Message From James B. Kobak Jr. Regarding Islamic Community Center in Lower Manhattan

Thursday, November 4, 2010 - 00:00

"The proposed construction of an Islamic community center on Park Place in lower Manhattan, within blocks of the World Trade Center site, has recently drawn national attention. The building, Park51, would be approximately 15 stories and contain a mosque, a 500-seat auditorium, a restaurant and a pool.

"The project's organizers are Daisy Khan, co-founder with her husband of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, her husband, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Imam of a mosque in Tribeca for nearly 30 years and vice chair of the Interfaith Center of New York, and Sharif el-Gamal, a New York-born real estate investor.

"Supporters of the project include Community Board 1, covering lower Manhattan, which voted overwhelmingly - 29 to 1 - to endorse the Islamic community center and New York City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg. NYCLA has come out in favor of the project. In the New York Law Journal, NYCLA President-Elect Stewart Aaron was quoted as follows: 'NYCLA was founded on a commitment to inclusion' and 'welcomes the mosque to the neighborhood' as an addition that would make 'the area around ground zero more vibrant.' The New York City Bar also issued a formal statement in support of the community center.

"Opponents assail the project, claiming that given the mosque's proximity to the September 11 terrorist attacks and the fact that the 19 hijackers were radical Muslims, the building of a house of Muslim worship on Park Place would be disrespectful and insensitive to the friends and relatives of the nearly 3,000 people killed on that day.

"NYCLA believes a longer term, more nuanced and more inclusive perspective is appropriate, especially for those committed to the rule of law. NYCLA, unlike some critics, would be an actual neighbor of the proposed community center as the NYCLA Home of Law is only two blocks away at 14 Vesey Street. Yet we firmly believe that as long as the normal legal requirements for land use and public safety are fulfilled, no group should be denied a place for peaceable assembly and worship because of sincerely held religious belief or ethnicity. That a proposed community center may add to the diversity and mix of people and beliefs in an area of downtown Manhattan still suffering from the physical and economical dislocations of September 11 should be a reason for lawyers - particularly members of an organization such as NYCLA - to embrace a new neighbor, not to shun it."