This year's anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks in the city had an unprecedented element of controversy, as thousands attended rallies in Lower Manhattan to support or oppose the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center.A large crowd of supporters of the Park51 Center on Park Place demonstrated behind police barriers on the west side of City Hall Park. They said they were standing up against the anti-Muslim sentiment sweeping the nation.
“On this day, we cannot be silent while the message is hate and racism,” said pro-Islamic center rally organizer Sara Flounders. “We cannot give to these forces, these well-funded forces, the message of bigotry, or intolerance, or demonizing of Muslim people. So, what more appropriate message can there be than for unity and respect among all people?”
Another group, called the “Singing Grannies,” expressed themselves through song to call for peace and a dialogue between people of Islam and other faiths.
Opponents of the Park51 project gathered a few blocks west, and said the Islamic center should be moved out of respect for the victims of the September 11th attacks.
"I read that the Muslims, when they conquer a culture or a civilization, they build a mosque slap-dab in the middle of it. And that struck a chord with me, that why did they need to build it so close to where the planes hit?" said one opponent.“Got to be someplace else, not over here, because that’s like a slap on the face of the people who lost their families over here,” said another opponent.
Alongside the mosque's opponents were anti-abortion activists and other demonstrators who were focused on Christian topics.
Muslims who had gathered for the pro-mosque rally told NY1 that the proposed Islamic center is not disrespectful to the victims of the World Trade Center attack.
"I'm Muslim-American, and I think that we need tolerance in this country. You know, this is a free country," said one protester. "I'm not a terrorist, I never bombed anything. I've been a Muslim all my life. I work hard, I'm a citizen."
“We are peaceful people who like to have our center here and to worship here and we would like to be like any other Americans,” said a Muslim New Yorker.
Others who came to the World Trade Center area on Saturday, including some families of the attack victims, said it was inappropriate to hold political rallies on September 11th. They felt the occasion should be treated as a somber day of remembrance.
"This should not be a politicized day. This should be a day where we should be remembering what happened," said one Lower Manhattan resident.
Police say no arrests were made and there were no incidents of violence.