Daily News, August 23, 2010, "Battle Takes To The Streets"


Mosque hysteria hit fever pitch yesterday as angry protesters held dueling demonstrations over the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero.

An army of cops kept the flag-waving, sign-carrying crowds two blocks from each other - but the gulf between them seemed miles apart.

"It's very insensitive to the families," said retired Firefighter Tim Brown, 48, a 9/11 first responder. "Don't build this mosque here at Ground Zero, on our cemetery."

Supporters said blocking the planned religious center two blocks from the Trade Center site would undermine all that makes America great.

''These people against it need to open their eyes and see how much hate this is bringing," said 28-year-old tour guide Victor Hernandez. "The terrorists win when we don't allow people their freedoms."

The demonstrators braved the rain in lower Manhattan to make their voices heard on the contentious project that has mushroomed into a national political issue.

About 1,000 people opposed to the project gathered at West Broadway and Park Place, while roughly 200 supporters massed about two blocks away at Church and Warren Sts.

Opponents chanted "No mosque, no way!" and carried signs reading, "9-11-01: Never Forget," as Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A" blared over loudspeakers.

Supporters carried signs reading, "America! When did it become OK to be a bigot!" A heavy police presence stood in between, and the block where the proposed center would be built was closed off with police barricades.

Despite the distance between the sides, there were scattered verbal skirmishes. "The mosque shouldn't be here!" shouted Barry Bledsoe, 46, who drove from West Virginia with his 9-year-old son to attend the protest.

''We've got troops in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting for this!" a supporter shouted back. Cops quickly separated the two.

At one point, a scuffle broke out at the pro-mosque protest when an opponent lifted a sign reading, "I can draw Muhammed if you can build a mosque."

Gov. Paterson has attempted to broker a compromise, offering the developers state-owned land to build elsewhere.

Daisy Khan, wife of the project's main proponent, Imam Peisal Abdul Rauf, said the angry reaction to the project "is like a metastasized anti-Semitism."

"It's not even Islamophobia. It's beyond lslamophobia," Khan said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

"It's hate of Muslims."

Rauf, who was traveling in the Middle East on a State Department sponsored tour, said he hoped the uproar would ultimately have a positive effect.

"The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success," he told a gathering at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Bahrain, The Associated Press reported.

"It is my hope that people will understand more." He also said the U.S. Constitution is more in line with Islamic principles than much of the Muslim world is.

"American Muslims have the right to practice their religion in accordance with the Constitution of the United States," he told a newspaper in Bahrain.

"I see the article of independence as more compliant with the principles of Islam than what is available in many of the current Muslim countries."

With Simone Weichselbaum