New York, July 31 (ANI): Plans for building a Islamic center and mosque two blocks north of "Ground Zero" (the 9/11 attack site) in Lower Manhattan, has intensified the national debate on limits of religious freedom and the meaning of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
According to the New York Times, a Jewish group-the Anti-Defamation League-has argued that the country should exhibit tolerance and values by welcoming the center near the site where radical Muslims killed about 2,750 people.
This unexpected move has been roundly denounced, and could well be the turning point in the battle over the project.
Meanwhile, government officials appear poised to approve plans for the sprawling complex, which would have as many as 15 stories and would house a prayer space, a performing arts center, a pool and a restaurant.
But around the country, opposition is mounting, fueled in part by Republican leaders and conservative pundits.
Sarah Palin, the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nominee, has urged "peace-seeking Muslims" to reject the center, branding it an "unnecessary provocation."
A Republican political action committee has produced a television commercial assailing the proposal.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has decried it in speeches.
The complex's rapid evolution from a local zoning dispute into a national referendum highlights the intense and unsettled emotions that still surround the World Trade Center site nine years after the attacks.
To many New Yorkers, especially in Manhattan, it is a construction zone, passed during the daily commute or glimpsed through office windows. To some outside of the city, though, it stands as a hallowed battlefield that must be shielded and memorialized.
Those who are fighting the project argue that building a house of Muslim worship so close to 'Ground Zero' is at best an affront to the families of those who died there and at worst an act of aggression that would, they say, mark the place where radical Islam achieved a blow against the United States.
Several family members of victims at the World Trade Center have weighed in against the plan, saying it would desecrate what amounts to a graveyard.
Those who support it seem mystified and flustered by the heated opposition.
They contend that the project, with an estimated cost of 100 million dollars, is intended to span the divide between Muslim and non-Muslim, not widen it.
"We are looking to build bridges between faiths," said the director of the project, Oz Sultan, in an interview.
New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has defended the project on the grounds of religious freedom, saying that government has no place dictating where a house of worship is located.
The local community board has given overwhelming backing to the project, and the city's landmarks commission is expected to do the same next Tuesday. (ANI)