New York imam says moving mosque could incite Muslim backlash
If planned centre is moved from site near Ground Zero, radicals could see Islam as under attack in US, says cleric
The imam behind the controversial plan to build an Islamic centre and mosque near New York’s Ground Zero site has said he is “exploring all options” and “everything is on the table”, in the face of a firestorm of politically driven protest against the project.
In a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York today, Feisal Abdul Rauf expressed frustration that “radical extremists have hijacked our discourse”, and warned that moving the mosque could prompt a violent backlash from some Muslims abroad.
Rauf said the Islamic centre’s advisers had been looking at “every option” including delaying construction. The imam has also suggested that the centre could expand to provide space for people of other faiths alongside Muslims.
“Everything is on the table,” he said. “We really are focused on solving it … I give you my pledge.”
Rauf said it was “absolutely disingenuous” to suggest that the site of the planned construction was “hallowed ground” when there is a strip club and betting shops nearby. He defended the need for the project.
“In recent days some people have asked: is there really a need for an Islamic community centre in lower Manhattan? Is it worth all this firestorm? The answer is a categorical yes,” he said.
Yesterday, Rauf told ABC News that the controversy had “been used for political purposes” and that there was “growing Islamophobia in this country”. He said the “discourse has been, to a certain extent, hijacked by the radicals.”
“The radicals on both sides, the radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world, feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they’ve been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem,” he said.
Asked why, when more than two-thirds of New Yorkers say they want the Islamic centre built somewhere else, he would not do that, Rauf said: “My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America, this will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people – our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens – under attack in the Muslim world, and we have expanded and given and fueled terrorism.”
Rauf said he might have done some things differently if he had realised the Islamic centre would provoke the reaction that has engulfed it. “I would never have done it. I’m a man of peace. I mean the whole objective of peace work is not to do something that would provoke controversy,” he said.