Perhaps predictably, the Landmarks Commission hearing today to consider landmark status for 45 Park Place, the proposed site of the Islamic supremacist mega-mosque overlooking Ground Zero, was about much more than just whether the building at 45 Park Place merited landmark status or not. It quickly became a public forum on Islam, Muslims in America, and the appropriateness of a huge mosque at Ground Zero.
The moderator of the hearing, Robert Tierney, explained at the outset that this was a hearing to give people a forum to speak on whether 45 Park Place should be designated a landmark. He read from the relevant law, which stipulated that a property had to have special architectural or historical value to be designated a landmark. Then an aide read a summary of the building’s history and features, clearly situating the Commission hearing as a consideration of the question of whether the Renaissance Italian palazzo-style features of 45 Park Place warranted landmark status. Tierney explained that no decision would be made today, but that those who had signed up to speak would be heard, and that others who didn’t get to speak could submit statements to the Commission by mail, email or fax by July 20. (Landmarks Preservation Commission, Municipal building, 1 Centre Street, 9th floor, New York City, N.Y. 10007.)
Tierney announced that Shelly Friedman, the counsel for the owner of the property (i.e., the group behind the mega-mosque), would speak first, followed by some people he had lined up to make presentations. Friedman noted that although the property had been designated for consideration as a landmark in 1989, the owner hadn’t understood that when he bought the property. That’s why, Friedman said, they had asked that a hearing be put on the calendar and landmark status considered and rejected. He asserted that the Commission had considered 45 Park Place for landmark status many times since 1989 as part of various historical districts, but that it was never ultimately included in any of them. He said that the building shared many architectural features with other buildings in the area, and thus was not unique.
So far the meeting was still on topic. But Friedman was just the first speaker. He was followed by Sherif El-Gamal, who identified himself as one of the site’s owners “since 2009.” He said that there had been no evidence of the Commission’s interest in the property in the five years that it took him to buy it — and that he bought it for the purpose of replacing it with another structure. I thought that was interesting; apparently plans for this mega-mosque go back to at least 2005.
Anyway, after that El-Gamal ran the meeting off the rails. “As a Muslim American and a businessman,” he said, “I am proof of the American Dream.” He spoke about the need for a place in New York for people to learn about “Muslim heritage.” And he said, “Being a Muslim and serving our fellow citizens goes hand in hand,” which, given the dishonesty and pro-Sharia elements behind this mosque initiative, reminded me of the old Twilight Zone episode, “To serve man” (but I resisted the impulse to shout out, “It’s a cookbook!”).
El-Gamal’s exercise in Islamic civic boosterism opened the floodgates, turning the meeting into a public discussion of the appropriateness of building a triumphal mega-mosque at Ground Zero, rather than a narrow discussion of the appropriateness of landmark status for 45 Park Place. El-Gamal was followed by another one of Friedman’s speakers, Nathan Riddle of the AKRF Environmental Consultant Firm, who asserted that 45 Park Place had no unique history and no unique design, and thus did not merit landmark status, but then it was back to more on Islam and Muslims from Mufazzar Chisti of the NYU School of Law, who announced that he was married to a Jewish woman and had two children who considered themselves both Jewish and Muslim, and that New York needed Cordoba House (the name of the proposed mega-mosque) as a place where people of all faiths could gather.
Since Friedman’s speakers had already gone off-topic and raised the question of Islam and the appropriateness of a mega-mosque at Ground Zero, turnabout was fairplay. Sam Nunberg of the American Center for Law and Justice, Attorney Jack Lester, and the redoubtable freedom fighter Barbara Paolucci from Staten Island argued that the site should be a war memorial, since the landing gear from one of the 9/11 hijacked planes crashed into the roof there, and that a building very similar to 45 Park Place, 311 Broadway, had been designated a landmark, so why not 45 Park Place?
Then I spoke. I started by saying that I shared the view that some others had already enunciated, that this was supposed to be a hearing on the landmark status of 45 Park Place, not about what good citizens Muslims were and how much New York needed an Islamic “interfaith” center. But since that discussion had not been stopped and was thus apparently deemed relevant, it was also relevant that the Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the mega-mosque project, was pro-Sharia — a system of law that mandated discrimination against women and non-Muslims, and extinguished the freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. It was also relevant, I said, that he had been dishonest about his funding sources, saying in English that the mosque would be funded by American Muslims, and saying in Arabic that funding would come from Muslim nations. It was further relevant that he had declined to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization, and that he had helped fund the jihad flotilla that was trying to take arms into Israel. I closed by pointing out that Riddle had said that the building had no unique historical value, but that it did, because it was the only building into which part of a 9/11 plane had crashed, and as such should be a war memorial. A Communist (really! At the Staten Island mosque hearing he actually shouted, “Workers of the world, unite!”) started shouting that I was a bigot, to which I responded that it was not bigotry to point out dishonesty and subversion, and that the Commission should consider carefully whether or not it was being lied to by the mosque proponents.
Another speaker claimed that opposition to the mosque was simply “Islamophobia,” drawing an angry reaction from the crowd (about 200 people were there, with about 70-80% opposing the mosque). Other speakers began to grow repetitive, so I got up to leave. There was another interesting incident before I left, which I will relate later, but it was tangential, albeit revealing. The hearing had all the appearance of a polite charade designed to satisfy legal niceties on the way to a foregone conclusion. Probably the only thing that can stop the mega-mosque now is the power of public opinion, brought to bear against the dhimmi authorities who have no idea what they’re getting themselves — and New York — into.