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NYC Islamic Community Center, Mosque One Step Closer To Construction

The proposed site for an Islamic community center, which would include a mosque, is seen two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.
The proposed site for an Islamic community center, which would include a mosque, is seen two blocks from Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission -- "responsible for identifying and designating the City's landmarks and the buildings in the City's historic districts" -- has decided not to assign landmark status to a building on Park Place, two blocks north of Ground Zero.

After the board's unanimous vote, its chairman, Robert B. Tierney, said the structure, which previously home to a Burlington Coat Factory, "does not rise to the level of an individual landmark."

Having surmounted the hurdle, a developer is now free to change or demolish the 152-year-old structure, clearing the way for the construction of a controversial $100 million, 13-story Islamic community center, which would include a mosque.

Last week, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) joined a loud chorus of opposition to such a facility near Ground Zero, whose ranks include Sarah Palin and several other politicians and activists.

"Some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values," the ADL said in a statement.

Ultimately, this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right. In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain unnecessarily, and that is not right.

Many critics of the community center, which is also known as the Cordoba House and Park51, say that there is no reason it needs to be built so close to Ground Zero.

The Wall Street Journal published a letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the man charged with planning the community center, from Dan Senor -- an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a resident of Lower Manhattan, previously a senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

"While we continue to stand with you and your right to proceed with this project, we see no reason why it must necessarily be located so close to the site of the Setp. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks," he wrote. "Those attacks, as you well know, were committed in the name of Islam."

We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim "military" victory -- a milestone on the path of the further spread of Islam throughout the world.

According toThe New York Times, today's meeting "was free of much of the vitriol that had marked previous hearings."

One by one, members of the commission debated the aesthetic significance of the building, designed in the Italian Renaissance Palazzo style by an unknown architect.

Before the hearing, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said that, "what we're looking at is whether the building has the architectural and historic significance to the city of New York to merit landmark designation." In other words, its members were not asked to consider the planned use of the structure or site.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.