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Americans divided over Ground Zero Mosque -

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KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The September 11 attack on the World Trade Center was an historical
turning point for America and the world, but as the US prepares to commemorate the ninth
anniversary of that defining moment, a dispute over plans for an Islamic cultural centre and mosque
just two blocks from the site is challenging some of the country's most fundamental rights and
expectations.

All Americans have a Constitutional right to freedom of religion. But many believe such an overt
expression of Islam is unacceptable so close to Ground Zero. Supporters say the centre will help
build bridges between Muslims and other Americans, but the opposite may be more likely. North
America correspondent Michael Brissenden reports from New York.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN, REPORTER: New York: liberal, flashy, decadent and culturally eclectic. There's
no other city in America quite like it. But there is one place here that is claimed by the entire
nation.

SALLY REGENHARD, 9/11 ACTIVIST: You know, my son is one of the 1,100 people who remain missing at
the World Trade Center. Most unfortunately, I don't know Christian's story of that day. I've never
been told what happened to him.

RUSSELL MERCER: My stepson was Scott Copickle. Also he was on the 70th floor in the south tower. My
understanding that he was vaporised. That's what they tell us. Never to be found. No traces of him
at all.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Nine years on, the emotional and physical scars of the 9/11 attacks are still
raw. But now, plans for an Islamic centre that will include a mosque just two blocks from Ground
Zero are testing the limits of the Constitution and the perceptions Americans have of their own
nation. The site has become a cultural and political faultline that is dividing the country.

JORDAN SEKULOW, BROADCASTER: This is Jordan Sekulow live in Washington, DC. Today on the broadcast,
author Andy McCarthy will join us, and did you know that developers behind the Ground Zero mosque
don't even own the site they wanna destroy?

Jordan Sekulow hosts a syndicated radio show that reaches millions of people across the country
every day. He's just one of many outspoken broadcasters and public figures opposed to the
development.

JORDAN SEKULOW: At this site I think it's in bad taste and these developers brought the attention
on themself. This imam's called the United States an accessory to the 9/11 attacks, say that we are
responsible for creating Osama bin Laden. If that's the face of modern Muslim and that the American
Muslims are putting forward, I think it reinforces, unfortunately, many of the concerns and issues
that people have here in the United States with Muslims.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: As the controversy has swirled and escalated over the last few weeks, the imam
heading the development has been touring the Middle East. His only comment so far has been to
reiterate the peaceful intent of Islam.

But other Muslim leaders here have been far more outspoken.

IBRAHIM HOOPER, COUNCIL OF AMERICAN-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: This is a controversy that was manufactured
by the cottage industry of anti-Muslim bigots out there who will seek any issue to marginalise
American Muslims and demonise Islam. What they're trying to do is exploit the natural emotions
generated by the 9/11 terror attack.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Muslims make up just two per cent of the population in the US. But in greater
New York, they are one of the fastest-growing demographics and many of them commute to Manhattan to
work.

Locals like Azeem Khan say there's enormous demand for a cultural centre like the one proposed.

AZEEM KHAN, ISLAMIC CIRCLE OF NORTH AMERICA: We already have about 200 mosques in New York City and
they grow every day because our community is growing, our community's always on the move due to the
nature of being in New York City. And we don't have a centre where we have recreational things,
where we have the arts and programs.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Mosque developments are meeting resistance in many parts of the country, but
none has attracted the publicity of this one and Azeem Khan is just one of many who see the
opposition to this cultural centre as a fundamental test of American principles.

AZEEM KHAN: That's the biggest proof to show that this is a case of a rise in Islamophobia. It's
people playing on others' fears and on their sensitivities for their own agendas and those agendas
are not helpful to America or our future and they don't stand in line with what we really believe
in as Americans.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Across America, public opinion has swung vehemently against the construction of
any form of Islamic centre or mosque at this site. But what is interesting is that polls show the
closer you actually get to this place, the more accepting the public is of the development plan.
And many of them believe just as passionately that to block it would itself be a victory for the
terrorists.

One of the most passionate of all is the Jewish Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK MAYOR: Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11
and that our Muslim neighbours grieved with us as New Yorkers and Americans. We would betray our
values and play into our enemy's hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: But this project has begun to resonate far beyond New York and into the broader
cut and thrust of contemporary American politics.

SARAH PALIN, FMR VICE PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: This is a slap to those innocent victims
who were murdered that day on 9/11.

NEWT GINGRICH, REPUBLICAN: What you're doing is in fact offensive to most of the families who lost
people at 9/11.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Republicans like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have come out strongly against
it, as have some Democrats facing tough fights for re-election in the coming mid-term elections.

And although he later said he wasn't commenting on the wisdom of building a mosque at Ground Zero,
President Obama's initial foray into the debate seemed unequivocal.

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: Let me be clear: as a citizen and as President I believe that Muslims
have the right to practice their religion, as everyone else in this country. And that includes the
right to build a place of worship and a community centre on private property in Lower Manhattan in
accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America.

SALLY REGENHARD: I was rather taken aback by President Obama. I voted for him. I'm a big supporter
of his. When I heard his comments, I was very, very taken aback. I was really shocked.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Sally Regenhard describes herself as a life-long Democrat. Over the years,
she's become one of the leading voices for the families of the victims of the attack. Not all of
them are opposed to the Ground Zero mosque, but she says the overwhelming majority of them are.

JIM MCCAFFREY: They could reach out for years afterwards and not accomplish as much as they would
if they would just move this mosque right now, reaching across cultural and religious divides.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Where would you like them to move it to?

JIM MCCAFFREY: Certainly out of the spectre of Ground Zero.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Jim McCaffery and Russell Mercer also lost relatives that day. They say they're
not anti-Muslim, but they do believe this development is inappropriate. They also think there's
little chance such a controversial project will ever get built.

RUSSELL MERCER: I don't think the construction workers in this city will build that building. I
think there'll be demonstration down there, there'll be strikes down there, they'll be protesting
that building. Construction workers in the United States are very loyal union personnel.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: There are now some indications that the developers are prepared to compromise;
a relocation is now being activity canvassed. But for many American Muslims, the Ground Zero
project has become more than just a cultural centre and a mosque.

IBRAHIM HOOPER: Once you start taking away people's rights, it's a very slippery slope. I think
it's very important that it does go ahead because it'll send a message that America is an inclusive
society. And on the other hand, if bigots are able to stop it, what message does that send? It
sends the message that America is becoming an intolerant society, and that's not the message we
want to send to the rest of the world.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Michael Brissenden reporting from New York.