For Mosques, ‘Anywhere But There’ Echoes Far Beyond Ground Zero

Demonstrators protest the construction of an Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero, Aug. 22, 2010 (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images).

Last week, we noted that the Islamic community center planned near ground zero is safe on legal grounds. Political outcry, nonetheless, has not subsided. (Note to our readers: The Park51 plan is indeed for a community center, which will house, among many other things, a mosque.)

While many opponents of the plan acknowledge a legal right to build two blocks away from the site of the 9/11 attacks in Lower Manhattan, they have argued instead about the need for sensitivity concerning the area around ground zero.

Op-eds and editorials from across the country have called for the mosque to be built “anywhere but there.” And the former House speaker Newt Gingrich, for one, has said he would be “quite happy ” if Muslims wanted to build a community center near Central Park or Columbia University in New York.

Despite such rhetoric, mosques elsewhere in New York City—and across the country—often aren’t welcomed by local communities.

In recent months, New Yorkers have also opposed two mosques planned in Brooklyn [9] and on Staten Island. Opposition to both those plans have cited practical reasons—such as parking and traffic—in addition to heated accusations that the planners have connections to terrorists. According to the New York Post, one opponent of the Brooklyn mosque even threatened to blow it up if it was built.

The Washington Post noted today that in Tennessee, plans for three Islamic centers—one of which has already been abandoned because of opposition—have also faced stiff resistance and organized protests from residents of suburban Nashville. (Read some of the local coverage .)

Time magazine noted over the weekend that a plan to build a mosque in Southern California has also split the community there. It, too, has sparked protests.

And USA Today, in a 2004 piece, reported that plans to build mosques had faced resistance in New Jersey, Illinois, Arizona and Georgia.

In one case in Illinois, a mosque in Morton Grove, a Chicago suburb, was permitted to be built after two years of dispute, a federal lawsuit, and a civil rights investigation by the Justice Department. Both the lawsuit and the investigation centered on the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, which, as we have noted, is a federal law passed by a Republican Congress in 2000 to protect against land use discrimination on the basis of religion. The agreement to allow the project to move forward was finally reached in 2004 with help from the Justice Department.

Marian Wang

So perhaps USA Today is right to ask: Given the widespread opposition to such projects over the years, is anywhere far enough from ground zero to build a mosque?

Marian Wang

Marian Wang is ProPublica’s first reporter-blogger. She previously worked for Mother Jones, where she spearheaded the magazine’s social media strategy. Since graduating with honors from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in 2007, she worked in Chicago as a freelance investigative reporter and blogger for The Chicago Reporter, Chi-Town Daily News, and ChicagoNow. She now lives in New York. She likes it a lot. Find Marian on Twitter: @mariancw

Reposted with permission from Pro Publica.


  1. says

    Somea are suggesting that the developers of the Manhattan Islamic Community Center move their project out of the vicinity of Ground Zero in consideration of the sensitivities of people who find an Islamic Mosque offensive to the memories of the 9-11 dead. Imagine if in the early sixties the Blacks were asked to stay away from Whites Only Lunch Counters in Woolworth’s in consideration of the sensibilities of those Whites whose sensibilities were offended by having a Black person sitting next to them.


  1. […] elsewhere in New York City—and across the country—often aren’t welcomed by local communities. More… […]

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