Some 1,000 protesters swarmed the site of the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero yesterday, largely overshadowing 250 demonstrators supporting the project. "It's a breeding ground for terrorists," grumbled critic Shawn Gilfeather. Opponents held aloft banners reading: "Building a mosque at Ground Zero Is like building a Hitler memorial at Auschwitz." But rival protesters chanted: "Hallowed ground, that's a lie, you don't care if Muslims die!" An organizer of the Manhattan center, to be located two blocks from Ground Zero, called the backlash racism, and vowed that plans will not change.
"This is like a metastasized anti-Semitism," Daisy Kahn told ABC News. "It's beyond Islamophobia—it's hate of Muslims." But a retired firefighter who escaped the collapse of the Twin Towers said the issue is not about religious freedom. "All we are saying is don't build this mosque here at Ground Zero on our cemetery," Tim Brown told the New York Daily News. The rival rallies were kept apart within police-patrolled barricades two blocks away, but scuffles erupted between protesters heading to the separate demonstrations.