Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ground Zero Mosque: Spate of Terror Plots Fueling Fears

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Ground Zero Mosque: Spate of Terror Plots Fueling Fears

Article excerpt

The Ground Zero mosque is only one of several mosques that are being strongly opposed by local residents from California to Tennessee. Opposition to mosques is on the rise, observers say.

Several proposed Islamic centers, including one near Ground Zero, have touched off a heated nationwide debate that raises questions about the state of religious tolerance in post-9/11 America.

A planned mosque and Islamic center, just a stone's throw away from the World Trade Center site, even prompted Sarah Palin to send a series of Twitter posts Sunday asking peace-seeking Muslims to "pls reject it in the interest of healing."

The possibility of an Islamic center in California compelled a Baptist minister, whose church would sit next door to the mosque, to compare the plan to putting cats and dogs in the same cage. In Murfreesboro, Tenn., a proposed mosque led to heated outbursts at public hearings, including threats to boycott any builder who works on it. Opposition over mosque building appears to be at a new high and follows a recent string of thwarted terror plots involving American Muslims, say experts. Muslim leaders say the protests are built on bigotry and ignorance, while opponents say they have legitimate concerns over Islamic militancy. "Anytime a Muslim raises his head in society, a cottage industry of Muslim-bashers comes against them," says Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington. "These debates seem to have liberated the inner bigot in a number of people." Protests about the building of mosques is relatively new, says Joe Feagin, a professor on racial and ethnic relations at Texas A&M University in College Stations. "I don't remember seeing any discussions of protests and attacks on mosques until 9/11," he says. But, since then, he says much of the discussion of Middle Eastern people is negative. "We're talking extreme stereotypes circulated by the right wing talk shows," he says. Longtime observers of Muslim communities in America say opposition to mosques used to be relatively minor and would typically be more about zoning issues than politics. Now groups are protesting against mosques because of opposition to Islam, says Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky. "The level of anger is at new heights," says Mr. Bagby. "Groups are feeding that anger based on ignorance." Some of the opposition is a reaction to the recent string of Muslim Americans arrested on terror charges, he says. However, Bagby adds, the American mosque is not an incubator of militancy but a bulwark against radicalization. Opponents to the proposed mosques have reasons for their stances that range from concerns over parking to anti-Muslim views. Some complain that the Islamic centers or Mosques may become a place for jihadists to gather. On one YouTube video that has been viewed by 2.2 million people, David Wood, a student at Fordham University, shows a photo- shopped image of downtown Manhattan filled with mosques and minarets that he says indicated the terrorists had cleared downtown for the construction of new mosques. The most public and heated discussion is over plans to build an Islamic center, Cordoba House, about two blocks from Ground Zero. …

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