Muslim center dispute sparks New York rallies
By Edith Honan and Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of a proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near the World Trade Center site staged competing rallies in downtown Manhattan on Sunday, kept apart by police and barricades.
The emotionally charged debate, which has gained national political significance, centers on plans to build the center two blocks from the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks by al Qaeda, which killed nearly 3,000 people.
Republicans against the project are using it to attack Democratic President Barack Obama ahead of midterm elections, where his party is fighting to retain control of Congress.
Opponents of the center, which would include a prayer room, say its proposed location is insensitive and fear it will harbor religious extremism. Those who back it cite the right to religious freedom and a need to promote tolerance and understanding.
Hundreds of opponents on Sunday chanted "No Mosque," sang patriotic songs and waved photographs of violent attacks by Islamic extremists.
One sign read: "Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all the terrorists were Muslim."
Around the corner, supporters chanted: "We don't care what bigots say, religious freedom is here to stay."
A supporter, retired school teacher Ilene Kahn, said: "This has become a political tool to preach hatred. The peace-loving Muslims did not attack us." Continued...