The battle over the proposed Islamic center in Lower Manhattan is just the latest in a series of similar events in recent years. And for one supporter of the site, the debate is prompting some painful memories. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
At a rally Wednesday backing the planned Islamic center and mosque near the World Trade Center, there was praise for its most prominent champion -- Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"We thank Mayor Bloomberg for his unequivocal support for the rights of Muslim New Yorkers, and for taking a principled stand that reaffirms religious liberty for all, not just some," said Faiza Ali of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Among the participants was Debbie Almontaser of the Muslim Consultative Network, who agrees with the mayor, but didn't always.
"I think that he as a politician learned the second time that he needed to get this right," Almontaser said.
Under pressure from City Hall, Debbie Almontaser resigned three years ago as principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, a public Arabic-language school.
The circumstances then were similar to the uproar now. Both show that even the briefest of remarks can light a fire of controversy when they are made by a Muslim in a city that remains a target of terrorism.
Anti-Islamic critics called the school a virtual jihadi training ground and Almontaser was reported by the New York Post to appear to defend a shirt sold by an Arab group reading "Intifada NYC."
Today, many of the same critics are pouncing on what the center's imam has said -- that the U.S. was an accessory to the September 11th attacks for its decades-long backing of authoritarian regimes.
Those same comments are repeated as a battle cry against the Islamic center. On Tuesday, Bloomberg -- with a lump in his throat -- deemed them a mere blip in a career spent on interreligious dialogue.
"Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope," said the mayor.
To her supporters, the same could have been said about Almontaser, who a federal agency later found was the target of discrimination by the city.
Bloomberg officials and those involved in the school have hotly dismissed any similarities. They declined repeated requests to speak on camera or for attribution, but say even before the t-shirt controversy, Almontaser was a bad fit to be principal, and that's why she left.
Almontaser, who still works in the school system, obviously disagrees. She also says the latest controversy has led to unsettling deja vu.