A national Muslim group is refusing to back down from plans to turn a former Catholic convent on Staten Island into a mosque, and yesterday about 175 locals turned out in the blazing heat to voice their opposition. Here's a sample of some of the reasoned discourse from the protesters outside the convent.:

  • "We just want to leave our neighborhood the way it is - Christian, Catholic."
  • "Mosques breed terrorism, I'm sorry."
  • "The city has had enough terrorism and everything else. We just don't want to take the chance, and they can't prove to us otherwise."
  • "Why is a mosque coming here? [Are there] that many Muslims? It's just everything, and to unravel it, gee wiz, it's gonna take a miracle."
  • "To me, they’re too closed. We don’t know them. It’s up to them to show us what and who they are. It’s very frightening."

And what better way to get to know someone than by banning them from your community! Perhaps the best part of the demonstration came when a couple of protesters unfurled a banner with the words "We Will Never Forget!" and color photos referencing the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt. SI Live reports that one of the people holding the banner was Magdi Saweres, a Cairo-born Copt who has lived in Midland Beach for the last eight years. "You see..they [Islamic extremists] killed these kids in Egypt," said Sawares.

But other demonstrators were intolerant of Saweres's particular brand of intolerance, shouting, "We’re not in Egypt — we’re in the U.S." Rosemary Vasquenz, an officer of the Midland Beach Civic Association, exclaimed, "That’s not our issue! They should not be here!" One local, Thomas BoscoIt, tried to reason with the other demonstrators, explaining that the Coptics were "on our side, believe me." The protest wrapped up at 1:30 p.m., with the crowd chanting "USA! USA!"

Although the local pastor reversed his decision to sell the convent to the Muslim American Society, the reverend does not have veto power, and the parish’s trustees will make the final decision. Yesterday a MAS spokesman said, "The community of Midland Beach has been hijacked by Islamaphobes," and the group released this statement pleading with the Catholic community to "do the right thing":

In reference to Rev. Keith Fennessy's letter withdrawing his support for the mosque purchase sale in Staten Island, N.Y., we feel strongly that much of what is taking place now is being driven by fear and hysteria, with some of it being stirred up by professional groups that have a history of being prejudiced against Muslims. We are American citizens and we love our country. We do not operate as an extension of any non-American religious or political organization. What have we done wrong to cause anyone to deny us the right to build a house of worship?

Nevertheless, we believe in the good will of the Catholic community leaders, and that ultimately they will do the right thing and allow this sale to be completed. We know that the Catholic community in the past has endured some of the same prejudice and fear mongering that we, as Muslims, are now facing. What should we tell our children? That as Muslims we are second class citizens without religious and civil rights? Or that the 1st and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution become void merely because you are an American Muslim?

We firmly believe that the majority of Catholics in this great nation of ours does not share the view that people should be denied their religious and constitutional rights to build a house of worship simply because their faith tradition is different from the tradition of many of their neighbors. The call to resist prejudice and bigotry is both a moral and a spiritual imperative shared by all faiths within the Abrahamic tradition. Sometimes it is difficult to face the hysteria of prejudice, yet this is exactly what all people of faith are called to do. And, despite this letter, we remain optimistic that our intention to build a place of worship in this community in Staten Island will be successful.

We believe this, because we believe that the goodness and decency of the American people will ultimately triumph over religious prejudice and fear.