Is the 9/11 Mosque a Publicity Stunt?

August 10th, 2010 at 8:44 am David Frum | 27 Comments |

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The lower Manhattan mosque has provoked many doubts and suspicions. Here’s mine: the whole thing is a phony-baloney publicity stunt by a developer in search of project financing.

Maybe an old joke about the development industry can set the stage:

A developer bursts through the door of the office bubbling with good news for his partner: “Hey Sheldon – I had to look at photographs of old man Weinstein’s grandchildren for 2 hours, but we’ve finally got a deal. He agreed to sell us the Maple Street land assembly, and I knocked the price down to $20 million!”

Sheldon answers: “That’s fabulous news – great work – congratulations!”

“Yeah, well there is some bad news too. He needs $10,000 in cash.”

OK bear that in mind as you read this very important report by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein in the New York Post.

The site for the proposed Cordoba Islamic center is now occupied by two buildings on Park Place in New York: one the now-famous Burlington Coat factory; the other an adjoining property that used to function as a Con Edison substation. The mosque developers are often said to own both buildings. That turns out to be not exactly true.

They do own one building, the Burlington Coat factory, which they bought in 2009 for $4.8 million. But Vincent and Klein report they do not quite own the other, the Con Edison building. That building and the land underneath are owned by the big New York utility. The mosque promoters are renting the vacant building for $33,000 a year. But if they want to tear down and redevelop, they will have to purchase the property outright. Vincent and Klein report that the utility is now assessing the value of the land, but will likely demand a price of between $10 million and $20 million.

So here’s what I see.

The mosque developers are three Arab-American businessmen: Sharif and Sammy el-Gamal and Nour Moussa. They have a partner in Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim writer and publicist who does most of the talking. But the money and credit pledged to the project belong to the company owned by Moussa and the el-Gamals, Soho Properties.

Soho Properties has paid some $5 million in cash to buy the Burlington Coat Factory building, a building that yields no income. They are paying rent to hold rights to the Con Ed building, which also yields no income. All of this in the midst of the worst commercial property slump in memory, in an area of New York with a very uncertain economic future. And these are not super-rich guys: Sharif el-Gamal lives in an Upper West Side apartment purchased in 2007 for $1 million. Click here to read what $1 million bought in Manhattan before the crash.

You can see why the Gamal-Moussa team would be dazzled by the notion that philanthropists in the Persian Gulf might donate $100 million to raise a grand gleaming Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You can tuck a lot of development fees into a $100 million project. And if not a mosque … what else do you do with their two loser properties on Park Place?

From the NY Post story:

The building at 45-45 Park Place [the Burlington Coat factory building] had been on the market for years with a sale price that at one point was $18 million. It was owned by Stephen Pomerantz, who died in 2006. His widow, Kukiko Mitani, said she was in debt and desperate to unload the property even at a bargain price of $4.8 million to El- Gamal. She said she thought El-Gamal wanted to build condos, not a mosque — but he should build whatever he wants.

And you know what? I bet el-Gamal did want to build condos! Then he figured out that he could never hope to sell them. So el-Gamal hooked up with Feisal Rauf to find financing to build something else: mosque, synagogue, multiplex cinema, driving range, whatever.

But here’s the problem. The more I read about Feisal Rauf, the more I see a very dangerous kind of man … no, not the Islamic extremist kind of dangerous … but rather the kind of guy who can convincingly say, “$100 million? That’s nothing! I have a cousin in Abu Dhabi who could write a check for $100 million himself! Don’t worry about anything, leave it to me, I’ll get the money, that’s the easy part. You get the zoning rights, we’ll buy you out, all cash, easiest money you ever made.” The streets of New York are littered with the carcasses of dead developers who met and believed the Feisal Raufs of this world ….

$100 million is not so easily raised, not even in Abu Dhabi, not in the middle of a global commercial property slump, not with the Manhattan real estate market in a shambles. Believe it or not, rich people in the Persian Gulf are not yearning to plunge into a U.S. political controversy.

So here’s my guess about the future. The money will not be found. The mosque will not be built. I have no idea whether the el-Gamals were praying men before they met Feisal Rauf. But I bet they are praying very hard right now…

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • jg bennet

    if it is a stunt it’s like the a-team says “i love it when a plan comes together” and i’m sure they are loving it. if you are correct it is an innovative idea plus made the bigots of islam look like fools. all in all with your angle included i would score the plan a 8.7 out of 10. could it be that propaganda worked? propaganda works like a charm in this country it’s like pavlov’s classical conditioning for the assumers & the uniformed.

  • Prime location - Ben Smith -

    [...] David Frum today makes the point that the ethereal finances of the planned Cordoba Center may have less to do with shady financiers than with the fact that — in the great New York real estate tradition — the money may well not exist. [...]

  • LFC

    Sooooooo, they bought the first building years ago, and they leased the other one to keep it “on the line”, they got approval from the zoning board to build (either unanimous or minus 1, I can’t remember which) so it was completely uncontroversial, and then … Sarah Palin opens her big yap.

    Just what, exactly, did this group do to create all of this negative publicity? As near as I can see, every scrap of the “controversy” was manufactured by right-wingers.

  • rbottoms

    Two words about this bit of libel: Donald Trump.

    When exactly did capitalism become un-American?

  • LFC

    When exactly did capitalism become un-American?

    That’s an easy one. When it allowed Moosluhms to become successful.

  • blowtorch_bob

    Probably. In the same way those Danish cartoons show up from time to time calculated to get the Muslims all riled up so that we can point the finger and say look at those crazy Islamics, that’s why we need to be in A’stan or Iraq because they’re so crazy and insane we need to get control of their oil before they do any serious damage.

  • pampl

    You forgot to include the Illumninati and the Reptiloids of Hallow Earth in that theory, bob.

  • sweatyb

    In a statement, Con Ed said it was moving ahead with the sale as it is legally required to.

    “Consistent with the law and our core beliefs, we are in the process of selling a property which had once been used as a substation. Under the terms of a 38-year-old lease, the current tenant of our property has rights to use, alter, demolish or renovate the building, as well as purchase the property. He has exercised his option to purchase the property at a price to be set by an independent appraiser. If that party meets the price as set by the appraiser, this transaction will proceed. We are following our legal obligations under the lease. We will not allow other considerations to enter into this transaction. This is New York, a richly diverse city. Con Edison’s values call for respecting people without regard to their racial, ethnic or religious orientation. They are all our customers.”

    (Emphasis mine)

    Under the terms of the lease they already have, they could tear down the existing building and put up a new one. They don’t actually need to buy the property to build the mosque. That they’ve decided to exercise that option means that they probably have a high confidence that they can afford whatever price the independent appraiser comes up with.

  • Oskar

    Unless one lives in New York City it is no one’s business-period. Since I don’t live in New York City, I will say no more on this matter.

  • WillyP

    I do live in NYC and passed by the rubble/now construction site of the WTC for over 2 years on the way to work, taking the PATH train.

    The notion that they’re building a giant Islamic cultural center 2 blocks away is a travesty. Is it “legal”??? I’m sure it is. It’s legal to do many things that are profoundly and insultingly wrong.

    There are many mosques in NYC and room for plenty more. Build it somewhere else. Otherwise you’re looking at a huge propaganda item for the Islamists. The “paper tiger” you attack in the name of Islam let’s you build a vast Islamic cultural center that’s only stone’s throw away. Gee, I wonder what the real motivations are here…

    See Andy McCarthy’s article:

    Moreover, I wonder if we are supposed to believe that the Muslim planners of this project thought it wouldn’t cause a stir. This seems highly unlikely. Anybody who is within 1,000 miles of the WTC and not living under a proverbial rock must have some inclination that a shrine to Islam overlooking the site of a terrorist attack committed in Islam’s name is going to cause an uproar. Remember they were going to try KSM down the road? What do you think is gonna happen guys? No… I think it’s entirely reasonable to conclude that whoever is behind this project knew exactly what PR storm they were flying into and the outrage it would cause in the press and with the public. My guess is they got official approval before unveiling this to the public. What good civic leadership NYC has, huh?

    Meanwhile Bloomberg, the same mayor who jumped to the outrageous conclusion that the would-be Times Square bomber was an “an angry white man upset with the healthcare bill,” can’t say enough nice things about the unknown funders of this project and enough nasty things about those who question its intentions. Seriously Bloomie, all I ask from you is to be half as condescending to terrorists as you are to your New York electorate.

  • LFC

    pampl said… You forgot to include the Illumninati and the Reptiloids of Hallow Earth in that theory, bob.

    Pampl, by any chance are the Reptiloids any relation to CHUDs? I’m very against allowing CHUDs to live in NYC. The fact that neither Presidential candidate addressed this issue in 2008 still has me fuming.

  • sweatyb

    WillyP. You’re just blowing my mind.

    Private citizens investing in property for the purposes of building a religious temple. That’s pretty much what the 1st Amendment is all about.

    Have you considered how your blinding hate for Islam mirrors Al Qaeda’s hate for this country? How your viewpoint and Al Qaeda’s viewpoint match almost perfectly?

    It confounds me why anyone would want to let small-minded religious zealots define the world in which we all live.

  • WillyP

    For the benefit of all here, could you please point out where you see my alleged “blinding hatred for Islam”???

    I’m sorry, but it’s not just religious bigots who oppose this “temple,” as you call it. Over 60% of New Yorkers oppose it. And NYC is about 90% Democrat.

  • rectonoverso

    Nice conspiracy theory. As plausible as Obama’s mother giving birth in Kenya while having ads published in Hawaiian newspapers so he could run for President more than 40 years later.

    P.S: The “9/11 mosque” label is even more ridiculous as the “ground zero mosque” label.

  • British_Lefty

    For those who oppose this Mosque, why do you not come out and say it – you think your country is in a war with Islam! osama bin laden has been trying to convince the world’s Muslims of this for years with little success. Way to do the job for him!!

    The only logical reason to oppose the “Ground Zero” Mosque is if you think it was Islam and Muslims and not just al-qaeda that attacked your country.. and mine I will add! The world’s Muslims are watching the debate and the discourse over this Mosque with piqued interest and many are drawing unfortunate conclusions. Frankly, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have made some extremist recruiter’s job that little bit easier.


    ” …it’s not just religious bigots who oppose this “temple,” as you call it. Over 60% of New Yorkers oppose it. And NYC is about 90% Democrat.”
    Doesn’t matter who else opposes it. As terrible a thing that was done to that city the fact remains that this is no different to opposing a black family moving into a neighbourhood because a few blocks a way a gang of black kids went on a shooting rampage!

    ” the Muslim planners”
    Why does it matter that they’re “muslim” if you aren’t being bigoted?

    “…a shrine to Islam overlooking the site of a terrorist attack committed in Islam’s name is going to cause an uproar.”
    Are you kidding me? First of all I wasnt aware that you could over look anything in NY from a few blocks away. Second of all “committed in Islam’s name”… talk about painting with a broad brush!! Muslims DIED in those buildings too you know. Muslims were among the first responders. Aside from a few crazies, Muslims around the world recoiled in horror over what had been done.

    Now @WillyP, explain again how you don’t have a “blinding hatred for Islam”.

    I will point out that the UK was bombed by the IRA for 30 years and we never opposed the local planning applications submitted by seminaries. Americans in their grief and anger overreacted to 9/11 and ended up with 2 wars expensive in blood and treasure. Time for cooler heads like Bloomberg to hold sway.

  • jg bennet

    a muslim country was the first to recognize the united states after the revolution

    Relations between the Kingdom of Morocco and the United States date back to the earliest days of U.S. history. On December 20, 1777, Morocco formally recognized the colonies as a unified sovereign nation. Morocco was the first nation to recognize the United States and so bilateral relations were born.

  • fsteele

    As I suspected.

    Who can doubt the secret hid
    Under Cheop’s pyramid
    Is that the contractor did
    Cheops out of several millions

  • WillyP

    your moniker says it all. how is it living in a country that is steadily losing its heritage and culture? is that a concern of yours? apparently not.

  • British_Lefty

    “your moniker says it all”
    @WillyP Again with the snap judgements! I note you did not refute a *single* one of the points made.

    I’ll ask you again. How is your opposition to this Mosque different to opposing a black family moving into a neighbourhood because a few blocks a way a gang of black kids went on a shooting rampage?

    British culture has left an indelible impression around the world including the language we are speaking right now. In what way is it being lost?

  • WillyP

    my snap judgments? you accused me of blind hatred! pot calling the kettle black.

  • British_Lefty

    “you accused me of blind hatred!”
    Did I? Where? You have demonstrated at best a misguided and uninformed intolerance for Islam with your words. So I invited you to explain how this was not a blinding hatred. Let the record show that @WillyP will not, perhaps cannot answer any of my questions.

  • drdredel

    I suspect you’re new to this website, but lest you haven’t figured it out already WillyP is either a classic internet troll who posts things to get your goat and waste your time or an imbecile. I haven’t read any of his posts in a long time but I read yours and can tell you that you’ve made your point and many here agree with it, and if anyone does not, they will present some cogent argument that you may want to consider, or debate, but don’t expect said argument or defense thereof from WillyP. It’s much more productive to argue with a magic 8 ball.

    Also, I just spent a week in your country (as well as several of your neighbors) and think you guys are doing a-ok! (also, thanks for the language… I’m enjoying it immensely!) :)

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  • Rocketship7

    The Cordoba Institute makes as much sense as a German Cultural Center next to Auschwitz.
    I am with Ezra Levant on this one David. Its a bad idea, and the Muslims need us to tell them that.

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