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Protests mar 9/11 memory

Like everyone else, Matt Sky leaves home early every morning and heads straight for an address that has nothing to do with what he does for a living but everything he stands for, and, what he believes, his country stands for. Yashwant Raj reports.

world Updated: Sep 12, 2010 00:23 IST
Yashwant Raj

Like everyone else, Matt Sky leaves home early every morning and heads straight for an address that has nothing to do with what he does for a living but everything he stands for, and, what he believes, his country stands for.

Sky was back at Cordoba House, also called Park51 — the site of a proposed mosque — on Saturday morning with a placard that said: "Honor the fallen, honor our freedom."

A kilometre away, a solemn ceremony got under way to mark the ninth anniversary of September 11.

"Isn't it a great irony that while we construct a freedom tower at Ground Zero," Sky, a web developer, said, "we're trying to deny a community the freedom to build a mosque."

The entire area around Ground Zero, as the site of the September 11, 2001 tragedy is known as, was crawling with police officers, in readiness to prevent the debate over the mosque from turning violent.

"Never seen so many cops here before," said Reverend Mcleod (he insists that's all there is to his name), cradling a big Shofar, a sort of trumpet.

On Saturday morning — a very chilly, windy morning — he was there to pray for peace.

"I blow the trumpet to pray to God to ensure there are no clashes — there should be peace."

The anniversary would have passed as an occasion to remember the victims of the attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre — the 3,000 men and women who worked there and those who tried to rescue them.

Because of the controversy over plans to turn Cordoba House into an Islamic cultural and community centre, with a mosque, the occasion turned into a debate with the likelihood of turning violent.

As families and friends filed quietly into the area cordoned off for a short ceremony starting with a minute of silence at 8.46 am, the time the first airliner smashed into one of the towers, protesters gathered nearby for rallies scheduled for later in the day.

"Yeah, there are some 3,000 for the mosque and a 1,000 against it," said a police officer refusing to be identified, as he was not authorised to speak to reporters.

Are they expecting trouble?

"Nothing is going to happen," he said.

"There are too many of us around for anyone to start anything."

Of course, they were expecting trouble. Why else deploy them in such huge numbers.

"The more you push us into a corner, the more I become a beast," said Siddiqua Lemes, a Bosnian American Muslim, who has been living here in New York for 10 years now.

Why can't a mosque be allowed near Ground Zero?

"We in Bosnia, had a 9/11 sort of tragedy every year for five years," said her son Deni Lemes, adding, "we had then hit the streets protesting and we are back on the streets protesting again."

They were looking for the protestors in favour of the mosque. A police officer pointed them into the direction of Cordoba House, which had turned into a fortress with dozens of police officers on either side of the street.

A group of protesters in red t-shirts walked around a Building near Cardoba House led by a man carrying a cross. They from the Columbus Baptist church.

"We are here to pray for peace, pray for those who lost their loved ones here, pray for this nation and pray that this mosque is not built here," said Ronald Noel.

"Sorry ma'am, keep moving," said a police officer to an onlooker who stood a bit too long to take a good look at the address that's become the country's best-known address suddenly, also called Park51.

There was nothing to see there, except a police car blocking the way into the building.

Matt Sky stood at one end of that street, in defence of the proposed mosque and his beliefs.