Ground Zero mosque site.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
NEW YORK — It is two blocks from Ground Zero, but the site of a proposed mosque and Islamic center shouldn't be seen as "hallowed ground" in a neighborhood that also contains a strip club and a betting parlor, the cleric leading the effort said Monday.
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Making an ardent case for the compatibility of Islam and American values, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf reiterated that he is searching for a solution to the furor the project has created. But he left unanswered exactly what he had in mind.
If anything, Rauf only deepened the questions around the project's future, telling an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank that he was "exploring all options" — but declining to specify them — while also arguing that a high-profile site is necessary to get across his message of moderate Islam.
While opponents of the project see it as insulting the memories of the
thousands killed by Muslim extremists in the 2001 terrorist attacks,
Rauf said he doesn't see the spot as sacred memorial space.
"It's absolutely disingenuous, as many have said, that that block is
hallowed ground," Rauf said, noting the nearby exotic dance and betting
businesses. "So let's clarify that misperception."
Some Sept. 11 victims' families and others view the proposed mosque site
— in a building damaged by debris from the attacks — as very much part
of the terrain of death and sorrow surrounding the trade center.
"I just think he's being very insensitive to say it's not hallowed
ground because of who's occupying the buildings," said Jim Riches, a
former New York City deputy fire chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at
the trade center. "The strip club didn't murder my son."
The project has become a flashpoint for worldwide debate about Islam's
place in America nine years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The controversy
has colored the fall campaign season and cast a shadow on this past
weekend's commemoration of the attacks, with supporters and opponents of
the mosque project holding rallies nearby
Rauf said a project meant to foster understanding has become unduly
mired in conflict and what he described as misconceptions of a
fundamental clash between Islamic and American values.