By Ben Fractenberg
MANHATTAN — Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf stood by his plans on "60 Minutes" to continue building the Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero.
"It’s the right thing to do," Rauf said on the news show, which aired Sunday evening. "Our community wants it. And now America needs it. And the Muslim world needs it."
When asked what he would say to family members of those lost in 9/11 Rauf used an empathetic tone.
"I pray for the souls of your lost loved ones," he said. "If 9/11 happens there again, I want to be the first to die. Muslims want to stand right there to say that we are here."
"60 minutes" reported that Rauf will allow the government to approve sources of funding, though they didn’t specify if he was talking about even small donations.
The show also interviewed Pamela Geller, who was one of the early bloggers criticizing the project.
"You don’t build a 15-story mega mosque at Ground Zero and say that’s it’s healing," Geller said. "Don’t spit in my face and tell me it’s raining."
As his critics continue to evoke the memory of 9/11, Rauf continued to say the cultural center is way to fight violent religious extremism.
"We have to wage peace," he said. "The military campaign against radical extremists from my faith community is a military campaign. The campaign for winning hearts and minds is an important part of that campaign."