Fox News is again trying to drum up “controversy” around the Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan. On Sunday, Fox Nation re-published a New York Post article claiming that “community programs” no longer exist at Park51, just Muslims praying. From there, Fox and Friends discussed the latest “development” on Park51. “It’s all pray and no play,” host Gretchen Carlson said and complained that the center isn’t hosting community programs and is instead attracting Muslims for prayer. Noted Islamophobe Donald Trump cited the oft-repeated far-right claim that Muslims built the community center to celebrate victory on 9/11:
GRETCHEN CARLSON: It’s all pray and no play. The controversial Ground Zero Mosque was supposed to be a cultural center, but it turns out it’s now an empty space with no community programs. Dozens of worshipers gather at the site for prayer services, but that’s pretty much the only activity in the building aside from a small martial arts class.
BRIAN KILMEADE: … Donald, do you want to finance the mosque downtown?
STEVE DOOCY: The Mosque-erade
DONALD TRUMP: No, I don’t think so, I’d certainly buy the site. But I don’t think it’s an appropriate use of the site. A lot of people don’t. You know, in the Arab world, when they have victory, they like to build a Mosque at that site. It’s very strongly out there. I think this is a terrible idea. It shouldn’t be done and let’s see what happens…
Fox is recycling rhetoric from more than two yearsago when anti-Islam activists like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer led an all-out war in their attempt to prevent the cultural center from opening. At the time, Fox News became a major broadcaster of their Islamophobicagenda. Back then, Fox gave anti-Islam activists a platform to make their virulentattacks against the proposed Park51 community center.
Multiple news organizations, like the Washington Post, debunked the fearmongering, pointing out that the “stated point of the project is creating a world where Jews, Christians and Muslims connect again in a way that builds mutual understanding and respect. This is precisely the opposite goal of the 9/11 terrorists.” Conservatives like Orrin Hatch supported Park51. And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke up in favor of the center as well, saying that freedom of religion should be tolerated.
As far as Fox’s new angle goes, it’s hardly a new development that the center serves as a place of worship; it was always slated to provide a home for Muslim worshipers in Manhattan. And the lack of cultural events likely has more to do with the center’s perceived financial issues than with a sinister plot: last year, a rental dispute between the center and its landlord went to court.
But unlike two years ago, the center faces no legal hurdles from the city to continue operating in the site. New York City’s Landmark Preservation Commission approved the center in 2010 and Mayor Bloomberg agreed. Park51 opened up last year without protests and little to no fanfare.
In today’s Muslim threat news: Some New York cabbies are Muslims! And they pray, to their Muslim god! And when they do, they illegally double-part their taxicabs on the street, because Muslims “obey religious laws over parking rules.”
That salacious headline comes via DNAInfo, a normally reliable local New York news site. Apparently, a mosque on Manhattan’s Upper West Side is popular with cab drivers. During prayers, they “double- and triple-park outside the house of prayer, forcing northbound traffic…to veer into the oncoming traffic lane.” The mosque’s neighbors—including Donald Trump, who owns four nearby towers—don’t like that, so naturally they complain to the police about it: “311 records show at least nine complaints this year about illegal parking at that intersection.”
Nine complaints! In just one year? It’s a full-blown scandal.
If you live in New York, anywhere, you spend an average of 15 minutes per day mad about some asshole double-parking somewhere. The fact that some Muslim cab drivers double-park to pray doesn’t mean they “flout the rules of the road in order to observe the rules of their religion.” It means they flout the rules of the road because, like everyone else who drives an automobile in Manhattan, they are asshole drivers.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is the first practicing Muslim to represent the U.S. in women's fencing. She's ranked second in the U.S. and 11th in the world. Ibtihaj stands out because she wears her hijab headscarf that is worn by Muslim women.
Ibtihaj Muhammad jogs lightly across the second floor gym at the Manhattan Fencing Center in New York. She’s warming up, eager to get some work in.
Fencers are already on the strip, a narrow fighting lane, and they’re going at it, the air filled with little razor-like hisses and whispers. Many are Olympic hopefuls, like her, preparing for the World Championships Saturday in Italy. The competition is another chance for Muhammad to earn qualifying points in her quest to make the 2012 London Olympics in July.
“I don’t think I ever wanted anything so much,” said Muhammad, 25, of Maplewood. “I just want to make sure I’m doing everything I can to make this Olympics.”
When it’s her turn to spar, she slips the fencing mask over her hijab, the headscarf Muslim women wear. In a room full of fencers, it’s the one thing that makes her stand out. If she makes the Olympics, she’ll stand out even more. Fencing officials believe Muhammad is likely to be the first American Muslim woman wearing a hijab to compete at the games. The United States Olympic Committee doesn’t track athletes by religion, but the demographic is something Muhammad thinks about, knowing what an accomplishment it would be since few Muslim women compete in sports.
“I didn’t have female Muslim role models to look up to in the athletic world,” she said. “It’s really important for people to know my story. I think it’s something I have to do, because I want Muslim female youth to believe they can do something like this.”
Muhammad is ranked number two in the United States and 13th in the world in women’s sabre, a fencing style in which strikes are made above the waist with any part of the weapon. Locally, she represents the Peter Westbrook Foundation in New York City, training at the Fencers Club on West 28th Street, where she is coached by Akhnaten Spencer-El, a 2000 Olympic fencer. Under him, she’s a tactical, cerebral fighter who caught the fencing world off guard in 2009.
She won the U.S. national title that year, cracking the top 16 world rankings. Last year, she won a bronze medal at the Pan American Championships and a coveted spot on the U.S. women’s national team.
“She’s still young in the game and she’s only going to get better,” Spencer-El said.
Back to the strip. She goes against a member of the U.S. men’s national team, then her teammate, Dagmara Wozniak of Avenel. You can hear the constant ping of saber blades colliding. Everyone has cat-like footwork that is lickety-split quick, calculating and aggressive. They duel back and forth trying to outsmart each other, snapping their weapons at the wrist to score. The long electrical wires attached to the edge of their fencing jackets register hits. All of them look like puppets dancing on a string, lunging toward each other and their their shot at gold.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, left, and Damara Wozniak, of Avenel, face off during practice match in New York.
Getting to Italy isn’t easy. Each country is allowed two spots for women’s sabre and Muhammad and her teammates are the top four fencers in the U.S. The best of them is two-time Olympian Mariel Zagunis of Oregon, and she’s number one in the world.
Muhammad is unfazed. She trains daily, except for Sunday, running in the morning before conditioning at a women’s gym. In the evening, she’s in New York City fencing for four hours.
“I just keep going,” she said. “I don’t want to get to a competition and lose a bout, because I didn’t work out that extra hour.”
You can see she’s super-competitive, hating to lose, constantly critiquing herself. She’s all business for this once in lifetime shot, but Muhammad does pause for what’s important.
The third of five siblings in an athletic family, Muhammad finds strength in her faith. In August, she stayed focused through Ramadan, the annual Islamic month of fasting during the day. But Muhammad wants no sympathy, saying her sacrifices are not unlike anybody else’s. She kept hyrdrated, waking up every 90 minutes at night to eat and drink. If she makes the team, Muhammad will be used to the regimen since Ramadan next year falls during the Olympic competition.
It doesn’t matter at this point. Muhammad has come a long way in a career that started when she was a high school freshman. She stumbled on the sport driving past Columbia High School with her mother, who could see the team practicing through the large cafeteria windows. Inayah Muhammad didn’t know what they were doing but thought her daughter should try it because the uniform would cover her body and that was suitable to Islam’s tenet of modesty for women.
“I had know idea it (fencing) would take us this far,’’ said her mom, a Newark schoolteacher. “She’s so in love with the sport. I don’t think she really understands how good she is.’’
Muhummad was an epee fencer with Columbia until her former coach, Frank Mustilli, saw she was a better fit for sabre’s combative vein. At practice one day, Mustilli said his mild mannered athlete got upset after she got hit hard and lashed out.
“She showed me a little bit of fire. She screamed and attacked,’’ said Mustilli, head of the New Jersey Fencing Alliance.
At Columbia, Muhammad also played softball and volleyball but was captain of two state championship fencing teams before going to Duke University. She became a three-time NCAA All-American, earning dual degrees in International Relations and African-American studies with a minor in Arabic.
Ibtihaj Muhammad is seen during a September practice in New York.
After graduation in 2007, her father, Shamsiddin Muhammad, said his daughter’s passion for fencing did not wane. The family supports her financially and she chipped in what she could last year as a substitute teacher at Shabazz High School in Newark and fencing coach at Columbia.
“I know this is her dream and inspiration,’’ said her dad, a retired Newark cop. “We believe that what is written is going to happen.’’
That belief helps her deal with distractions on this journey. At times she’s wondered if her race or religion played a role in a judge scoring unfairly. When traveling, she has been treated as a foreigner who can’t speak English, and worse, she feels the stares that say terrorist.
In Belgium this year, security officials told her to leave the airport unless she removed her hijab. Muhammad would not. Her mother interceded and there was a compromise to have her head patted down. Muhammad said it’s frustrating making others comfortable, but she’s not going to let “closeted views” derail her purpose.
“If God wants me to succeed, no one can take it from me,’’ she said. “That’s the way I approach it and I think that’s what keeps me sane and grounded in this sport.’’
Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) is planning to screen a controversial film on Capitol Hill about attempts to build an Islamic center near Ground Zero in Manhattan.
The film, “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Mosque,” was produced by the conservative Christian Action Network (CAN) and has begun to garner criticism from such groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The 45-minute film is largely focused around a series of interviews conducted with survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and members of their family. The interviews, according to CAN’s website, delve into the feelings they experienced last summer when a group proposed building an Islamic center blocks away from where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
Efforts to build the Islamic center, which was set to include a swimming pool and a mosque among other amenities, were the focus of nearly every news agency last summer and brought a slew of politically charged arguments from members of Congress.
CAN attempted to get permission to show the film in New York City parks over the week leading up to the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but it was denied out of concern for the content.
According to CAN’s website, West plans to host the event during the week Congress returns from recess, on Sept. 8 in the Rayburn House Office Building.
This will not be the first time a controversial film about Muslims has been shown on Capitol Hill. In 2009, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) hosted the controversial Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilders and showed his movie, “Fitna,” which many Muslims have designated anti-Islamic. Following an anti-screening campaign by the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association, no members of Congress reportedly showed up to watch the film.
West came under fire last year for commenting during a conference that terrorists were fulfilling mandates laid out by the Quran.
A spokeswoman for West did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mosque opponents have been screaming that the proposed NYC Islamic Cultural Center is going to be a slap in the face and offensive because of its closeness to “hallowed ground.” However, many of them probably didn’t bargain for the fact that it is more hallowed than they actually knew. There are many graves of slaves buried in Manhattan (via. Colorlines).
The outrage about the “ground zero mosque” has turned very ugly, as this video of this recent protest shows. People are calling Mohammed a pig. A New York City cab driver was stabbed today after his passenger asked him if he was Muslim. But I find the righteous outrage of those contending the former World Trade Center site is “hallowed ground” amusing, because they have no idea just how right they are. Before the World Trade Center was even designed (with Islamic architectural elements, incidentally), the ground was indeed sacrosanct: The bones of some 20,000 African slaves are buried 25 feet below Lower Manhattan. As at least 10 percent of West African slaves in America were Muslims, it’s not out of bounds to extrapolate that ground zero itself was built on the bones of at least a few Muslim slaves. That is to say, hallowed Muslim ground.
For some time, activists, historians, and city officials have been working together to excavate and preserve the bones of the slaves buried under present-day lower Manhattan. A recent excavation of a 14,000 square foot section of the six-acre burial ground found that 92 percent of the 419 skeletons were of African descent, and 40 percent were children under 12. The bones of the 419 slaves were eventually reinterred.
It’s a harrowing reality for a debate that’s grown increasingly bombastic — and violent. While none of this takes away from the horror of 9/11, it’s a welcomed historical fact check.