New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who is also a Democratic candidate for governor, alleged Wednesday that Islamophobia is what is motivating Republican gubernatorial candidate and former U.S. Congressman Rick Lazio to question plans for a 13-story mosque and Islamic community center to be built on Ground Zero.
Cuomo was responding to a letter from Lazio demanding that Cuomo, as attorney general, launch an investigation of the Cordoba Initiative, the non-profit organization behind plans to build the Ground Zero mosque.
In the missive, Lazio cited three issues that he finds especially troubling about the project: Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s (the imam heading the project) unwillingness to label Hamas a terrorist organization, Rauf’s association with Perdana Global (a sponsor of the flotilla that attempted to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in May), and what Lazio believes to be the project’s “questionable” funding sources.
“Given that the Cordoba Initiative is a legally registered charitable organization with the New York Attorney General’s Office, my fellow New Yorkers and I are asking you to immediately conduct a thorough investigation of the previous items highlighted by the media with respect to the construction of this mosque in lower Manhattan,” Lazio wrote, “The people have the right to know if this ‘charity’ is using its resources in a legitimate, legal, and charitable way.”
While brushing away calls for an investigation during a news conference in Manhattan, Cuomo took a shot at Lazio by accusing him of religious intolerance. According to Capitol Tonight, Cuomo said, “If there is a criminal case, then there is a criminal case. But, if this is: ‘I don’t like this religion, and I don’t like this religion on this block.’…What are we about, if not religious freedom? What is the country about if not religious freedom? What is this state about if not religious freedom? Well, religious freedom except I don’t like this religion. But then, there might be another government, and they won’t like Catholicism, or they won’t like Judaism, or they won’t like Christianity, then what?”
Lazio did not let Cuomo’s comments go unchallenged. On Fox-5’s Good Day New York Thursday morning, Lazio said, “Andrew Cuomo should be ashamed of himself. The imam blames the United States for the attacks of 9/11 and now Andrew Cuomo calls into question the motivation of the victims! Andrew Cuomo stating that those who oppose a sympathizer of terrorism are somehow guilty of bigotry is outrageous.”
He continued, “Andrew Cuomo and Eric Holder were wrong on trying Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in lower Manhattan and are now even more outside the mainstream by not yet investigating the mosque and the imam behind it.”
Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York told The Daily Caller that regardless of religion, the law is the law.
“This is a country that is based on laws. If his inquiry is within the law then it is okay,” he said. “Muslims are law abiding and if an investigation is needed then I don’t see a problem.”
Debra Burlingame, whose brother was a pilot on the plane that hit the Pentagon in the Sept. 11 attacks, was incensed at Cuomo’s comments. “Shame on Andrew Cuomo,” she said during an interview with The Daily Caller. “He is unaware of the facts and should not be weighing in without full knowledge of our concerns.”
“It is somewhat galling for 9/11 families to be lectured to about religious tolerance when we experienced the height of intolerance with the attacks that day,” Burlingame continued. “If Cuomo cared about religious freedom as much as he says he does he would not be muzzling us and defending those who would take our religious freedom away through Sharia law.”
The Cordoba Initiative did not respond to requests for comment.
As politicians trade barbs, the process to have the project finalized is well underway. The New York City Community Board has already approved plans for a mosque at the sensitive location. Next week, The Landmarks Preservation Committee, an eleven-member body appointed by the mayor, will hold a hearing to consider the possibility of designating the existing building at the site as an individual landmark.
“The committee will not have anything to say about what goes on inside the building or whether it is converted into a mosque, ” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, director of communications for the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission. “The purpose of the hearing is to determine only if the current building warrants protection.”
If the building gets landmark status, the owners will need to apply for a permit in order to make any external changes. Regardless, Imam Rauf hopes to tear down the 150-year-old building to construct the Cordoba mosque and community center.