On 9/11, mosque near ground zero draws demonstrators

As protesters arrived they found a heavy police presence. The NYPD has sealed off the entire block where the proposed mosque will be located. Mounted police, experts at crowd control, were nearby.

By , Staff writer

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    Matt Sky argues in favor of the proposed Islamic center and mosque to be built near ground zero against Rose Van Guilder and Lance Corey who oppose the plan, in New York, Saturday, Sept. 11, 2010.
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Antimosque protester Edward Doughergy arrived from Staten Island at 7 a.m. with his American flag and a copy of the Bill of Rights.

“Not all Muslims are extremists,” he says as he sits half a block from the controversial Islamic Center, located 2-1/2 blocks from the World Trade Center site. “But all the extremists are Muslims.”

A few hours later, Matt Sky arrives with a sign reading, “Honor the Fallen, Honor Freedom 9-11-10.”

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“We need a real dialogue,” says Mr. Sky, who lives in Manhattan and supports the right of the Muslim community to build the mosque. “We need to get over this screaming match.”

WATCH VIDEO: Build a 'mosque' near ground zero?

Doughergy and Sky were in the vanguard of scores of demonstrators converging on Lower Manhattan Saturday afternoon on the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center towers. The official commemoration ceremony took place in the morning.

An antimosque group, the Freedom Defense Initiative and the controversial group Stop Islamization of America, planned to demonstrate later in the afternoon.

On Friday night, New York Neighbors for American Values, a broad coalition welcoming the Islamic center, held a candlelight vigil near the proposed mosque in support of religious freedom.

As protesters arrived, they found a heavy police presence. The NYPD has sealed off the entire block where the proposed mosque will be located. Mounted police, experts at crowd control, were nearby. A crane-like structure was erected to give police a bird's-eye view of the crowd, and the media were moved behind barricades.

By mid-morning a small number of protesters had gathered, including Lance Corey, who carried a sign reading, “Christ turned the other cheek; Muhammad never did; he beheaded instead.”

Mr. Corey, a retired high school history teacher, says he had to come to the protests because of the pain he still feels over the loss of his 25-year-old nephew, Todd Ouida, who died in the 9/11 attack. As he talks to reporters, people take pictures of his sign.

However, Mr. Corey is an example of how the issue over the mosque is dividing even families. His brother, the father of the late Mr. Ouida, has gone on television in support of the Muslim community center. “It’s breaking my heart,” Lance Corey says.

Some 9/11 family members asked protesters not to demonstrate on their day of commemoration. However, according to antimosque demonstrators, a large number of families asked that the rally continue.

“In all conscience, I cannot postpone the rally,” wrote Pamela Geller, executive director of the Stop Islamization group, in a press release.

WATCH VIDEO: Build a 'mosque' near ground zero?

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