By Julie Shapiro
LOWER MANHATTAN — The ninth anniversary of 9/11 is the wrong day to hold rallies about the planned mosque and community center near Ground Zero, say relatives of the New Yorkers who died in the World Trade Center.
The group Stop Islamization of America is planning a massive rally near Ground Zero for the afternoon of Sept. 11, and those who support the project plan to hold a counter-protest.
“On this one day, we’re hopeful there don’t have to be rallies and protests, that we leave that day to remembrance and service in memory of those who perished,” said Jay Winuk, whose brother, Glenn Winuk, 40, a volunteer firefighter, was killed in the attacks.
“Whether you’re pro or con on the mosque issue, that’s not what this is about," said Winuk, who declined to give his position. "This isn’t an appropriate day to do a protest of this sort.”
Winuk and David Paine, co-founders of My Good Deed, an organization that promotes volunteerism on the anniversary of 9/11, sent a letter to both sides this week, asking them not to rally. The letter was signed by about a dozen family members, including representatives of the Tribute WTC Visitor Center and September 11 Families Association.
Pamela Geller, executive director of Stop Islamization of America, said in a statement that her protest would go forward as planned.
"The rally is one of remembrance, dedicated to honoring the memory of those who were murdered, and making sure their memory is not desecrated by this mosque,” Geller said. “How does such a spectacle in any way dishonor the victims of the 9/11 attacks?"
Geller plans to hold a memorial service at the beginning of her rally and is asking participants to bring American flags, rather than signs, to give the event a more somber tone.
Another group of 9/11 family members, including retired FDNY Chief Jim Riches, whose firefighter son was killed on 9/11, said in a statement that they feel a “moral obligation” to fight the Park51 project on the anniversary.
“For many family members, the looming, unresolved mosque controversy has made the upcoming September 11th anniversary even more upsetting and troubling,” the statement said.
“There can be no peace and reflection for the 9/11 families who strongly feel that this proposed mosque is disrespectful and insensitive," Riches continued. "On 9/11, as the world is focusing on Ground Zero, families want to be able to raise their voices and say to the world that this is wrong.”
A spokesman for Park51 did not immediately respond to a request for comment.