New York’s World Trade Center (WTC) site, the target of the 9/11 attacks, has become ground zero for a less deadly but equally emotive conflict around questions of religion.

This week a community board in Manhattan fiercely debated but ultimately endorsed a plan to build a mosque near the spot where the WTC stood prior to the attacks.

The proposal’s passage, by a vote of 29-to-1, came after weeks of heated discussions that saw the idea being staunchly opposed by some of the families and friends of 9/11 victims and, more remotely, by a leader of the right-wing Tea Party movement.

Media reports quoted Rosemary Cain, whose son, a fireman, died in the attacks, as saying, “I think it’s despicable. That’s sacred ground. It’s a slap in the face. How could anybody give them permission to build a mosque there?”

Some made a subtler point: Bill Doyle, father of a 9/11 victim, reportedly said, “What I’m frightened about is that it’s almost going to be another protest zone — a meeting place for radicals.”

Radicals court controversy

Sure enough, it would appear that radicals have wasted little time in climbing on board the bandwagon. Mark Williams, a leader of the fiscally and otherwise conservative Tea Party movement courted controversy when he recently made disparaging remarks about Islam, terrorism and the purported use of the mosque for propaganda by a “cult”.

However given the extreme nature of Mr. Williams’ comments, the New York community authorities were quick to reiterate their support for the mosque proposal.

Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer said, “When a hate-filled individual like Mark Williams spreads lies intended to injure millions of Americans, incite bigotry, and undermine our democracy, we must stand up and respond with the truth.”

He added that the mission of the centre, to be called Cordoba House, was “to establish a vibrant and world-class facility in New York City that promotes tolerance and pluralism that will strengthen relationships and attract those of other faiths to integrate and learn about Islam”.

State Senator Daniel Squadron noted that community, religious and civic organisations had been a big part of the extraordinary resurgence of Lower Manhattan, arguing, “Religious intolerance, demagoguery, and fear-mongering have no place in the discussion about development on and around the World Trade Center site.”

The mosque’s development is being led by the Cordoba Initiative which, according to founder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is about “moderate American Muslims who are the vast majority of the Muslims in the world and who condemn terrorism and 9/11”. Imam Rauf noted, “We have been and want to continue to be part of a coalition of Muslims and non-Muslims that work to eliminate terrorism.”

More In: International | News