Archive for August 20th, 2010

Mosque Near Ground Zero Divides Sept. 11 Relatives

By Samantha Gross for The Associated Press

Talat Hamdani traveled to Mecca to pray that her missing son, an EMT, was safe in the days after 9/11. She held out hope that his Muslim background had led to his detention as a suspect, considering it better than the alternative.

When part of his body was returned to her — his lower half shattered into 34 pieces — it was final proof he had indeed been killed when Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center. As Americans take sides over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks away, Hamdani says it feels personal.

“Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died,” she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. “America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom,” and opposition to the cultural center “is un-American. It’s unethical. And it is wrong.”

The thousands of relatives of the 2,976 victims have no single representative and no unified voice, even as another 9/11 anniversary approaches. The conflict is dividing a group that in many ways has never been united, with some saying the cultural center would reopen old wounds too close to hallowed ground and others saying that opposing it is tantamount to bigotry.
And some, like Vandna Jain, walk a middle ground.

“It is unfair to persecute the group, however, in turn, there should be some respect for the feelings of the people that are forever attached to this site due to their losses,” the New City, N.Y., resident, whose father, Yudh, died in the north tower, wrote in an e-mail. “I think people have a right to be upset about it, just as much as people have a right to build a mosque.” Jim Riches, a former New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at the trade center, believes the dispute has nothing to do with religious freedom.

“We’re not telling them not to practice their religion. … It’s about location, location, location,” he said, asking why the mosque couldn’t be built farther away from the land that he still considers a cemetery. “It’s disrespectful. You wouldn’t put a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor.”

Liza Murphy feels differently. Her brother, Charlie, died at ground zero, but she says she doesn’t lay claim to the sprawling, 16-acre site. “It’s a place where a terrible tragedy took place, but I don’t see what makes it sacred,” said the Brooklyn resident. “Nine years later, that now belongs to the public. And my brother and his death are private and belong to me.” Murphy says she has no objection to the planned mosque and wouldn’t want to judge one group of Muslims based on the actions of another.

But Peter Gadiel says he owes no apologies for singling one group out. Since his son, James, was killed at the trade center, Gadiel has argued publicly that all Muslims should share some collective guilt for what happened on 9/11.

“The fact is that Islam does not coexist well with other religions, and you can’t separate that from Islam,” the Kent, Conn., resident said, explaining his stand against the mosque. “If that sounds intolerant on my part, that’s too bad.” The families’ impassioned responses to the prospect of the mosque have influenced the public debate.

Gov. David Paterson has suggested moving the project further away from the trade center site out of respect for opponents’ feelings, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of the mosque, calling it a test of the separation of church and state.
President Barack Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build the Islamic center as a matter of religious freedom, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.

The imam leading plans for the center on Friday called extremism a security threat in both the West and the Muslim world. Feisal Abdul Rauf made his comments to Associated Press Television News in Bahrain during a Mideast tour funded by the U.S. State Department, but he wouldn’t discuss the uproar over the Islamic center.

Relatives of those slain on Sept. 11 have made their diverging voices heard on a number of issues over the years — from whether to try the suspects in a civilian court to the location of a proposed freedom museum at ground zero that is no longer planned for the site.

Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, at the trade center, says emotions among family members are especially raw right now.
“This is anniversary season. It’s really, really hard,” the Manhattanite said. “Passions are up and this is bringing up a lot of hurt in people.”

He says he worries that any decision to respond to public pressure and move the mosque would be used by extremists to paint Americans as intolerant.

“The powers of evil were piloting those airplanes,” he said of the Sept. 11 attackers. Now, with the mosque dispute, “here is where we’re falling into the terrorists’ trap … trying to tear each other apart. Good people fighting other good people — does that sound like evil at work?”

Pakistan Accepts Flood Aid Money From Rival India

By Issam Ahmed for The Christian Science Monitor

Pakistan has accepted an offer of $5 million of flood aid from neighbor and longtime rival India, in a move that could spark a political backlash at home.

In an interview with Indian news channel NDTV, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi described the offer of aid, made last week, as a “very welcome initiative” which the government of Pakistan has agreed to accept, after taking some time to decide.

But it would have been better to say “thanks, but no thanks,” according to Liaqat Baloch, secretary general of Pakistan’s second-largest religious party, the Jamaat-e-Islami.

“Pakistan has many disputes with India, with reference to Kashmir, and the Indian Army engaging in brutality in occupied Kashmir,” he says. “In the past, when Pakistan tried to support India after their natural disasters, India never accepted. Therefore it would be better if our government refused the aid with a big thank you.”

Al Khidmet foundation, Jamaat-e-Islami’s charitable wing, has been one of the most visible aid organizations in the flood-affected areas.

The two countries have made efforts in recent months to repair bilateral relations, which took a plunge following the 2008 Mumbai attacks. India blames those attacks on Pakistan-backed militants. The two countries have fought three full-scale wars, most recently in 1999.

The United States had urged Pakistan to accept India’s offer of aid earlier this week. When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called his Pakistani counterpart to offer his condolences following the worst natural disaster in Pakistan’s history, it was an event widely reported in the Pakistan media.

“In such times of natural disasters, all of South Asia should rise to the occasion and extend every possible help to the people of Pakistan affected by the tragedy,” Mr. Singh said, according to a statement released by his office.

According to Badar Alam, editor of Pakistan’s Herald magazine, the amount of aid pledged is “symbolic, but its effect is immense. It’s a good confidence building measure between the two countries.”

But, he warns, Pakistan’s religious parties will try to spin the move “as a sign of weakness.”

“They will see it as a capitulation to India, that our own government is so weak we have been forced to accept help from the historic enemy,” says Mr. Alam.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a columnist for Pakistan’s The News, termed the decision brave: “It’s a tremendous gesture, very mature. India should be commended for donating it and Pakistan should be commended for accepting it.”

“The whole idea in an emergency is you’ll have the Jamat ud Dawas [the charitable wing of banned militant outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba] and you’ll have competing powers working almost in tandem to support people. It shows that no matter what our value systems, we have to work together right now,” he adds.

Some 20 million people are affected by Pakistan’s worst flooding in recent memory; Pakistan’s government estimates around 1,600 deaths and millions homeless or displaced. The United Nations appealed to the international community to donate $460 million in emergency assistance last week, and has met half of that goal. Yesterday the US increased its flood aid to Pakistan from $80 million to $150 million.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- It is a good decision by the Pakistani government to accept the aid offer from India. Not only will this be a confidence building measure between the two nations, it will save countless lives, and no nation is too proud to save the lives of its citizens.

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