Ground Zero Mosque Imam: If I Could Do It Again, I Wouldn't
By Adam Nichols
DNAinfo News Editor
LOWER MANHATTAN - If he could, the Imam of the controversial downtown mosque would abandon his plan.
But, in an intervew Sunday, the head of the planned Muslim cultural center that has sparked a furious debate over religious freedom and respect for the 9/11 victims said the uproar makes moving it impossible.
"I'm a man of peace," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "The Week."
"The whole objective of peace work is not to do something that would provoke controversy."
When asked if he would have proposed the mosque if he'd known the uproar it would create, he said, "I would never have done it."
But, he said, it was now impossible to back down because the debate had been taken over by extremists and radicals on both sides of the controversy — and giving in to them would only strengthen them.
"What has happened is that since May, ... certain politicians decided that this project would be very useful for their political ambitions," he said.
Their actions are fueling a "growing Islamophobia," he added.
And, he said, with so much tension and fury now surrounding the plans, moving Park51 could be dangerous.
"We have two audiences," he said. "We have the American audience and we have the Muslim audience.
"And this issue has riveted the attention of the whole Muslim world. Whatever we do and whatever (we) say and how we move and the discourse about it is being watched very, very closely," he said.
If the mosque was moved, he said, "the headline in the Muslim world will be 'Islam is under attack in America.'"
"If we make the wrong move, it will only expand and strengthen the voice of the radicals and the extremists."
The announcement came as former mayor Rudy Giuliani accused the imam of being two-faced about the mosque controversy.
"There's the good imam and the bad imam," Giuliani said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. "The good imam is about reconciliation ... then there's the bad imam who said America is an accessory to Sept. 11."
Giuliani has openly opposed the mosque being built near Ground Zero.