Mayor Bloomberg has repeatedly defended the proposed plans for a community center with a mosque to be built at 45-47 Park Place (the current home of a former Burlington Coat Factory store), reiterating America's founding principles of religious tolerance. But his support of the Park 51 project has upset those who feel a mosque, even one two blocks from the World Trade Center site, is provocative and insensitive. Debra Burlingame, the sister of a pilot who died on September 11, 2001 when his plane crashed into the Pentagon, says that Bloomberg is "a disgrace." Yes, a disgrace.
Burlingame is a board member of the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum, as well as a board member of Keep America Safe (fellow board members: Bill Kristol, Liz Cheney) and took offense to Bloomberg saying on the Daily Show, "The family members that I’ve talked to -- and I’m chairman of the board of The World Trade Center Memorial -- 100% in favor of saying these people who want to build a mosque, can build a mosque, that the lives of our loved ones were taken because the right to build a mosque or to say what you want to say was so threatening to people." Politico's Ben Smith published an email she sent complaining about the mayor; here's an excerpt:
Mr. Bloomberg has now crossed the line from merely supporting the mosque to participating in a public campaign aimed at silencing its critics. He has improperly invoked private conversations of 9/11 family board members who, unfortunately, are all too aware of his power, both as chair of the foundation which will memorialize their loved ones and as mayor of a city where that memorial will be built. He is recklessly wreaking havoc among families, running from media event to radio interview to photo op to Comedy Central gagfest, shamelessly hawking this narrative that we, those whose family members were the true victims of religious intolerance, must also carry the burden of proving we're not intolerant. He's a disgrace.
Guess who else is in trouble? Governor Paterson for saying that the Park 51 developers are "Westernized Muslim," not like Shiite Muslims, who happen to be the second largest branch of Muslims. And know who used to be in trouble? The Daily News reports the mosque's developer Sharif El-Gamal has had "at least seven run-ins with the law, including a bust for patronizing a prostitute." His most recent arrest was in 2005 when he, his brother, and another man assaulted a man when they were collecting back rent from a man subletting his brother's apartment: "El-Gamal allegedly cursed at [Mark] Vassiliev, called him the Arabic curse word "sharmouta" and punched him in the face, breaking his nose and cheekbones." El-Gamal, 37, told the News, "I regret many things that I did in my youth. I have not always led a perfect life."