Mosque Opponents Leaving Ground Zero Shops Alone

The controversy over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York City two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood became more of a national issue after President Obama commented on the issue Friday night.

Emotions, of course, are particularly intense in New York City

At his easel in front of the location for the proposed Islamic cultural center, an artist who wants to remain anonymous - giving only John Q. Public as his name - is speaking loudly with his brush for the many New Yorkers who oppose the project, CBS News Correspondent Jim Axelrod reports.

"They have a right to build it constitutionally, but that doesn't mean it should be built right here on this battlefield," he said.

The strong feelings produced by the mosque have been hanging over New York this summer.

"If we shut down a mosque and community center because it is two blocks away from the site where freedom was attacked, I think it would be a sad day for America," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters.

Some victims' families say the Islamic center would pervert the mood at Ground Zero, but two blocks from what Mr. Obama called "hallowed ground" are a number of businesses - strip joints, stores selling X-rated DVD's - striking a far different tone than the families want.

Retired New York Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his firefighter son Jimmy on 9/11, said that's different.

"I'm not for all those buildings, but, you know, they didn't murder my son," said Riches. "Muslims murdered my son. That's why I'm offended at this being here."

What really complicates the issue is that there already is a vibrant Muslim community near Ground Zero. Two blocks from the proposed site of the Islamic cultural center, there is an operating mosque.

Seven hundred thousand Muslims live in New York City's five boroughs, including 10,000 in lower Manhattan, where there are 87 Muslim organizations and businesses.

But this is an issue being driven by emotions on both sides, not numbers. On Monday, the anonymous artist put it best:

"It is a sensitive, provocative, confrontational issue," he said.

Where supporters of the center say they want to build bridges, opponents see them burning bridges instead.

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  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.