Imam open to compromise on NY mosque

Thane Rosenbaum in The Financial Times, September 13, 2010

Media Source

By Alan Rappeport in New York

Published: September 13 2010 16:48 | Last updated: September 13 2010 16:48

Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial Islamic centre and mosque to be built near Ground Zero, said on Monday that relocating the project is an option and that if he foresaw the firestorm that the centre created he might have chosen a different location.

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr Rauf said that he and the backers of the project are “exploring all options” to find “a solution that will defuse this crisis”. However, he continued to defend the importance of the centre as part of a battle against radical Islam.

“We would have done it differently, had different stakeholders, maybe not done it at all,” Mr Rauf said, acknowledging that he did not anticipate the backlash against the centre. “We were surprised because when the news became public, nobody objected.”

Without giving details of potential alternatives, Mr Rauf expressed willingness to compromise over the future of the project and said “everything is on the table”.

Last week the uproar over the centre boiled over as the anniversary of the September 11th attacks drew near, with a Florida pastor threatening a bonfire of Korans if the project was not relocated and Donald Trump offering to purchase the site for a 25 per cent premium. The developers behind the centre said they were not negotiating and that the project would move forward as planned.

Opponents of the mosque argue that although the developers have a legal right to build it they should not because it would be too close to the site where Muslim terrorists killed more than 3,000 people.

“The fact still remains that the victims don’t want it there, and the ashes of the 9/11 dead will no doubt rest even less peacefully if a mosque is facing the memorial that has still not even been built to honour their death,” said Thane Rosenbaum, a law professor at Fordham University.

Mr Rauf maintained that the project, billed as an inter-faith multi-cultural centre two blocks from where the World Trade Center was located, was a crucial foothold in the battle between radicals and moderates of all religions. As a naturalised US citizen who has led several state-sponsored trips to Muslim countries and has a niece serving in the US army, Mr Rauf argued that he was well-placed to diffuse radical ideas.

“I know which verses to read in the Koran, I know how Muslims think and I know how to punch holes in their arguments,” he said. “Radical extremists have hijacked our discourse.”