I notice, via Google Maps, that there are two currently existing, and seemingly uncontroversial, Islamic centers in lower Manhattan.
One is Masjid Manhattan, about four blocks from the World Trade Center site:
Since 1970, Masjid Manhattan has been a peaceful, not-for-profit organization located in the area of downtown Manhattan. Our members are City, State and Federal employees, as well as professional employees of the Financial area who come to our Masjid to perform their daily prayers.
Masjid Manhattan and its members condemn any type of terrorist acts. In particular, the attacks of 9/11 where non-Muslims as well as Muslims lost their lives. Islam always invites for peace; therefore Islam is not responsible for the actions of some ill individuals who, independently from what Islam advocates, have hatred against humanity. As Muslims and as Americans, we will never forget the beloved ones who perished that terrible day of September 11, 2001.
They recently had to move, but remain in lower Manhattan:
On May 25th 2008 our Masjid was evicted and forced to vacate the building which it occupied for 28 years. By the mercy of Allah, we found a small temporary location just two doors down the street from the old location and Alhamdullillah we did not have to close the Masjid. This new rental space is extremely small and it only has room for 20% of our members during Jummah. The rest of the members have to pray on the sidewalk outside the Masjid and are not able to listen to the Khutbah. We, the members of the Board and the Committee, are working very hard to find a proper location to relocate the Masjid to.
(The poor guys have to put up a big disclaimer on their site: “Please be advised that we are by no means affiliated with any other organization trying to build anything new in the area of downtown Manhattan.”)
The other is Assafa Islamic Center, about 1.4 miles from Ground Zero:
Assafa Islamic Center is a non-profit, non political and a religious organization. It was established in 1996 as a Masjid with Islamic Educational opportunities. Although we have not been able to establish an academic Islamic School but our Islamic after school and weekend school programs have been active. One student has completed Hafiz Quran this year. To the best of our knowledge this will be the first permanent Masjid in downtown of Manhattan below Houston Street. The current rented Masjid location with its adjacent side-walk has become too small for its Muslim worshippers. Currently we have the Jumuah and five time prayers, Weekend Islamic School for Children, Weekdays after School Program,Summer Islamic School Program, D’awa Service,All Religious Events, and Community Services.
I notice we haven’t heard any objections to these two preexisting institutions. Some would argue it’s because these existing institutions aren’t well known; I suspect it’s because Americans have no gripe or grievance with Muslims praying in lower Manhattan, even if it’s just a few blocks from Ground Zero, particularly if it predates 9/11. They just don’t want a self-proclaimed “Ground Zero Mosque” so close to what they consider sacred ground.
There’s quite a bit of sophistry from the defenders of the current project, arguing that “Ground Zero Mosque” is a misnomer, because it is not actually on the World Trade Center site. Of course, it is as close as the project organizers could get; the landing gear from one of the planes and human remains were found on that site. It is also worth noting, as the guys at Red State lay out, that the organizers specifically chose the site because of its proximity to Ground Zero and used the phrase pretty regularly until it became a point of controversy:
A December 8th, 2009, New York Times article stated, “The location [next to Ground Zero] was precisely a key selling point for the group of Muslims,” and quoted Rauf as noting that they got a property “where a piece of the [9/11] wreckage fell.” ASMA then touted the piece in its 2009 Year End Report.
A simple Google search of the Cordoba Initiative’s website reveals the phrase “Ground Zero” to be seeded throughout as a rather inept 1999-era SEO tactic to bring people looking for information about Ground Zero to the mosque promoters’ website.
On May 5th and 6th, ASMA’s Daisy Khan was on her Twitter account, boasting first that the “new muslim center near ground zero gets unaminous vote of approval from community board one in downtown nyc,” and then that she had a “Media blitz day for ASMA / Cordoba [on the] muslim commuity center near ground zero.”
On June 15th, Daisy Khan told the Washington Post’s Sally Quinn that “a divine hand” led to the Ground Zero proximity.
Second, you hear arguments that the term “mosque” is simplistic, because the site includes so much more. Well, St. Peter’s Basilica has a gift shop, but that doesn’t make it a commercial center.