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Family members of 9/11 victims support and denounce NYC Islamic center

From Jason Kessler, CNN
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Battle over Islamic center evolves
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Coalition formed to show support for Islamic center near New York's ground zero
  • Proposed construction of center has stirred debate nationwide
  • One 9/11 family member calls support for it "living up to America's core values"
  • Another 9/11 family member says center is "nothing short of a provocation"

New York (CNN) -- A coalition of at least 40 religious and civic organizations Wednesday announced the creation of an alliance to show support for the Islamic community center and mosque proposed to be built near New York's ground zero.

The group has launched a website -- nyneighbors.org -- and announced a candlelight vigil to be held at the site of the proposed center on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attack.

Members of the coalition gathered at a municipal building in Manhattan to announce the group's creation.

Talat Hamdani, whose son was killed in the attack, told CNN on Wednesday, "The issue is not about location. It is about our rights as Americans."

"All those people who died that day ... they were murdered for being Americans. We should honor those people who were murdered that day by living up to America's core values," Hamdani said.

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Even as some relatives of 9/11 victims showed support for the Islamic center's construction, others held their ground in opposing it.

"This is nothing short of a provocation, an insult to the families of people who were murdered, whose bodies were scattered all across that site," said Debra Burlingame, the sister of the pilot whose hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon. She sits on the World Trade Center Memorial and Museum board of directors.

"I've had families who have told us their PTSD has come back because of the idea of a mosque being built over where their loved ones died," she told CNN this week. "The idea of a mosque is horrific to them."

She said Imam Abdul Rauf, who is behind the project, did not approach families of 9/11 victims, but she would welcome any discussion with him.

"I would have told him, if he had come to us, that it would hurt people," she said. "This is hurting people who have already been deeply hurt."

Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, told the Council on Foreign Relations on Wednesday the proximity to ground zero was never planned. "We were establishing the center in a neighborhood we were already in," she said. "It was our neighborhood. Nine-eleven was our tragedy as much as it was anyone else's tragedy."

Khan said the voices of moderate, mainstream Muslims are being drowned out by extremists. "The center will combine the best of what it is to be Muslim and what it is to be American. ... The core values of both are totally compatible."

On Tuesday, New York Gov. David Paterson met with Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, who had offered to mediate in the situation. After the meeting, Dolan urged advocates on both sides of the issue to ratchet down their rhetoric.

At an Iftar dinner marking the breaking of the Ramadan fast Tuesday evening, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg forcefully affirmed his support for the project.

"We are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs of New York City that is off limit to any religion," he told an audience at Gracie Mansion that included the center's developer, Sharif el-Gamal.

The Islamic center's leaders say plans for the $100 million facility call for a community center including a mosque, performing arts center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces.

It will be built on property the center already owns, two blocks from where the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic extremists on September 11, 2001. The attacks killed more than 2,700 people.

CNN's Mark Norman and Ashley Fantz contributed to this report.

 
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