'People against it are just not open-minded. I think they have been brainwashed'
On the ground
"We managed to keep this civilised!" declares Vince Conti, moments after a complete stranger has called him a bigot. "I am so upset," growls his opponent Yasser Aggour. "This is latent bigotry exploding."
The two men – one Roman Catholic the other Muslim – have collided outside the abandoned Burlington Coat Factory discount store on Park Place in Lower Manhattan which is slated to be converted into a Muslim community centre and mosque. They are navigating the same quandary that has gripped the whole country and consumed national political discourse. Should a mosque open here so close to the site of the 9/11 attacks?
"I am not anti-Islam," insists Mr Conti, 52, who perhaps went a bit far by suggesting that he would respect Mr Aggour more if he would just "turn in" his Muslim brothers he knows to be terrorists. "But why can't they move it to a different location? This is such a sensitive place." He gestures towards Ground Zero, where American flags flutter from cranes that have come to rest for the night.
Mr Conti suggests that, if he cannot bring himself to accept that the new centre should be in this block, it may be because he witnessed the attacks at first hand. He still works in the World Financial Centre adjacent to Ground Zero. "I saw the terror. I saw the people jumping."
He presses on: "The people who will be coming here to this centre will be saying the same prayers that the terrorists prayed when they attacked and they will be saying them with the same exuberance and the same passion as the terrorists. It will be ringing out all the way to Ground Zero. I'm bothered by that."
On this night, however, Mr Conti finds himself in something of a minority. Handing out flyers to a strip club just around the corner, a young man originally from Morocco, who calls himself Jay, scoffs at the opponents to the mosque. "This country is a melting pot. If they build it right here it actually would be a good thing. People against it are just not open-minded. I think they have been brainwashed."
At the coat factory, Bryan Gillis is one of several young New Yorkers who have gathered with placards supporting the rights of Muslims to open a place of worship here.
"Bin Laden wants US to think that Islam and al-Qa'ida are the same," his makeshift sign says. "Let us show them we beg to differ."
Matt Sky and his girlfriend Julia Lundy have spent the past three days outside the old coat store waving similar placards at anyone who will take notice demanding that America live up to its promise of tolerance and openness. The reaction has not always been friendly. "We've been called terrorists; we had a bucket thrown at us, cigarette stubs ... Someone even grabbed the placards and threw them under a truck," Mr Sky, 26, reports with undiminished enthusiasm. He adds: "I think we have even been able to change a few people's minds." .........
Walk two blocks from here and – if you look really hard – you will find the scruffy, single-basement mosque that already serves Muslims in this area. The tiny Masjid of Lower Manhattan was founded in 1970 and moved to its current address on Warren Street two years ago.
Farid Baig, 40, a limousine driver, stops his car here twice a day to pray. He came to America 10 years ago from Pakistan and confesses to profound disappointment that plans for the bigger mosque have met so much opposition. "This will be a place of God and a place of peace," he says. "Not everyone is a terrorist because they are a Muslim."
- 1 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 2 Husband and wife die holding hands within hours of each other after 67 years of marriage
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 Saudi Muslim cleric claims the Earth is 'stationary' and the sun rotates around it
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Putin critic may have been murdered by Islamic extremists, says president-led committee
Stephen Hawking's wife Jane Wilde on their marriage breakdown: 'The family were left behind'
British are sexually uptight, dirty and drink too much – according to Spanish book
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
Russia's roadmap for annexing eastern Ukraine 'leaked from Vladimir Putin's office'
£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...
£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...
£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...
£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...