Imam's Op-Ed piece Ignites New Debate

Project "proceeding" but money still a mystery

By Tim Minton
|  Thursday, Sep 9, 2010  |  Updated 3:00 PM EDT
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Imam's Article Incites New Round of Debate

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In this Aug. 22, 2010 file photo, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf addresses guests at an iftar dinner hosted by the U.S. Embassy's deputy chief of mission Stephanie Williams, at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Saar, Bahrain, west of the capital Manama. Rauf is now in the midst of a polarizing political, religious and cultural debate over his plans for a multi-story Islamic center that will feature a mosque, health club and theater about two blocks north of ground zero in New York.

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Imam's Article Incites New Round of Debate

The spiritual leader of a controversail Islamic center project near ground zero says construction will move forward -- igniting a new round of debate. Tim Minton reports.
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If the intention was to calm a roiling discourse, well, the spiritual leader of a controversail Islamic center project near ground zero has work to do.

Saying he wants to "seek the support" of families of 9/11 victims, Feisal Abdul Rauf headlined his NY Times Op-Ed article "Building on Faith." 

As in, "we are proceeding" to build what's known variously as Cordoba House and Park51. End of consideration.

But not hardly end of debate.

"First he says he's going to reach out to the 9/11 families. But he says that after he says 'we're going forward'--full steam ahead," said Steve Cassidy, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association, that lost 343 members in the 9/11 attacks.

In the article, published Wednesday by the Times, Imam Feisal writes in part: "We are proceeding...with the support of the downtown community. We envision a shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children. The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks. Let us commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by pausing to reflect and meditate and tone down the vitriol and rhetoric that serves only to strengthen the radicals."

"The imam's Op-Ed today was arrogant. He said he's going to build there no matter what," said Rep. Peter King, Republican of Long Island, New York.

"Someplace in America there's somebody thinking right now, my God, if we keep them from building their house of worship in one place, what happens when I want to build a house of worship in my place?" said Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who's been the  elected official most staunchly supporting the mosque plan.

There was also support, or at least a lack of opposition, Wednesday from a high profile 9/11 responder's father. Joseph Zadroga's NYPD detective son died after responding to the attacks and being exposed to toxins at ground zero. A bill in Congress to provide healthcare to responders sickened at the site bears Det. James Zadroga's name.

"If it comes here or there, it wouldn't matter to me, said Joseph Zadroga. "I'd probably walk past it and not even know it was there."

Polls, however, show that a majority of Americans and New Yorkers believe the cultural center should be built somewhere else. Only a survey of Manhattan residents reflects a more positive view of the project.

Reacting to the Op-Ed pronouncement that the center will indeed be built on Park Place, two-and-a-half blocks from ground zero, Rep. Anthony Weiner -- the Brooklyn Democrat famously unafraid of public debate -- won't engage this one.

"The imam has spoken. People for and against have spoken. I believe that politicians should stay out of it, particularly this week. This is the week of September 11th. What we should be focused on is commemorating those who were lost.," said Congressman Weiner.

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