Thousands of protesters gathered around the corner of Liberty and Church Streets on Sunday to voice their opposition to a proposed "mega mosque" near New York City's Ground Zero.
The protest, organized by Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), kicked off at noon and rallied support behind efforts to stop construction of the Cordoba House – a 15-story facility that project leaders claim will promote tolerance and serve as a platform for people of all backgrounds to come together.
"This proposed project is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture," say those behind the Cordoba House.
"Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form - compassion, generosity, and respect for all," they add.
Opponents of the Muslim-led project, however, say building an Islamic center so close to Ground Zero would be demeaning and offensive to the 2, 976 victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Some even say the construction of the Cordoba House would mark a victory for those who sought and still seek to terrorize the American people.
"Ground Zero is a war memorial. Ground Zero is a burial ground," said SIOA Co-Founder Pamela Geller during Sunday's rally. "We are asking for sensitivity."
As a New York community board voted 29-1 last month in favor of the center's construction plans, the only way now to derail the project would be to have landmarked the site that was purchased for the center – the old Burlington Coat factory that stands just 600 feet from where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fell.
Knowing this, opponents of the Islamic center are pressing the Landmarks Preservation Commission to vote in favor of granting the building landmark status. Aside from being a 152-year-old building, the old Burlington building also had a piece of one of the hijacked airplanes crash into it.
"We are going to sue the U.S. Government to get a designation of war memorial status," declared Geller on Sunday.
In addition to SIOA, other groups standing against the proposed Cordoba Center include the Freedom Defense Initiative, the Staten Island Tea Party, Shalom International, the Unity Coalition for Israel, 911 Families, and Faith Freedom International.
Leading efforts to promote the Cordoba Center, meanwhile, are the American Society for Muslim Advancement and the Cordoba Initiative – both founded by Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who preaches in a mosque twelve blocks from Ground Zero.
Born in Kuwait and educated in England, Egypt, and Malaysia, Rauf holds a Bachelor of Science in Physics from Columbia University in New York and a Master of Science in Plasma Physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey.