Imam hints mosque may not be built near Ground Zero

By Steven Edwards, Postmedia News September 13, 2010 

NEW YORK — Hinting for the first time that the proposed Ground Zero mosque may be moved, the imam behind the project said Monday he is exploring “all options” regarding the location of its construction.

Feisal Abdul Rauf told a New York think-tank audience that the mosque’s advisers have been considering the idea of at least suspending the project as a way to “defuse this crisis.”

But he also derided claims by families of 9/11 victims opposed to the mosque project that the proposed site two blocks from where the former World Trade Center stood is “hallowed ground.”

“It is absolutely disingenuous — as many have said — that that block is hallowed ground,” he said at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Rauf argued that radical extremists had “hijacked” the debate over the relationship between the West and Islam, then he stunned many in the audience by signalling that one way to reduce ill feeling toward Muslims was to order a “media blackout” of coverage of suicide bombers.

“I am not saying that is a solution,” he quickly added. “But the way things happen right now is that we have a situation . . . where the extremists can hijack the agenda and for all of our intelligence and smarts, we haven’t figured out how to quieten them down.”

The imam spoke as two Iranian grand ayatollahs Monday issued fatwas calling for the killing of those who insult the Qur’an.

The ayatollahs made the declaration even as the Florida pastor who had threatened to burn the Muslim holy book faded from public view.

Two pastors in Tennessee reportedly burned copies of the Qur’an over the weekend, though the local television station covering the event refused to broadcast pictures of the actual burning. During an anti-Ground Zero mosque demonstration in New York Saturday, police escorted away a man who had ripped several pages from a Qur’an and set fire to them.

Rauf, born in Kuwait to Egyptian parents, arrived in the United States in 1965 at age 17 and became a U.S. citizen in 1979. He peppered his 20-minute speech at the foreign relations council with references to his love of the United States, including American football, and repeated twice in quick succession that his niece was in the U.S. army.

At the foreign relations council, Rauf insisted that “99 per cent” of Muslims oppose terrorism — but appeared less focused when Richard Haas, the think-tank’s president, asked why 99 per cent of the world’s most dangerous terrorists appeared to be of that faith.

“A number of things,” Rauf offered, “political, socio-economic, religious, perceptions shaped by the media, have all together created a witches brew which has let us look at the issue in this way.”

Citing some of the Muslim world’s political grievances, Rauf said the Arab-Israeli crisis had continued “for so long,” but added that the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan had “expanded the amount of terrorist acts.”

At one point, Rauf claimed that religious issues did not even play a role in the divisions between the West and Islam — equating the standoff with the former conflict in Northern Ireland, where economic and social disparities between the Catholic and Protestant communities were prominent among leading root causes.

“Religious identities become part of the different groups that are competing for the same assets,” Rauf said.

Rauf said he sought a spot near Ground Zero for the mosque to “create a space where the voice of moderates can be amplified.”

He made no mention of a report emerging Monday from the authoritative Investigative Project on Terrorism that one of his longtime partners believes that 9/11 was an “inside job.”

“The prime factor for the success of the criminal mission known as 9/11 did not come from the quarter known as ‘militant Islam,’ although the phenomenon known as ‘militant Islamic networks’ may have played a partial role, or even a less-than-partial role — perhaps the role of patsy and scapegoat,” wrote Faiz Khan, a physician who in 1997, helped form the American Sufi Muslim Association with Rauf.

Now known as the American Society for Muslim Advancement, the organization and Rauf’s Cordoba Initiative are leading the mosque effort in Lower Manhattan.

© Copyright (c) Postmedia News

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