The leaders of the group suing to stop construction of the Sheepshead Bay mosque have softened their anti-Muslim stance, but they didn’t have a problem letting other residents slam the builders as backers of terrorism at a protest on Sunday at the site of the project.
Members of Bay People, who in the past have linked the mosque backers — the Muslim American Society — to terrorism, refused to say so this time, but gave a forum to non-members who see such a link.
“The Muslim American Society is dedicated to destroying Western civilization,” said resident Robert Spencer to a cheering crowd. “Supporting the mosque enables them in their project.”
Another speaker took things further.
“It’s my right to hate you!” Neal Alpert repeatedly shouted to mosque supporters.
The hateful rhetoric was just fine with the Bay People members we spoke to who said everyone is allowed their own opinion.
“Other people have a right to say what they feel at the rally,” said member Victor Benari. “But that doesn’t mean Bay People agrees. Our argument has nothing to do with being against Muslims.”
That was a change of tune for Benari, who fired up a crowd in June when he told demonstrators, “Each Muslim terrorist is tied to a mosque.”
The latest protest against the mosque took place as supporters of the development held a counter-rally directly across the street. It came four days after a February stop-work order was lifted by the city, freeing up the Muslim American Society to resume construction of the building on Voorhies Avenue between E. 28th and East 29th streets.
Similar rallies were held in the fall, as Voorhies Avenue was split down the middle: the Bay People-led mosque opponents took their chants, signs and speeches to the north side of the two-way street, while mosque supporters demonstrated for their as-of-right project on the south side.
But this time, Bay People members held signs with slogans such as “Our peace and quiet are not for sale,” instead of the phrases of the 2010 signs, which included “Hamas Kills, the Muslim American Society gives them money. They have blood on their hands.”
Across the street the pro-mosque group held signs reading “Hatred is un-American” and chanted “Shame on you” at their adversaries.
The weekend rally also brought in residents from outside the neighborhood who wanted to show their support for the mosque.
“The mosque has been approved by the city, so the Muslim American Society should be able to build their house of worship,” said Debbie Almontaser, an Arab-American educator from Midwood who was fired by the city as principal of an Arabic culture school amid rumors that she was creating a school for jihad. She was later absolved of any wrongdoing. “They are simply exercising their constitutional right.”
The pro-mosque crowd also featured locals of other religions who are fed up with what they perceive as xenophobic opposition to the mosque.
“I’ve lived in this neighborhood for 20 years and I’m appalled at the hatred,” said Toby Horowitz, member of the group Jews Against Islamophobia.
In the midst of rallies and a lawsuit, plans for the community center are moving along. Construction of the mosque is expected to resume this week, according to owner Ahmed Allowey.
“We have as much right to worship here as anyone,” Allowey said. “And we want to have a good relationship with the neighborhood and live here in harmony.”