Vying groups of pro and anti-mosque protesters converged yesterday near Ground Zero as victim's families mourned their loved ones. Thousands of extremely opinionated people flooded the streets after the somber morning ceremony, where the names of the 2,752 victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks were read. Many mourners weren't happy with the attention the protesters were garnering: "It's their five minutes of fame...It's a terrible thing. The true spirit is reflection and getting together," Dave Milanowycz, whose nephew died on 9/11, told the Post.
Dan Lurie tells us that despite the huge crowds, it was a largely incident-free day, thanks in part to a tremendous police presence, "While the rhetoric by some on either side might be construed as calls to violence, they were by far the minority, and in the two-and-a-half hours I was there, I saw only three instances where the police had to get involved, and two of those involved the same person." There were conflicting reports about how many people attended the rallies; the Post says the "estimated 3,000 pro-mosque demonstrators outnumbered the mosque opponents by about 500," but Time says there were far greater numbers of anti-mosque protesters.
The two sides were mostly separate and peaceful, with only a few flare-ups and confrontations, including a man who began ripping and burning a Koran. One Muslim-American, Matthew Paternoster, 25, of Freehold, NJ, was surrounded by about a dozen mosque opponents after confronting them over signs that read "No Obama's mosque." "They're spreading lies. Islam is a peaceful religion, but they're saying I am part of all this terror," he told the Daily News.
The anti-mosque protesters were led by conservative blogger Pamela Gellar, who Time magazine tributes with "first drumming up opposition to the planned Park51 complex and transforming the issue into a politically loaded national debate." On the other side of the debate were people such as Amy Carper, 26, a stay-at-home mother from Springfield, Ill who travelled to NY for the protest: "I'm here because I don't want my child growing up in a country where our freedom of religion is at the mercy of the mob. I'm an atheist, but I would lay my life down for their freedom to build this community center."
Perhaps the best metaphor for the protest can be found in this anecdote from the Post:
On Church Street, Kamal Ramdas, 57, a dark-skinned Muslim born in Guyana and now living in Queens, drew jeers and catcalls for his clothing: an all-white long robe and white skull cap.
"Islam is a religion of hate," a woman screamed at him.
"Shut up!" others barked.
Yet Kamal's message is anti-Muslim.
"The Koran is not a holy book," he said, carrying a copy of the American Constitution. "Mohammed was not a prophet."