Islam centre: New Yorkers unsure

2010-08-31 15:36

New York - New York voters contradicted themselves over a planned Islamic cultural centre near the World Trade Centre site, with majorities saying both that Muslims have the right to build one but that they should be forced to move it, a poll issued on Tuesday has found.

Fifty-four percent of those polled believe Muslims have the right to build the centre and mosque near Ground Zero because of freedom of religion, but a similar 53% said that right should be denied because of the sensitivities of relatives of those killed on September 11 2001.

The Quinnipiac University poll surveyed 1 497 New York state registered voters from August 23 to 29, at the height of the controversy that Republicans who oppose the mosque have seized on for a political edge over Democrats ahead of November 2 congressional elections.

It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

New Yorkers 'twisted in knots'

Forty-five percent had a favourable opinion of Islam compared to 31% with an unfavourable opinion, and 54% said mainstream Islam was a peaceful religion compared to 24% who said it encouraged violence.

"The heated, sometimes angry, debate over the proposal to build a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero has New York State voters twisted in knots, with some of them taking contradictory positions depending on how the question is asked," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement.

Fifty-four percent said Muslims have the right to build, with 40% disagreeing, while 53% thought they should be denied this right, with 39% opposed.

But a larger majority, 71%, said the organization behind the mosque should voluntarily move elsewhere because of opposition from 9/11 survivors, with 21% opposed.

Opponents fear 'extremist funding'

And an identical 71% told the poll that the state attorney general should investigate the financing of the mosque, with 22% disagreeing.

The 13-story, $100m cultural centre, which will include a prayer room, was proposed by an organisation called the Cordoba Initiative, led by a Kuwaiti-born Sufi Muslim imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, who the US State Department has sent to Middle East as a goodwill ambassador.

The group has said it has not begun fundraising in earnest but opponents of the centre have said they fear it could be financed by Islamist extremists.

Developers of the mosque have resisted calls to move further away from the World Trade Centre, saying their freedom of religion was at stake.