Focus U.S.A. / Ground Zero Mosque Row Puts ADL in Unchartered Waters

Organization finds itself defending possible victims of the new wave of Islamophobia in the U.S., after denouncing the choice of the place to build the center as insensitive.

As the protests against the project of building an Islamic cultural center two blocks away from the “ground zero” become more and more heated, ADL finds itself in an uncomfortable position, when it has to defend the possible victims of the new wave of Islamophobia in the U.S., after denouncing the choice of the place to build the center as insensitive.

People in New York protest the proposed construction of a mosque near the World Trade Center.

Lately the Muslim community in the U.S. witnessed not only demonstrations of protest in front of other mosques around the country, - in the past week there was an incident of desecration of mosque in California; on Wednesday drunk man who cursed the people gathered for evening prayer in Queens mosque, called them “terrorists” and urinated on prayer rugs; and the most violent incident was a stabbing of a New-York taxi driver on Tuesday.

Michael Enright, 21-year old student stubbed the 43 years old cabbie Ahmed Sharif in the neck, after asking him in Arabic for how long does he live in the country and whether he is Muslim. What seemed at first as a chat of a drunken man nearly cost the driver his life. Enright, which was too drunk to leave the scene, was arrested and charged with attempted murder as a hate crime.

“The attack on Ahmed Sharif was a brutal hate crime and we condemn it in the strongest terms. No person should ever be targeted because of their religion or ethnicity, and there is no justification for singling out Muslims”, said in a statement Ron Meier, ADL New York Regional Director, following the incident.

“It is especially disturbing that this attack occurred amid an atmosphere of elevated anti-Muslim sentiment surrounding the Ground Zero controversy. No matter the passions stirred up by an issue, resorting to anti-Muslim bigotry and violence is unacceptable."

"New York is a diverse city of equally diverse opinions, but we must not allow these differences to overshadow the basic tenets of mutual respect and human dignity. We applaud the NYPD for bringing bias crime charges in this case, and urge that the suspect be prosecuted to the full extent allowed under the state’s hate crime law”.

Earlier this month, when asked by “Haaretz” about the possible negative effect of the controversy surrounding the project on the Muslim communities around the country, the developer Sharif el-Gamal said: "I think this reaffirms why we need this project to happen. It’s going to be a community center serving New York and lower Manhattan. If you look at Manhattan and the city, there are no community centers in lower Manhattan. It’s in dire needs of community centers."

"The mosque will be a small component of a larger facility, and it will be run as a separate non-profit. There will be a gym, a pool, a restaurant, a spa, multi-use facilities, and also a September 11 memorial space to honor the victims. We’ve been discussing it with the families of the victims, involving them. When they meet us face to face, it’s different."