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Video: Mosque debate sparks dueling NYC protests

  1. Transcript of: Mosque debate sparks dueling NYC protests

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: Just a week after President Obama 's comments ratcheted up the debate over a proposed Islamic center and Mosque near ground zero , emotions on both sides spilled out in demonstrations on the streets of New York today. What began weeks ago as a mostly local controversy has rapidly built into a heated national conversation over tolerance and freedom , underscored by the still open wounds of 9/11. NBC 's Michelle Franzen was there today as demonstrators gathered in the shadow of the World Trade Center site . She joins us now from lower Manhattan with more. Hi, Michelle.

    MICHELLE FRANZEN reporting: Well, hi, Lester . That proposed mosque site is across the street here on Park Place and just two blocks away from the site where the Twin Towers once stood. This issue has divided New Yorkers in a way that they have not experienced in the years following 9/11. Now even President Obama has weighed in, turning this into a political national debate.

    Unidentified Man: No mosque , not here, not now, not ever.

    FRANZEN: The debate over the proposed building of a mosque and Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks resonated from the streets of lower Manhattan ...

    Group of People: We say no to racist fear!

    FRANZEN: ...to Washington, DC.

    DAVID GREGORY reporting: What is your view about whether it should be built?

    Senator MITCH McCONNELL: Well, ultimately that's going to be decided by the people of New York .

    FRANZEN: Near ground zero , two dueling rallies just blocks apart. On one side, The Coalition to Honor Ground Zero , a mix of first responders, construction workers and 9/11 families who say the proposed site is too close to ground zero and insensitive to families still grieving and recovering.

    Mr. TIM BROWN (9/11 Survivor): There are many people that were affected by 9/11 who have tried to move forward with their lives, who have tried to find some peace and love and happiness in their life, and this is bringing everything back to them, and it's very unfair.

    FRANZEN: But Beth Gilinsky , who organized the rally, says it has more to do with the man behind the proposed center, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf , and fears his religious beliefs are not moderate.

    Ms. BETH GILINSKY (The Coalition to Honor Ground Zero): We are concerned that he may be putting a symbol of triumph, a symbol of having vanquished America in the 9/11 attacks and a symbol of power right here at ground zero . We don't want it.

    FRANZEN: Two blocks away, interfaith leaders, students and various political and civil rights organizations say they are fighting for religious freedom .

    Ms. ELAINE BROWER (New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia): It absolutely is about religious freedom . It's about humanity. It's about live and let live , and we weren't attacked by the nation of Islam . There is no such thing.

    FRANZEN: Imam Rauf is currently in the Middle East on a State Department -sponsored outreach tour designed to highlight religious freedom in America . It is his fourth US-sponsored trip since 2007 . His wife, Daisy Khan , says plans to build the mosque are still on track, despite the controversy. But at the same time, they are open to starting a dialogue with those opposed to the project.

    Ms. DAISY KHAN: We don't want to create conflict. This is not where we were coming from. So this is an opportunity for us to really turn this around and make this into something very, very positive.

    FRANZEN: And finding common ground will continue to be a challenge. New York state Governor David Paterson has offered to sit down with mosque leaders in hopes of finding a new location for the mosque . So far, Lester , mosque leaders are not willing to budge.

    HOLT: Michelle Franzen tonight. Thanks.

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