Giuliani on Mosque: "This Project Is Divisive"

Former mayor acknowledges developers have "right" to build, but defers to question, "should they?"

By Jennifer Millman
|  Thursday, Aug 19, 2010  |  Updated 10:47 AM EDT
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Giuliani weighed in on the mosque issue.

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The former mayor who helped lead the city through the tragic aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, came out in opposition of building a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.

"This project is divisive," Rudy Giuliani said on the "Today" show this morning as he commented for the first time on the debate that has swept the nation. "This project is creating tremendous pain for people who've already made the ultimate sacrifice. All you're doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred."

NBC's Matt Lauer reminded Giuliani of comments he made roughly 14 months after 9/11 in which he evoked freedom of religion as one of America's founding principles, and asked how Giuliani reconciles his opposition to the mosque with his espousal of the idea that "no one's going to interfere with you" because of that principle.

The one-time presidential candidate quickly acknowledged the developers have a constitutional right to build the mosque but deferred to the question, "Should they build it?"

"The question here is of sensitivity, of people's feelings, and are you really what you pretend to be," Giuliani said. "If you want to claim to be the healer, then you're not on the side of the person who's pushing those divisive issues.

"I was the first person on Sept. 11 to step forward in the heat of battle and say, 'No group blame, do not blame Arabs, it's a small group.' But the reality is that, right now, if you are a healer you do not go through with this project. If you're a warrior, you do."

Giuliani also said he agreed with Gov. David Paterson, who proposed the mosque be built on a location not associated with the same sensitivities as the land near Ground Zero. 

Paterson last week offered to help the mosque developers find a new spot, perhaps on state land. When the developers shot down that idea, the governor said he would at least like to have a meeting with them to discuss it. That meeting has yet to be scheduled, and Paterson told NBCNewYork on Wednesday that there were no concrete plans to hold it at all.

"That would be their choice," Paterson said. "I'm making myself available. It's up to them."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has remained a vociferous supporter of building the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. Bloomberg's office didn't immediately respond to an e-mail inquiry seeking a response to Giuliani's comments this morning.

Weighing in for the first time yesterday, Archbishop Timothy Dolan agreed with Paterson that the mosque should be built elsewhere out of respect for individuals' "sensititivites." Dolan evoked Pope John Paul II's intervention when a convent was set to be built near Auschwitz as an example of how a solution could be found. Giuliani agreed with that approach.

The issue of the mosque -- whether and where it should be built -- continues to play out on the local and national political stage. The Conservative Party of New York released an ad urging Con Ed to refuse to sell the second building, which they own, to the Cordoba Initiative. That building would need to be demolished, according to the developers' plans for the mosque.

Meanwhile, conservative fire brand Sarah Palin tweeted a link to another ad using 9/11 family members and survivors to protest the site. 

Giuliani also played to the sentiments of 9/11 families.

"I know some people who are crying over this," he said.

President Obama set off a national firestorm last week when he voiced his support for the "right" to build the mosque. Asked Wednesday if he regretted upholding the mosque’s right to be built, the President said he had "no regrets." 

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