Arab group to Md. leaders: Speak up for liberty
The Baltimore chapter of a national Arab-American rights group is calling on Maryland leaders to support the religious freedom of all Americans, following criticism by some of the proposal to build a mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York.
The statement by the local chapter of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee comes a day after Republican state Sen. Andy Harris drew national attention by calling the Park51 project “blatantly disrespectful.”
A spokesman for Republican former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., meanwhile, said Ehrlich was “firmly opposed” to a proposal he believes “is clearly inappropriate and insensitive to the victims” of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Bash Pharoan, Baltimore chapter president of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said Maryland politicians were failing to counter “election-profiteering Islamophobia against Muslims.”
In a statement, the committee called on elected officials and the media to speak up “in support of the rights of every American to worship or build a place of worship, as they chose, as long as they are not in violation of local, State or federal laws.”
It was the latest in a series of comments and statements by Marylanders on the New York proposal. On Sunday, Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Montgomery County told CNN’s Candy Crowley that he agreed with President Barack Obama on the subject.
At a White House event last week to mark Ramadan, Obama said the developers have the right to build the mosque on private property two blocks from Ground Zero, subject to local laws and ordinances. Obama said he would not comment on the wisdom of building the mosque and community center on the site.
Harris, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil in the First Congressional District, said Tuesday that “the proposal to build an Islamic mosque and community center near Ground Zero is blatantly disrespectful to the sacred ground that is a memorial to the 3,000 Americans who died on September 11th.”
“The president is once again trying to have it both ways; publicly supporting the project while saying he won’t get involved in local politics,” Harris said in a statement. “He is thinking like a lawyer and not like an American, making declarations without America’s best interest in mind.”
Harris said he lost a “very close friend” in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and considers Ground Zero “a place to remember my friend and how she lost her life trying to save others on that day."
“The area around Ground Zero is a special place where Americans should feel comfortable to visit, mourn, and remember what happened on 9/11,” he said. “That will be impossible if this project is allowed to continue. One of America’s founding principles is freedom of religion, but that does not mean you should practice your religion without a sense of respect for others.”
Asked to respond, Kratovil told the Associated Press: "I mean, it seems to me those are issues related to local zoning laws and so forth, and that's a decision that they're going to have to make, but I don't see the federal government having any role in that.”
An Ehrlich spokesman, meanwhile, told WJZ that Ehrlich "is firmly opposed to locating a mosque at the site of the 9/11 attack. He believes it is clearly inappropriate and insensitive to the victims of this tragedy. While Bob Ehrlich respects religious freedom and believes New York should work with the Muslim community to find an appropriate location, Ground Zero is simply not appropriate."