For the thousands of flag-waving attendees at an anti-Ground Zero mosque rally held Saturday in New York, it was a day to remember, mourn, and renew their determination that it would never happen again.
“We have not forgotten,” said Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician. “That is why we are here today: to draw the line … on this sacred spot.”
His refusal to back down was echoed by 9/11 family member Rosa Leonetti, who blasted Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf for his remarks earlier this week on CNN suggesting that moving the mosque could incite Muslim violence abroad. “Anger is exploding in America, too,” she said. “He [Rauf] stated that if this situation is not handled correctly, it could become something very dangerous, indeed. Does that sound like tolerance to you? It actually sounds more like a threat. Mr. Rauf … Americans do not like to be threatened,” she announced to a cheering crowd.
Tolerance was a key point for several of the speakers, who argued that opponents had been unfairly tarred as bigots or Islamophobes because they disapproved of the project at its current location. Arguing that the controversy had never been about “religious liberty,” radio host Mike Gallagher said, “No one has ever suggested that mosques be banned. … No one has ever suggested that Muslims aren’t free to worship in the way they wish to worship. … This is simply a belief that family members whose loved ones were brutally murdered, the ones we heard from today, should be respected when they say an Islamic mosque at this site is wildly inappropriate. “
Internet journalist Andrew Breitbart, who delivered a speech via video, focused more on the media’s intolerance in covering opponents. “Americans have every right to congregate at Ground Zero at the World Trade Center to represent the majority point of view,” he said. “Do not let Katie Couric and her cavalcade of politically correct, media elite tell you that you don’t have the right to be here. This is a strong message, not just to the radical Islamists that we have the backbone to stand up to the war we face against them, but to those that would cower in the face of that peril, our media elite.”
Others wanted to know when Rauf would show tolerance. “I listened to the imam say he didn’t know the pain this was going to inflict,” said 9/11 paramedic Fabrizio Bivona. “I hear the imam said he wants to bridge gaps and bring Muslims and non-Muslims together. Does that look like it’s happening? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he didn’t know then. But he knows now.”
Also scrutinizing Rauf was former UN ambassador John Bolton, who said in his video message that “we need to have a serious conversation about what it is at the State Department that has motivated them to finance the imam, and perhaps others like him.”
Some stressed the difference between the U.S.’s tolerance and that of various Islamic countries. “Among those lost [on 9/11] were people from 55 nations, people of every religion, of every persuasion. No place on earth was more multi-ethnic and multi-lingual than New York’s proud towers,” said Wilders. “Suppose New York were intolerant. Suppose it would only allow people of one persuasion within its wall. Then it would not be New York, but like Mecca.”
Joseph Nassralla, a Coptic Christian activist, agreed. At one point during his speech, he held up a picture of a Christian who had been killed by Muslim extremists in Egypt. And Jordan Sekulow, from the American Center for Law and Justice, told a poignant story about a Palestinian widow, whose husband, the only bookseller who stocked Bibles in Gaza city, was killed by Hamas. “No justice. No court date,” said Sekulow. “And yet this imam [Rauf] refuses to call an organization that killed a pregnant woman last weekend in Israel and rushed to claim responsibility … a terrorist organization.”
“We who have come here to speak today object to this mosque project because its promoter and its wealthy sponsors have never, ever suggested building a center to promote tolerance and interfaith understanding where it’s really needed — in Saudi Arabia,” concluded Wilders.
Not everyone concentrated on the larger question of Islam’s compatibility with the West. Nelly Braginskaya, whose son died in the Twin Towers on 9/11, made a smaller plea. “You want to pray? God bless you. You want a mosque? God bless you. But [do] not put mosque on a cemetery.”
“You can pray, but a little bit farther,” she urged. “What [is] the big deal? God will hear if you pray.”