Midland Beach [Staten Island] residents opposed to the sale of the empty convent of St. Margaret Mary parish to a Muslim group rallied yesterday afternoon for the second straight Sunday in front of the 2½ -story building, and this time other Staten Islanders joined them, carrying their own protest signs.
The good followers of Jesus demonstrated their message of love with lots of hate.
The Muslim American Society in a statement released yesterday displayed a more "Jesus like" approach.
Another Sunday, another protest against proposed Staten Island mosque
“I’m here to support this community because of how frightened everyone is of this group coming in to the neighborhood — the terrorism factor is a big part of it,” said Suzanne Adamo of Castleton Corners, who was born and raised in Midland Beach. She was referring to the Muslim American Society, a national organization whose Brooklyn/Staten Island chapter signed a contract last month with Rev. Keith Fennessy, the parish pastor, to purchase the convent.
“To me, they’re too closed,” added her husband Sal Adamo. “We don’t know them. It’s up to them to show us what and who they are. It’s very frightening.”
One sign on bright yellow cardboard read in black capital letters: “Muslim Brotherhood You Are Not Welcome Here.”
A major issue that has energized opponents of the convent-to-mosque conversion is the alleged links of MAS founders to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and the belief of many neighborhood residents that the Muslim Brotherhood is itself a terrorist organization.
The U.S. State Department maintains a publicly available list of foreign terrorist organizations. The most current list, dated January 2010, includes the names of 45 groups from around the globe. The Muslim Brotherhood is not on the list.
‘NO FOREIGN TIES’
“Everyone in this country has safety concerns, and I think that’s fair and valid, especially in the wake of September 11,” MAS local spokeswoman Lana Safah said in a phone interview on last night.
“We want to reiterate that we have no ties or affiliations to any foreign entities whatsoever,” she added. “And we have maintained the same position from the beginning — we are willing to speak to whoever wishes to speak to us.”
“I’m very against the way this sale went through — it was deceitful and sinful,” said Carolyn Pinto of New Dorp, who attended St. Margaret Mary elementary school. “This is a Christian community. The people here are the church. Archbishop [Timothy] Dolan has hurt the Catholics of Midland Beach, and it cuts like a knife.”
Anthony Sagona, also New Dorp, saw no nuance. “We don’t want the mosque. This is a nice neighborhood and we hope to keep it that way,” he said, adding that he was born in Midland Beach and lived there for 50 years. “I hope the deal falls through.”
Native Islander Christine Marra of Grant City said she was “opposed to the sale of the convent to a non-Christian organization,” and held a hand-written sign that read “Tell the Archdiocese No Mosque. Boycott the Basket.”
“I feel betrayed by the New York Archdiocese,” she commented. “I’ve been donating money my entire adult life with the intention of spreading the Gospel and the Christian message.”
TENSION OVER A BANNER
Some division in the anti-mosque crowd became apparent when a long banner was unfurled, emblazoned with color photographs and the words “We Will Never Forget!” It referenced the killing of Coptic Christians in Egypt, where they remain a beleaguered minority without full civil rights, including freedom of worship and the right to freely build churches.
The U.S. State Department, in its 2009 “Report on International Religious Freedom,” said that Egypt’s constitution “provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites,” but added that “the Government restricts these rights in practice. Islam is the official state religion, and Shari’a is the principal source of legislation.”
One of the people holding up the banner was Magdi Saweres, a Cairo-born Copt who has lived in Midland Beach for the last eight years.
“You see..they [Islamic extremists] killed these kids in Egypt,” he explained to someone reading the large banner.
“That’s not our issue! They should not be here!” said Rosemary Vasquenz, an officer of the Midland Beach Civic Association, who then walked away in disgust.
“We’re not in Egypt — we’re in the U.S.” another resident chimed in.
“They’re on our side, believe me,” intervened Thomas Bosco of Grasmere, who was helping to hold up the large banner.
Unlike the first rally last Sunday, yesterday’s included a uniformed police presence, and officers restricted protestors to the sidewalk after many spilled out onto Greeley Avenue, raising signs and cheering when drivers of passing vehicles slowed down and honked horns in support.
The rally, with about 175 people at its height, was periodically interrupted by a lone counter-demonstrator standing across the street from the convent. His shouts were ignored by the vociferous yet peaceful crowd.
It concluded at 1:30 p.m., with the crowd chanting “USA! USA!” as they dispersed.
The Advance received this written statement from MAS in reaction to yesterday’s rally:
“We as Americans understand and fully appreciate the need to feel safe, and the right and necessity to look into the background of any party or group.
“However, it is equally as important for individuals to do their homework, not just rely on the research and propaganda of other parties.
“We have and continue to make ourselves available for any sit downs or questions, be it with the Church board, Community Leaders or individuals in the community. We are committed to communication and dialog, and are willing at any time to address any valid community concerns.”
Archbishop Dolan said it best on his blog: “Yes, it is acceptable to ask questions about security, safety, the background and history of the groups hoping to build and buy... What is not acceptable is to prejudge any group, or to let fear and bias trump the towering American virtues of hospitality, welcome, and religious freedom.”