New York : Several hundred supporters and
opponents of plans to build a mosque near the site of the
September 11, 2001 attacks staged peaceful rival protests
today, some brandishing signs against Islam and others
denouncing religious bigotry.
Though small in scale, the street protests reflect a
national debate that has exposed a raw nerve over US attitudes
toward Islam nearly nine years after al-Qaeda militants flew
hijacked airliners into the World Trade Centre, killing
nearly 3,000 people.
Protesters from one side and the other began gathering in
lower Manhattan under a fine rain at 10:00 am (local time),
taking up positions about 100 meters and two streets away from
each other, but also worlds apart.
"Don`t let Islam mark a victory with a Mosque," said a
banner raised by protesters who gathered at the corner of the
site of the proposed Islamic centre, two blocks from "Ground
Zero," the epicentre of the September 11 attacks.
A group of about 50 bikers in leather jackets roared in
carrying the emblem of the New York Fire Department, many of
whose members were killed during a doomed attempt to rescue
people trapped inside the burning towers.
Joe O`Shay, a lawyer who wore a T-shirt covered with
slogans against the mosque, tearfully said he had turned out
to protest because "I am a New Yorker and I lost a nephew
Protesters waved American flags as Bruce Springsteen`s
"Born in the USA" blared from loudspeakers.
Organisers distributed signs with the inscription
"Sharia" in bloodlike red letters.
"You can build a Mosque at Ground Zero when we can build
a Synagogue in Mecca," said another placard.
Two streets away, a small crowd about the same size
called for tolerance, their signs defending freedom of
religion and pleading for acceptance of immigrants of all
Their signs said "Down with religious bigotry," "Bigotry
is UnAmerican" and "Repudiate Islamophobia!"