Poll shows opposition to Cordoba House crosses religious, ethnic and ideological lines

Ashley Killough Contributor
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A new survey released Thursday says 61 percent of New York state residents oppose the location for the Cordoba House, an Islamic community center and mosque to be built in Lower Manhattan, just two blocks away from Ground Zero. The poll results came just two days after the City of New York gave builders the go-ahead for center’s development.

The survey, conducted by the Siena College Research Institute, reveals that only 26 percent of respondents support the project.

“Large majorities of all New Yorkers, every party, region and age give a thumbs-down to the Cordoba House Mosque being built near the Ground Zero site,” said Dr. Don Levy, the institute’s director, in a press release. “But only just over half of all New Yorkers, even city residents say they have been following the news about the proposed mosque closely.”

The survey finds that only two out of 10 New Yorkers agree the proposed center would promote moderate Islam and serve as a tribute to religious tolerance, while four out of 10 residents side with those who see the center as an insensitive affront to the memory of those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

According to the poll’s results, opposition to the Islamic center is greatest among those who live in the suburbs and Upstate New York, and among those who identify as conservative (85 percent of conservatives surveyed said they were against the center, whereas only 11 percent supported it). However, a majority of liberals (52 percent) and moderates (55 percent) are also opposed to the building’s location according to the survey, showing that opposition to the Cordoba House crosses ideological lines.

Opponents tend to be more religious, with 73 percent of Catholics, 75 percent of Jews, and 65 percent of Protestants opposing the project. In contrast, support for the center’s location registers the highest among those with no religious affiliation at 47 percent. The poll’s findings do not disclose how self-identified Muslims feel about the issue.

Interestingly, education levels seem to make no difference in voting patterns. Sixty two percent of those reporting an education level of “less than college” registered in opposition to the Cordoba House’s location, as did 62 percent of those reporting “college” level educational attainment.

As for ethnic makeup, a majority of whites (69 percent), blacks (52 percent) and Latinos (62 percent) said they oppose the building’s location. Support for the proposal is highest among blacks at 38 percent, with Latinos coming in second at 26 percent and whites at 19 percent.

The results of the poll echo similar findings from a July poll by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, which found that New York City voters opposed the Cordoba proposal by 52 percent to 31 percent.

Those in support of the Cordoba House, which claims it seeks to encourage interfaith dialogue as part of its outreach, tend to see the project as a positive step in building relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the U.S.

Dr. Alan Godlas, associate professor of religion at the University of Georgia, specializes in Islamic studies and says the center would not only fulfill America’s tradition of religious freedom, but discredit the terror and fear that Islamic extremists sought to permeate nearly nine years ago.
“This center is exactly what Muslim extremists do not want to see. Muslim extremists do not want Islam to be seen as tolerant. They do not want it to be seen as respectful of other faiths,” Godlas said.  “An Islamic center [near Ground Zero], is a sign and symbol that the extremists who perpetrated 9/11 were not victorious, because the nature of the center embodies principles of Islam that the terrorists are still trying to eliminate—the diverse and moderate voices.”

But many view the religious center’s nearby position to Ground Zero as aggressive and inappropriate. Joan Molinaro, board member for 9/11 Families for a Secure America, lost her son, Carl, a firefighter, in the World Trade Center attacks. She says she’s heart-broken over the Islamic center’s close and “audacious” proximity to Ground Zero.

“If they want to put it a half-mile away, I don’t have a problem with that. It’s just where they’re doing it—that’s sacred ground,” Molinaro said, adding that the issue is not about religious freedom. “I know that [Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf] is saying that he wants to bridge gaps in America. But if he wants to do that, then have some sensitivity toward the families and don’t put it right there.”

The Siena College Research Institute surveyed 622 New York state residents through telephone calls from July 27-29 and August 2-3. The poll has an error margin of 3.9 percentage points.