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A different take on mosque controversy: Ground Zero site was once 'Manhattan's old Arab District'

The controversy continues to rage over the Park51 site, where an Islamic cultural center is being planned a couple of blocks away from Ground Zero in New York (where protesters, seen above, clashed yesterday). Meanwhile, smaller-town protesters have been rallying against mosques under development from Temecula to Tennessee, and a shockingly large percentage of Americans have told pollsters that they think the president of the United States is Muslim.

So in the midst of all this, it was refreshing to come across this terrific post by veteran journalist Marc Haefele, published this morning on 89.3 KPCC Off-Ramp host John Rabe's blog. Haefele, Off-Ramp's literary and cultural commentator, delves into the long-ago history of the Ground Zero site, which may surprise some given the site's more recent past and what's happening today. From the post:

It was Manhattan's old Arab District, which flourished for nearly a century. Yes, much of the region the P51's denigrators defend as sacred American ground, was, from about 1870 on, the home of many thousands of Middle Eastern immigrants -- largely Muslim.

This was "Little Syria," both an Arab ghetto and a popular tourist zone, which the Los Angeles Herald proclaimed in April 11, 1909 as having "the mystery of the Orient upon it."

There are a few period photographs and illustrations as well. In the meantime, KPCC host Patt Morrison is discussing Islamophobia in general today in the wake of a TIME poll - the same one that found 24 percent of respondents mistakenly thinking Barack Obama is Muslim - that conveys a general sense of anti-Muslim sentiment at the moment in the nation. Her show airs between 1 and 3 p.m.