Most New Yorkers think the Islamic community center and prayer room planned near Ground Zero should be built somewhere else, a new poll shows.
Meanwhile, Muslim groups and advocates for religious tolerance are responding to what they call growing anti-Muslim bigotry in the U.S.
By a 71 percent to 21 percent majority, voters in New York state agree "that because of the opposition of Ground Zero relatives, the Muslim group should voluntarily build the mosque somewhere else," according to a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday. Among voters in New York City, 63 percent say the community center should be moved, while the sentiment is stronger among suburban and upstate voters.
As many as 53 percent of voters in New York state say "that because of the sensitivities of 9/11 relatives, Muslims should not be allowed to build the mosque near Ground Zero."
However, by a 54 percent to 40 percent majority, voters agree "that because of American freedom of religion, Muslims have the right to build the mosque near Ground Zero." Additionally, 45 percent of voters said they have a "generally favorable" opinion of Islam. Thirty-one percent said they do not, while 24 percent said they were undecided.
Two national security experts joined religious leaders today to condemn protests against the community center, which has been come to known as the "Ground Zero mosque."
The community center "would be a powerful symbol of U.S. tolerance and freedom that will stand in direct contradiction to al Qaeda's narrative that Americans hate Muslims," Matthew Alexander, a former military interrogator in Iraq and author of "How to Break a Terrorist," told reporters in a conference call today.
Lisa Sharon Harper, executive director of New York Faith & Justice, said the political leaders who have spoken out against the plans for the community center are using the incident to score political points.
"They are dishonoring the men and women, including the 59 Muslim Americans, who died on 9/11 at the hands of extremists," she said.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today launched a series of television ads with the same message: "9/11 happened to us all." In one ad, a New York firefighter who was a first responder after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks talks about losing a loved one before announcing that he is a Muslim.
A separate grassroots Muslim group this week launched an initiative called "My Faith My Voice," featuring an advertisement with Muslim-Americans saying they don't want to impose their faith on anyone.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, one of the Muslim leaders organizing the building of the community center, said this week that the controversy, which has turned national, is politically motivated. Rauf returns to the United States today after wrapping up a Persian Gulf trip intended to promote religious tolerance.