Tuesday, October 19, 2010
GROUND ZERO CULTURAL CENTER DOMINATES FORUM AT WAGNER COLLEGE
By AMY PADNANI
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — For arguably the first time, Staten Island residents sat down to listen to — and have — a civil discussion on building mosques in local communities.
The only problem was the conversation focused little on the borough itself, with the mosque in Midland Beach only mentioned once or twice in passing.
Instead, speakers at a panel discussion at Wagner College last night talked about the plans for an Islamic community center in Lower Manhattan, the national topic of anti-Muslim sentiment and the international issues of terrorism.
That’s not to say those in the audience weren’t riveted just the same. No matter what side of the debate each of the estimated 75 attendees were on, there was someone to agree — or disagree — with, since the speakers varied greatly in their views.
The panelists were: Jane Eisner, a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward; Abe Greenwald, associate editor at Commentary magazine; and Haroon Moghul, a Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University and executive director of the Maydan Institute.
As to why the Lower Manhattan proposal has faced resistance, Moghul said people are still traumatized by the events of 9/11 and that Muslim leaders need to do a better job of explaining their religion to communities. He added that people have a hard time disassociating extremists from Islam as a whole, but they are “a minority of people that hate” who will find any reason to express hatred.
Greenwald said the imam, who has a questionable background, won’t answer straightforward questions about terrorism. He added that if Muslim leaders want to promote dialogue, they should answer questions.
Ms. Eisner attempted to stay neutral, and said people have to engage in discussions and work harder to understand one another. She cited her own mother’s lifelong boycott of German goods after suffering through the Holocaust.
“The kind of democracy we’re trying to maintain is very difficult,” she said. “I think we can overcome it [fear of mosques] if we want to.”
Other topics included the media’s impact on mosque debates, the comparison of society’s views on Islam versus other religions and the harm that choosing whether or not to build a mosque could have on communities.
A video of the discussion will be posted in its entirety on Wagner’s website today.
Advance story on panel discussion of building mosques in NYCNovember 2, 2010