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Approval for N.Y. mosque is greeted with ire in Hernando

A neighborhood board voted unanimously last week to back the construction of a 13-story mosque and community center in lower Manhattan.

Why does anyone here care?

Well, because Spring Hill is so full of New Yorkers it can seem like a far-flung borough. The license plates say Florida, but those chrome frames around them say the drivers still love the Yankees.

And we care, some of us, because this mosque will go up two blocks from 9/11's ground zero.

"It's a black mark on 343 firefighters (who died there). It's a black mark on my son. … This is like spitting on his grave,'' said Joe Holland, whose son, Joey, a commodities broker, was killed in the attack.

Holland now serves as vice president of the Spring Hill chapter of New York City Fire Department Retirees and says its members are determined to fight the mosque.

"They're going to write the (firefighters) union. They're going to write letters to (Mayor Michael) Bloomberg, the senators, the (U.S.) representatives. We really, really need this to be stopped.''

You have to respect Holland's grief for his son and that he and many other retired firefighters lost friends in the attack. You understand their rage at the 9/11 hijackers and share their disgust that murderous Islamic extremists still have so much power in so many countries in the Middle East.

But you don't have to agree with them, and you shouldn't, because these extremists — not their religion — are the enemy.

Even President George W. Bush, who was hardly soft on terrorism, understood this distinction.

Islam is a "peaceful'' religion, he said in his famous speech to the joint session of Congress days after the attack. "Those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah.''

It's a basic point, but judging from the response of the retired firefighters and past comments from fearmongering politicians such as U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, this and a few equally basic points bear repeating:

Religious tolerance is a core value of our country, one that helped make it great; blanket hatred of Muslims will be repaid with blanket hatred of us; 9/11 is no more representative of Islam than the Spanish Inquisition is of Christianity, and the typical Muslim in this country is no more dangerous than the typical Presbyterian.

The center in New York is being built to "create visibility for mainstream Islam and a counterbalance to radicalism,'' according to an Associated Press story last week.

Dr. Adel Eldin has been working on this same goal for the past nine years. Turns out, Eldin, a Hernando cardiologist, has ties to New York, too.

He received most of his medical training near the city, and his late brother, "Big Al,'' a field engineer for the New York Department of Design and Construction, helped supervise the cleanup of ground zero.

"He became almost asthmatic. And even with the cough, he put on the mask and worked 16-hour days,'' Eldin said.

Eldin doesn't say this caused his brother's death two years ago or that his loss is anywhere near the scale of people like Holland's.

He does say his brother gave everything he had to this work, that he loved his country and that 9/11 was a tragedy for all Americans, no matter what god they pray to.

Approval for N.Y. mosque is greeted with ire in Hernando 05/13/10 [Last modified: Thursday, May 13, 2010 4:56pm]
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