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Don't panic, it's only Islamic

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protest an Islamic cultural centre By John Terrett

Approximately 400 people gathered in lower Manhattan this weekend to protest about the building of an Islamic cultural centre and mosque near the World Trade Centre site.

The demonstration was countered by a much smaller group of people who turned-up near by to shout slogans in favour of the complex.

The anti-Mosque demo had a healthy turn out but it was hardly the "thousands" the organisers had predicted would descend on the area angry at the proposed construction.

Heavy rain may have kept people away but those who were there were clearly worked up that a mosque could be build just steps from Ground Zero.

Here's what some of the people there had to say:

    "The issue here is not religious freedom the issue is it's holy sacred ground and what is most interesting is how they can't understand that."  

    "I don't want the mosque here ... I know what constitution says but they are spitting in our face, the mosque people."

    "They're putting a flag on their victory. This is not about peaceful Islamic people.  This is about extremist groups that are going to be here."

Some say there's a real irony in the protest against the mosque because this is New York where businesses and organisations jostle side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow. In the same street as the proposed mosque there’s an off-track betting shop and a nightclub where girls can regularly be found semi-naked.

Round the corner a smaller group was making a different point – welcoming the proposed Islamic cultural centre and mosque to the area around Ground Zero.

Here's what they said:

    "It's a response to this climate of fear, this climate of racism, this climate of Islam phobia and fear mongering and scapegoating and all this nastiness that has been churned up over the last few months out of nowhere."

    "This is not about a mosque it is about a cultural centre where people of all faiths can go, talk, spread, talk about their cultural differences."

    "We're not trying to denigrate the memories of those persons that were lost in that tragic incident nine years ago however we do have the right to pray, to worship, to live."

The mosque issue has been elevated to a national debate by President Obama and politicians campaigning for this November’s crucial mid-term congressional elections.

The wife of the imam trying to build the cultural centre and Mosque said she fears it’s the start of a backlash against Muslims.

Daisy Khan told ABC News:

    “I think we are deeply concerned, because this is like a metastasised anti-Semitism. That's what we feel right now. It's not even Islam phobia, it's beyond Islam phobia. It's hate of Muslims. And we are deeply concerned.”

There’s talk of a deal to build the cultural centre and mosque further away from Ground Zero – a move so far resisted by the developers.

However, until the temperature of the rhetoric is lowered … scenes like this are likely to spread here and at other potential new mosque sites across America.

John Terrett is a Washington-based correspondent for Al Jazeera English.


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