70 percent of New Yorkers oppose the location.

The proposed mosque at 45 Park Place is close enough to have been hit by a landing gear assembly from one of the hijacked airliners. It's 1,032 feet from the center of the Twin Towers site and only 403 feet from 7 World Trade Center, which also went down. It is just 348 feet from the nearest remains of victims found atop the post office on Barclay Street.

Gov. David Paterson is wise in suggesting state land as an alternate site in the city that won't rub salt in open wounds. He knows how wrong it is to build the mosque so close to the hallowed ground where radical Islamic terrorists vented violent jihad against America. It's sad that Sharif El-Gamal--who paid $4.85 million in 2009 to develop the site--has again ruled out the possibility of relocating it.

Before proceeding, let me say I have nothing against the Islamic religion. Growing up in Milwaukee, I was good friends with several Black Muslims. One of these was Leroy Monroe--a high school classmate--who converted to Islam and became Leroy X.

As a very young reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel in June 1965, I was privileged to meet and interview Muhammad Ali, who had just converted to Islam and dropped the name Cassius Clay. I talked with him following his nighttime speaking appearance at Muhammad's Mosque No. 3 of the Nation of Islam--something I'll never forget.

Fresh from his controversial (many say "fixed") first round KO of the fearsome Charles "Sonny" Liston in their rematch, the 23-year-old champ looked good and talked better, and I learned many positive things about Islam. I was the only reporter permitted inside since whites--including my paper's photographer--were not welcome.

My report the next day was my first exclusive story at my first daily newspaper job and remains one of the most relevant I've ever covered. In succeeding years, I have recounted that memorable, hot summer night for a number of publications, including Essence magazine in its "Say, Brother" feature in December 1984.