Nine years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, thousands of Americans gathered near Ground Zero in downtown Manhattan on Saturday, raising their voices in protest against a proposed Islamic Mosque and community center just blocks from where the World Trade Center towers fell. The rally, coordinated by Pamela Geller of the Atlas Shrugged blog, and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, featured repeated denunciations of the plan and exhortations to relocate the mosque.
The crowd and speakers often took aim at American politicians who’ve voiced support for the plan, such as New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and President Barack Obama, but the most pointed remarks from the podium were directed at Feisal Abdul Rauf, the controversial Imam behind the project. Several speakers listed off several of Rauf’s most inflammatory statements, drawing loud boos from the assembled throng. Flanked by bodyguards, keynote speaker Geert Wilders, a Dutch Parliamentarian and outspoken critic of Islam, led the crowd in a sustained chant of “No mosque here.”
“I have not forgotten how I felt [on September 11]. Those scenes are imprinted on my soul,” Wilders said. “How could anyone forget?” After labeling Rauf an extremist and the Cordoba mosque initiative a “provocation and humilation,” Wilders condemned those who he said are intent on imposing Sharia (Islamic) law in the United States. “New York and Sharia are incompatible. New York and America are about freedom, openness and tolerance. We are here today to draw the line,” he said to approving applause. “A tolerant society is not a suicidal society. It must defend itself against the forces of darkness. If a mosque were built here, some people would feel triumphant, and we should never, ever given them that feeling,” he said.
A number of speakers also questioned Rauf’s stated goal of fostering tolerance, understanding, and “building bridges” by forging ahead with the effort. If mosque organizers truly want to accomplish those goals, it was argued, they’d bow to the sensitivities of the vast majority of Americans and move the center to a less divisive location. New York radio personality Steve Malzberg assailed Rauf’s recent warning that not building the mosque as planned might lead to anger in the Muslim world. “We don’t care,” Malzberg said, arguing that if Americans tailor their public policy and behavior to satisfy Islamists, “we are finished.”