More than 200 residents and Brooklyn Tea Party members and 100 supporters of a mosque and Muslim community center clashed in dueling rallies on Sunday at the site of the proposed cultural center in Sheepshead Bay.
In the latest flare-up over the Muslim American Society-sponsored project, Voorhies Avenue was again split down the middle, with anti-mosque demonstrators — and their anti-Muslim signs — set up on the north side of the two-way street while mosque supporters rallied on the south side of the block between E. 28th and E. 29th streets.
“Islam is welcome here,” one sign read.
“Don’t hate me because I don’t hate Muslims,” read another.
Most anti-mosque speakers were quick to defend themselves from the charge that racism or anti-Islam sentiment motivates their ongoing battle against the four-story proposal —but the signs they carried and the rhetoric they used told a different story.
“People from the mosque will be praying in the street,” insisted Susan Gerber, a former public school teacher. “People living on the block will have to step over them.”
Brooklyn Tea Party founder John Press, who rallied against the so-called Ground Zero mosque last week, again raised the specter of foreign domination.
“The mosque is founded by a very scary organization and the Constitution does not guarantee the right of a foreign nation to build a mosque in our country,” Press said.
It’s unclear if Press had merely forgotten the First Amendment, but one member of his protest group did recall the Constitution’s barrier on government suppression of religion — he just chose to ignore it.
“We don’t need to watch Sheepshead Bay get raped by people using the Constitution who are not even from this country,” said Andrew Cardnas, a 25-year-old neighborhood resident.
Nearby, a man who refused to give his name held a sign reading, “Hamas Kills, MAS gives them money. They have blood on their hands.”
This isn’t the first time that the Bay People group has protested the mosque. The group, which organized last year, also demonstrated at the Muslim American Society’s school supply give-away on Sept. 5 and held a rally in June, which featured a bomb threat. No one has been able to show a connection between the Muslim American Society and terrorism.
Opponents have also argued that the mosque will bring too much traffic to a mostly residential neighborhood.
“People coming from outside of the community to protest are just causing trouble,” said Steve Peskin, who lives across the street from the planned mosque. “It is not their issue, it is a local issue that involved traffic and parking problems.”
But mosque supporters, organized by the non-denominational New York City Coalition to Stop Islamophobia, derided the anti-mosque speakers as anti-Muslim.
“These Brooklyn Tea Party and Bay People members are shocking,” said Frances Paula Minichello, a Sheepshead Bay resident who participated in the pro-mosque demonstration. “This neighborhood should welcome everybody.”
Even claims that the faithful would be bowing toward Mecca on the street was dismissed by supporters.
“We’ll have a building, so I don’t think we’ll be praying in the street anytime soon,” said mosque project manager Ibrahim Anse, who added that he expects construction to begin in about a month.