The shrill prejudice and idiocy regarding the "Ground Zero Mosque" (Park51) and calls to destroy our Constitutional guarantee to freedom of religion by banning all mosque building in the United States, because all mosques are alleged terrorist training centers, is driving me crazy. (Of course, a recent two-year scientific study showed that mosques actually deter the creation of militants. But we can't let scientific inquiry, a foundation of America's preeminence in the world, get in the way of ignorant prejudice anymore, can we?)
To clear up the most popular misconceptions, assuming facts matter to you:
1. Its NOT at Ground Zero. Many people are totally misinformed on this. Its actually a few blocks (2.5 blocks) away from the Twin Towers site. In Manhattan, every block is like its own city. The site, at 51 Park Place, used to be a Burlington Coat Factory. In the below map, using a 1997 photo of lower manhattan from Google Earth, you can see marked the former locations of where WTC1 and WTC2 stood, and the planned location of "the mosque" on Park Place (marked "Burlington Coat Factory"). You can't even see 51 Park Place from Ground Zero, nor vice-versa. Also on the map is the location of Masjid Manhattan, which is just to the north. This is an existing mosque which has been open since 1970 (should it also be stopped??). And, lastly, also marked is the location of New York Dolls, a strip club. As far as I'm aware it has not been redubbed the "Ground Zero Stripclub."
Current view of planned site for Park51:
2. Its not a mosque. "The Ground Zero Mosque" (actually called the Cordoba House, but later renamed Park51 after the crazies started coming out) is not really a "mosque" at all. It is meant to be a 13-story community center, like the YMCA (modeled after the 92nd St Y in Manhattan in fact), though it certainly will contain a decent sized worship/prayer space. But it will also have a restaurant, a pool, a basketball court, child-care center, and a 500-seat performing arts center.
3. Manhattan's local government has approved the construction of this muslim community center. You know, local government? The concept of self-governance? Democracy? You heard of that? E.g., on August 3, the City's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9-zip to deny an effort to declare the Burlington Coat Factory a historic landmark. Prior to that, the project was approved by Community Board 1 , which is a 50 member body of local citizens who make recommendations for the neighborhood where Park51 will be built. The 12-member Financial District committee of the Board (the World Trade Center was the heart of the financial district) unanimously approved it. The Community Board also subsquently approved it, 29-1 on May 25, 2010 (with 9 abstentions).
In attendance at the vote approving the center was the mother of Mohammed Salman "Sal" Hamdani, a police cadet and EMT who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11, medical bag by his side. Yeah, Sal was a devout Muslim.
Much of the controversy over the "Ground Zero Mosque" comes from people who do not reside in Manhattan and do not pay a penny in NYC taxes. They get stirred up by folks who want to spread hatred, like Mark Williams, the recently-fired racist Tea Party leader who said Park51 will honor "the terrorists' monkey god." Meanwhile, the people who want to build Park51 actually bought the property, which was always private property. It is not "sacred ground," it is not subject to eminent domain. (Note, conservatives and liberals rightfully went crazy when the US Supreme Court upheld a taking of private property in Kelo in 2005, so its crazy to argue that it would be proper here to try to stop the project.)
Total nutjobs destroyed the Twin Towers on 9/11, and other nutjobs abused Islam to convince them to do it. Ignorance and intolerance is the source of terrorism. Sadly, many of those opposing Park51 are unwittingly being swayed by the same ignorance and intolerance. I think Sal deserves better.