by Joe Maniscalco
Neighbors rallying against a controversial new mosque planned for Sheepshead Bay clashed with counter-demonstrators outside the proposed site on Voorhies Avenue on Sunday, once again turning the sleepy block located between East 28th Street and East 29th Street into an ideological battleground of ill wills where hate-tinged epitaphs and ugly slurs flew for roughly two hours as cops worked hard to keep the two groups apart.
In a notable departure from Bay People’s previous rally, both sides were bolstered by political and advocacy-based organizations from outside Sheepshead Bay’s borders. Those gathered under the Brooklyn Tea Party banner on one side of the block hammered away at the Muslim American Society (MAS) – sponsors of the proposed mosque – for its alleged ties to known terrorist networks abroad, while members of a group called the New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia camped across the street denouncing the accusations as nothing more than racist rants.
“This hate against Muslims infuriates me,” said protester Danny Kessler, a Sheepshead Bay native currently living in Kensington. “Freedom of religion is a basic American right.”
Others stood steadfast in their view that the sponsors of the proposed mosque are indeed suspect and do not belong in Sheepshead Bay.
“I don’t want them here,” local resident Lucy Zilber said. “Most of them are terrorists.”
The racist tag has been a potential problem for mosque critics who have some legitimate concerns about the siting of a large religious institution on a quiet residential street. But on Sunday, those attending the rally seemed to wholeheartedly embrace controversial Tea Party tactics directly attacking MAS.
“That’s the next issue,” former teacher Susan Gerber said. “The first issue is the most basic issue – the logistics. The second issue is the terrorist ties.”
Ahmed Allowey, head of the new mosque project, balked at his group’s alleged ties to terrorism citing a letter from Congressman Michael McMahon in MAS’s defense in which the representative says the FBI has given him “no indication whatsoever the Muslim American Society is affiliated with any organization that threatens our national security.”
“We stand with the Constitution because the spirit of this country is the Constitution,” said Mohamed Sadeia, president of the local MAS chapter representing Brooklyn and Staten Island.
Both sides in the mosque debate attempted to wrap themselves tightly in the American flag on Sunday, flying the stars and stripes and rallying behind dueling renditions of “God Bless America” and “This Land is Your Land.”
Peace activist Frances Minichiello, blamed unsavory tensions in the community on a lack of leadership and unreasonable fears about Muslims in the aftermath of September 11.
“People are afraid of Muslims, and I’m disappointed that no clergy or politicians are addressing their fears,” she said.
Photos by Anna Svirskaia and Erica Sherman