New Yorkers Say 9/11 Concerns Eclipse Right to Build Mosque, Survey Finds

While most New York voters agree Muslims have the right to build a mosque near the World Trade Center site, a similar majority opposes it out of concern for families victimized by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a statewide Quinnipiac University poll said.

Voters agreed 54 percent to 40 percent that the U.S. Constitution protects Muslims’ right to build a mosque. They also said that they oppose its construction 53 percent to 39 percent “because of the sensitivities of 9/11 relatives.” Seventy-one percent want backers to “voluntarily build the mosque somewhere else,” the survey said.

“The heated, sometimes angry, debate over the proposal to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has New York State voters twisted in knots, with some of them taking contradictory positions depending on how the question is asked,” said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Hamden, Connecticut.

The planned Islamic community center has drawn opposition from Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential candidate, and from former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, who say the site is inappropriate. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said Aug. 24 that telling Muslims to relocate it would undermine America’s values and damage its image.

Interfaith Initiative

The Cordoba Initiative, the project’s sponsor, describes itself as a pluralistic organization seeking better relations between the Islamic community and other faiths. Plans for the community center that would incorporate a mosque also include a 500-seat auditorium, swimming pool, restaurants, bookstores and space for art exhibitions, according to the group’s website.

“Americans by and large are tolerant people, and if they are informed about what the facts are of a situation, they will always make the right decision,” said the group’s spiritual leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is in Dubai on a goodwill tour of the Middle East sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

It was vital to ensure “that radicalism packaged in religious language does not become dominant,” he said in a lecture at the Dubai School of Government today.

“The real battlefront is between moderates and highly ethical principles of any religion against extremist radicals of all religions,” he said.

Political Campaign

The proposed project has been injected into this year’s political campaigns. Rick Lazio, a former U.S. congressman seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, is running television commercials describing the imam as “terrorist- sympathizing” and calling on state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the Democrats’ candidate, to investigate the group’s finances.

The poll found that 71 percent of New York voters agree that the center’s finances should be examined and that 22 percent say they shouldn’t be.

Cuomo believes that “anyone who has evidence of wrongdoing should send it to us, and we will review it,” said Richard Bamberger, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, in a July 20 statement.

An investigation of the developers would “set a terrible precedent,” said the mayor in a news conference today. “You don’t want them investigating donations to religious organizations, and there’s no reason for the government to do so,” he said.

“The government shouldn’t be in the business of telling people who they pray to, where they pray, when they pray, what they say,” he said, adding that another mosque would “add to the character of the city.”

Favorable Toward Muslims

The Quinnipiac survey also said New Yorkers expressed a “generally favorable” opinion of Islam, 45 percent to 31 percent, while 24 percent were undecided. The pollsters questioned 1,497 registered voters from Aug. 23-29, about two weeks before the ninth anniversary of the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history, in which 2,752 died.

More than half of those surveyed, 54 percent, agreed with the characterization of “mainstream Islam” as a “peaceful religion” while 24 percent concurred that it “encourages violence” against non-Muslims, and 21 percent were undecided, the poll said.

Although the survey question referred to the “sensitivities of 9/11 relatives,” Carroll said in an interview he had “no way of telling whether most families favored or opposed” a mosque on Park Place, two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Center.

The telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

To contact the reporter on this story: Henry Goldman in New York at hgoldman@bloomberg.net.

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