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Is Ground Zero mosque part of culture war or symbol of tolerance?

The debate over the so-called Ground Zero mosque planned for lower Manhattan is bringing to the fore a debate over the meaning of America's growing Muslim population.

By Staff writer / August 20, 2010

Julia Lundy, a math teacher from the East Village and her boyfriend Matt Sky, a freelance web designer, show support for the proposed Muslim center near the Ground Zero site in New York City's financial district.

Ann Hermes / The Christian Science Monitor

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Most of the opponents of the so-called Ground Zero mosque, scheduled for construction two blocks from the old World Trade Center in Manhattan, say their objections are largely out of respect for the dead and concern for the families who have spent the past nine years trying to rebuild their lives.

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But for a significant minority, Islam itself -- not the choices of some of its adherents -- appears to be the foe. In essence, that's a message of rejection to America's small but growing Muslim minority.

There's no way to know with certainty how many Muslims live in the United States. A census of America's roughly 1,200 mosques in 2000 by the Council for American Islamic Relations found that prayer leaders reported a total of 1.8 million worshipers in the United States. The actual number of American Muslims is certainly higher. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press estimated 2.35 million Muslim Americans in 2007.

Ground zero and beyond: four mosque battles brew across US

The good news is that most American Muslims are happy to be here. The 2007 Pew poll of Muslim-Americans found that 71 percent believe every American "can make it if they are willing to work hard," that "Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism by larger margins than do Muslim minorities in Western European countries," and that 78 percent are happy with their lives here.

To be sure, there are splits within the community. While 68 percent of US-born Muslims -- mostly African-Americans – believe mosques should express political views, 60 percent of immigrant Muslims – most from countries without separation of church and state -- said they should not.

And Muslims are more socially conservative than America at large, with majorities saying, for instance, that homosexuality should be discouraged.

But the picture that emerges from reading such reports is far from some of the alarmist rhetoric being flung around on television and the Internet over the Ground Zero mosque.

Could opposition to Ground Zero mosque bolster the thing opponents fear?

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