Liberty or Security: Park 51 and the King hearings in post-9/11 America, Pt.1

Opponents of Park 51 gathered on the ninth anniversary of 9/11 to protest the building of Park 51.

It was a warm day. It was still summer after all, and it was a beautiful day in New York City. The temperatures were in the 70’s, officers helped tourists find their destinations, and most pedestrians wore short sleeve shirts, and shorts.

But the streets of downtown Manhattan were unusually full of people, and police were on the corner of almost every block.

It was September 11. 2010.

On the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks several groups organized and converged not far from 51 Park Place. The goal of the demonstrations was to protest the building of Park 51, a planned Islamic cultural community center that would include prayer space for Muslims, seeing such construction as an insult to the victims of 9/11.

Those against building Park 51 carried signs reading, “Sharia” and “No Victory Mosque.” One that attended the gathering, Maria Baldary, 58, said, “It’s just too close.”

John Molloy, 63, who had lost several co-workers on 9/11, called Islam a “supremacist religion.”

The next day wasn’t as fair.

Park 51 supporters stepped outside St. Peter's Church for a "Liberty Walk."

It was cooler, and it was dreary with rain expected during the Liberty Walk, “an interfaith rally for religious freedom.” The gathering, at St. Peter’s Church, and subsequent walk from there to Church Street was put together in defense of Muslims wanting to build Park 51. One supporter, who would only refer to himself as Tim out of privacy concerns, said that blocking construction of the center would “set a precedent.” Peter Swiderski, 49,  who is Mayor of Hastings on Hudson, said that “political partisanship, fear, prejudice” were motivating the opposition.

When I went to the city in those days, and analyzed/observed the people’s reactions, comments, and media coverage my original intention was to focus on the complex emotions, and attitudes behind both sides of that issue. But everyone else was doing the same thing, and I felt like there was more to the issue than the building of a religious community center that was neither a mosque, or at Ground Zero. Passions were deep on either side.

Then, after Representative Peter King (R-NY) was re-elected, he announced he would use his position as Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security to open an inquiry on the “radicalization” of the Muslim community.[1] King, coincidentally, had opposed building the community center as well.[2] King, who has been a congressman since the 80′s, is a Long Islander with one of his offices based in Massapequa.

Supporters of Park 51 claim that opponents are xenophobic, and ignorant. Supporters of today’s hearings accuse opponents for being politically correct for wanting to expand the hearings to include all terror groups, and not the ones they say pose the biggest threat to the United States.

What I have observed is a correlation of thinking, emotions, and motivations on the part of those on both sides of these two issues. In the posts that follow I want to explore the depth of emotion as it pertained to Park 51.

Who is behind the opposition? What are their motives?

Is there prejudice on this issue? There has been a history of prejudice in the US since it’s founding; something which I would also like to touch upon. Are there any similarities between what we saw last year up to now and flashpoints during mass migrations, and war?

Does King’s assertion that Muslims are ‘self-radicalizing’ have any merit? Should his hearings include other domestic terror threats?

Finally, on the point of radicalization, what makes Europe so much more susceptible to threats from radicalized Muslims? What has spared the US from incidents such as the 2007 London bombings, 2004 Madrid bombings, and 2005 riots in France (not necessarily carried out by Muslims, but still relevant to these points)?

Though the issues are separate there are trends of similarity that are undeniable.

[1] Hernandez, Raymond. The New York Times, “Muslim ‘Radicalization’ Is Focus of Planned Inquiry,” December 17, 2010, pp.A34.

[2] Ibid.

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