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Ground Zero mosque debate swirls in world capitals

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Brendan McDermid/Reuters

(Read caption) The lower Manhattan building that will possibly house the so-called 'Ground Zero mosque' is seen in New York Monday, August 16.

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After nearly a month of debate, the controversy surrounding the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” continues to roil, both domestically and worldwide.

Atlantic blogger Chris Good points out that the proposed Islamic community center has dominated much of the US news cycle and political discourse.

It's also gaining traction in the world press, with Muslims coming down both for and against the proposed center two blocks from the former World Trade Center.

"Many Muslims fear that the mosque will become a shrine for Islamists, which would remind Americans of what Muslims did on 9/11," Gamal Abd Al-Gawad, director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, told Arab News.

“Some people express concern that if the mosque will be built, it will harm Muslims and Islam in America. It’s not good for Muslims and Islam to be in the heart of such a controversy,” he told the agency.

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya television, also criticized the project in a column titled “A House of Worship or a Symbol of Destruction?” in the Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat on Sunday.

“Muslims do not aspire for a mosque next to the September 11 cemetery,” Mr. Al-Rashed wrote. He added that "the mosque is not an issue for Muslims, and they have not heard of it until the shouting became loud between the supporters and the objectors, which is mostly an argument between non-Muslim US citizens!"

Shakib Bin-Makhlouf, president of the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe, told Arab News that he supports the proposed Islamic center and appreciated President Obama coming out in support of it. “Islam has nothing to do with the events that happened on 9/11,” Mr. Bin-Makhlouf told the agency. “Unfortunately, the media has contributed in tying terrorism to Islam. When a non-Muslim commits an act of terror, no one refers to his religion.”

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As the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" has turned into a political debating ground, it's also become a barometer for the world to assess how America treats Muslims. One British blogger suggested that the mosque is evidence that America is experiencing the same “Islamitization” allegedly happening in Europe, where many Europeans worry that Muslims are gaining undue influence. In a pointed summary of the project, Qatar-based newspaper Al Jazeera writes:

Critics say it would be inappropriate to build a mosque on the "hallowed ground" of Ground Zero.

Yet there is already a mosque two blocks north of the Cordoba House site, Masjid Manhattan, which has been open since 1970.

As several commentators have pointed out, there is also a strip club – New York Dolls – just one block north of the mosque site. No one has complained about that profaning of the sacred.

In France, The Christian Science Monitor reported, opinion appeared divided between those who support the mosque and those who see it as an unnecessary provocation. And the view presented of Islam was often unnuanced:

Yet striking among pundits, websites, and bloggers is an often articulate though sometimes churlish depiction of Islam as a single monolithic form of faith, inherently violent and extreme, and of Muslims as incapable of being moderate.

But while the controversy appears to dominate airwaves, it seems few Americans are paying much attention – questioning the assumption that the controversy is roiling all of America. Only 1 in 5 Americans say they follow news about the planned mosque “very closely,” and only 5 percent say it is the news story they’ve followed the most closely, according to a recent Pew Poll.

The mosque's director, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, was vilified last week in some American media outlets for suggesting in the aftermath of 9/11 that US policies had encouraged groups like Al Qaeda. "I wouldn't say the United States deserved what happened on 9/11, but the United States's policies were an accessory to the crime that happened," Abdul Rauf said then.

On Fox News, conservative host Sean Hannity claimed that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wants to "shred our Constitution" and replace it with sharia, or Islamic law. Greg Gutfeld, part of the Fox News program “Red Eye,” suggested that someone should build a Muslim gay bar next to the mosque to test the tolerance of those behind it.

Meanwhile, The Huffington Post spoke from the left, lauding Mr. Rauf as a hero who helped the FBI combat terrorism post-9/11.

FBI officials in New York hosted a forum on ways to deal with Muslim and Arab-Americans without exacerbating social tensions. ...[Rauf] offered what was for him a familiar sermon to those in attendance. "Islamic extremism for the majority of Muslims is an oxymoron," he said. "It is a fundamental contradiction in terms." It was, by contemporaneous news accounts, a successful lecture.

On the liberal blog the Daily Kos, Lauren Monica has also come to the imam's defense, detailing his long history of working with the US government in support of counterterrorism operations. She writes that attacks on his character could inspire hate crimes.

Beyond politics, HDS Greenway, writing for the GlobalPost, says the controversy has turned into a matter of foreign policy:

It is a controversy that can do irreparable harm to United States foreign policy and its struggle against Islamic extremism. For it punctures the image the United States was trying so hard to project: that America is a place where Muslims can freely worship and co-exist with other religions in peace and harmony; that Islam can coexist with modernity and tolerance. It gives strength to Osama bin Laden’s contention that the West is at war with Islam, and that it is the duty of every Muslim to resist.


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