A Mosque Source That's a Little Too Close

In a Ground Zero mosque story, the Times quotes a freelance journalist warning against Islamophobia - who happens to have freelanced for the Times.

Friday's front page of the Times carried an article by Paul Vitello on the diversity of opinion among Muslims on the Ground Zero mosque. The first two men quoted agree on the right to build, but also that that the builders should compromise and find a site further from the World Trade Center site. Then there's Majeed Babar, sounding the alarm against Islamophobia:

Majeed Babar, 39, a Pakistani journalist living in Queens, says he talks to people concerned for the safety of their loved ones. "People just want to be able to go to work and support their families, and not worry that their children will be attacked in the streets because of all this drumbeat of anger," he said.

What the Times reader doesn't know is this journalist has been published by the New York Times, in a 2009 blog post on an anti-Taliban protest.

This fairly balanced article within the Islamic community begins with the compromisers, and ends with the ones who see shrill fear-mongers on the right:

Moinul Haque, 25, a soft-spoken graduate student in mathematics at the University of Texas, home for the summer in Jackson Heights, winced when asked about the hubbub over the Manhattan center. As a person who guards his privacy, he said, he was a little resentful at having to defend Muslims' citizenship rights in what he called "a wholly artificial controversy."

But he felt that the center's developers should not unilaterally withdraw from the downtown site. "It will solve nothing if the organizers back down now," he said. "It has to be worked out. There has to be dialogue."

Misunderstandings only compound themselves unless confronted, he said.

That was exactly the concern of Ahmed Habeeb, president of the Islamic Center of Long Island, in Westbury. He recently reached out to neighbors and the police through the local news media with a special appeal: Because the festivities marking the end of Ramadan this year will occur close to Sept. 11, Mr. Habeeb asked that residents not misinterpret the party atmosphere at the mosque on that final evening, when more than 1,000 people are expected to share a meal and exchange gifts.

"It will not mean that we are celebrating the 9/11 attacks," he said. "It sounds strange to have to say this, I know. But in this climate you can't be too careful."

Like many Muslims asked about the center near ground zero, Mr. Habeeb said he was tired of talking about it, and would be happier if it had never been conceived. "If I were in charge, I would probably rethink the whole thing for the sake of communal harmony," he said. "But there are risks in backing off."

In such a fierce conflict, he explained, the center's foes may interpret compromise as a sign of weakness - fueling opposition to new mosques everywhere.

"If we back off on it, it could be seen by them as 'One down, two thousand to go,' " he said. "It's very complex at this point."

That's how the story ends - with the idea that conservatives want to shut down every mosque in America.