Ground zero in tensions over war in Afghanistan
After months of controversy, approval has been granted for the construction of an Islamic community centre and mosque two blocks away from the site of the World Trade Centre in New York City.
But the $US100m dollar building that will boast a gym, childcare centre and a couple of restaurants has raised several questions about religious tolerance, cultural freedom and national healing, leaving many New Yorker’s divided and one of their biggest questions un-answered: when will the United States pull out of Afghanistan?
Opponents of the centre and the Cordoba Initiative, the group responsible for its construction have come from far and wide. The Anti Defamation League described the project as “counterproductive to the healing process” while at the other end of the spectrum, The Guardian reports Sarah Palin tweeted the site was “unnecessary provocation” that “stabs hearts ... [the] twin towers site is too raw, too real”. Other community members in protest rallied the Landmarks Preservation Commission and asked that the building be recognised as a heritage site; a request that was turned down.
New York City’s Mayor, Michael R Bloomberg is among the most vocal of the Islamic centre’s supporters and spoke out about the healing properties of the proposed building. In an emotional speech made yesterday, Bloomberg urged his constituents to reflect on the historical significance of New York’s immigrant culture and the importance of religious acceptance in the healing process:
“Our doors are open to everyone - everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants - by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.
“The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves - and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans - if we said ‘no’ to a mosque in Lower Manhattan,” he said
It’s a powerful and emotive speech (the full text is available here) that was reported to have left the Mayor and bystanders “quite choked” but at the same time, still failed to address the one thing the construction of a mosque won’t do: end the war and bring home the troops.
ABC Washington Correspondent Kim Landers told News Radio this morning 43 per cent of Americans now believe the decision to go to Afghanistan was a mistake and a further 36 per cent “doubt” President Obama’s war policy.
Jules Witcover of The Baltimore Sun has recently described Afghanistan as Obama’s “political juggling act on which the fate of presidency might eventually hinge.”
Reporting back from the Disabled American Veterans convention on Monday Witcover said President Obama was confident about US position in Iraq but Afghanistan was another question altogether.
While quick to “boast” about the “drawdown on the Iraq war” as “promised and on schedule” and the fact that by the end of August 31 there will only be 50, 000 US forces left in Iraq, Obama’s position on the Afghanistan situation remained unhopeful: “We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan,” he said.
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