Muslim, Jewish, Christian and civic groups formed a coalition on Wednesday to back a plan for a Muslim center near the site of the World Trade Center attacks in New York that has sparked rival protests.
The cultural center and mosque face opposition from conservative politicians and people who consider its location insensitive to families of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
But the newly formed New York Neighbors for American Values, made up of more than 40 religious and civic groups, said the debate was creating fear and division and that it would fight for U.S. constitutional freedoms to be upheld.
"We were not attacked by the Muslim world," said Donna O'Connor, spokeswoman for September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, whose pregnant daughter was killed in the World Trade Center attacks. "We 100 percent fully support the Islamic cultural center in New York City."
The debate turned national ahead of November elections -- as Republicans seek to wrest control of Congress from Democrats -- and in New York the city's many Muslim taxi drivers linked the controversy to an attack on a colleague.
Attack on Muslim driver
Driver Ahmed Sharif, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi immigrant, said he was slashed across the neck, face and shoulders on Tuesday by a passenger who asked if he was Muslim and observed Ramadan.
Police said the attack was being investigated as a hate crime and that a 21-year-old man had been arrested and faced several charges including attempted murder and assault.
The New York Times reported that the accused attacker was a volunteer at Intersections International, a nonprofit that works to promote cross-cultural understanding and which this month released a statement supporting the Muslim center.
Intersections International said in a statement that it could not comment on whether the suspect had volunteered at the organization. "We deplore violence and any act that may be categorized as a hate crime," the group said.
"Not in my backyard"
Bhairavi Desai, executive director of the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, said the controversy over the Muslim cultural center and mosque had made Muslim New Yorkers vulnerable. The alliance estimates half of the city's taxi drivers are Muslim.
"The environment that all the fear-mongering and the ignorance has created, we believe, is directly responsible for this kind of violence," Desai said.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will meet with Sharif at City Hall on Thursday. "This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe, no matter what God we may pray to," Bloomberg said in a statement.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Bloomberg have said they support the right of Muslims to build the center near Ground Zero, while many Republicans, including former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, oppose it.
"We reject the refrain of 'freedom of religion but not in my backyard,'" Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, told a news conference to announce New York Neighbors for American Values.
The plan is to build a 13-story building to house an auditorium, swimming pool, meeting rooms and prayer space. The structure is architecturally plain and does not include a minaret, dome or other motifs often associated with mosques.
The building at the site now is already being used as a prayer space. New York is home to some 800,000 Muslims, about 10 percent of the city's population, and there are about 100 mosques throughout the city's five boroughs.
Some opponents of the project have taken legal action, seeking to void a ruling that would allow construction to proceed, while some construction workers have launched a Hard Hat Pledge, vowing not to work on it.
ReutersLast Mod: 26 Ağustos 2010, 14:46