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NYTimes: Imam Behind Islamic Center Plans US Tour

Imam Plans US Tour

by Paul Vitello

The controversy over plans to build an Islamic center in downtown Manhattan subsided in November, almost abruptly, with the end of an election season that amplified its most emotional underlying issues.

But the imam behind the project has decided to risk reigniting that opposition by setting out on a nationwide speaking tour next month to promote the planned center and to foster dialogue about Muslim life in America.

“Controversy has never been a problem for me,” said the imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, whose proposal to build the high-rise community center and mosque two blocks north of ground zero made him the prime target last summer of opponents who viewed the plan, known as Park51 for its address on Park Place, as a Trojan horse for Muslim triumphalism. “I think the controversy of last summer helped initiate a discourse that has been very good for the country. I’m an American, and I believe that Americans are problem solvers. So I believe further discussion can only be good.”

The tour, which he described in an interview on Wednesday, is scheduled to begin in Detroit, the city with the largest Muslim population in the United States. It will include stops in Chicago, Washington, San Antonio and several college campuses, starting with Harvard, Yale, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina.

Because of death threats that the imam has received, none of his addresses will be open to the general public, though the local news media in each place will be invited to attend, and to ask questions afterward, he said.

Some of the project’s most outspoken opponents welcomed the imam’s plan for a speaking tour, though for reasons of their own.

“I think this will help to revive the opposition, not only from Americans in general but from Muslims in this country, who don’t want this thing built,” said Ryan Mauro, a conservative blogger and the producer of a documentary about the planned community center.

The film, “Sacrificed Survivors: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Mega-Mosque,” focuses on opposition by some families of 9/11 victims.

Pamela Geller, another conservative blogger who organized many of the public demonstrations against the center last summer, said she planned to marshal protests when the City Council meets next month to review Wal-Mart’s proposal to open a store in Manhattan. “Christine Quinn is against Wal-Mart, but she’s in favor of the megamosque. Typical liberal elitist thinking,” she said, referring to the City Council speaker.

Ms. Geller also predicted that the imam’s speaking tour would serve the opposition. “The opposition has never gone away, and will never go away,” she said.

At the height of the controversy over the summer and fall, Mr. Adbul Rauf was on a scheduled speaking tour in Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The tour was sponsored by the State Department’s cultural exchange bureau, known as the Department of Public Diplomacy.

He considered canceling that trip in order to confront the opposition and rally support at home to his cause — a job that fell for the most part to his wife and partner in interfaith work, Daisy Khan, executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement.

“But in that environment, I realized that no matter what I did or said, I would be accused of something,” he said. And as it turned out, he added, the reaction of Middle Eastern Muslims to the controversy over Park51 was encouraging to him.

The idea that in the United States there could be a discussion, even an angry one, about building a mosque that some considered to be too close to ground zero — “that was an amazingly positive thing to people I met in the Middle East,” he said.

“The idea that the Jewish mayor of New York would be our most outspoken defender,” he continued, referring to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, “well, I think that really touched people. It was very positive ‘optics’ for the international Muslim audience, as they say in the State Department.”

If Mr. Abdul Rauf ever entertained thoughts of moving the planned center to a less contentious site — as he has admitted in interviews — Mr. Bloomberg’s support for Park51 has since made that unthinkable.

And to do so now would be “a betrayal of this great opportunity,” he added, referring to the discourse about relations between Muslims in the United States and their fellow Americans, which he plans to take on the road from mid-January until the early spring.

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  • Khushboo

    Frank Gaffney recently called him “shady” on Fox News 2 days ago. He has no proof so all he can do is call him names. Shame on him! I can’t wait to see the Imam in our area hopefully soon. He’s an inspiration to all!

  • Don’t forget another Jew, Jon Stewart, has also been very good at defending the rights here against the stupidity in an extremely enjoyable way. I agree with Mosizzle, this should be published more in the Muslim world. In fact, I found that up until that stupid Qu’ran burning publicity stunt, no Muslim I spoke to in the Muslim world had heard of this so called Mosque. It was only the foolishness and self publicity of Terry Jones that bought it to the attention of most Muslims, none of whom could understand what all the fuss was about anyway!

  • LaRoja

    It is not even a mega mosque as the loons all went on about it.

  • Robaby1984

    Although, I favor the mosque to be built a little further from Ground Zero initially, I support the project now in defiance to the haters who would oppose a mosque being built even on the moon. At the same time, Imam Rauf has a shady past with his apartment renting business venture and he seems to be either at worst intentionally falling into the trap of those who oppose the mosque through his shortcomings and lack of defense of the project or at best knowlingly ignorant of the traps anti-muslims set up for him because he is constantly makes things worse. Scamela Geller has already gotten millions off of the opposition to this mosque so why give a platform and a rally cry to the Islamophobes? Imam Rauf should’ve also realized that his words are being recorded and if he makes any controversial statements about 9/11 some of those who oppose the Park 51 project, who are unethical miscreants, will lie and twist his words for their own ends. So maybe he should have someone else give a speaking tour or he should quietly proceed with the project.

  • Rob LOL, spot on, that’s exactly how the Islamophobes will see it.

    Indeed, the plan for the takeover has begun:)

  • mindy1

    This should not be loon at large-it should be something else. i hope he speaks in NY, I’d like to hear him, i’m curious

  • Rob

    Excellent. He’s on an Islamic ‘mission’….The plan for the takeover has begun…

  • That’s the way Imam Rauf,

    I’m glad this man is taking the more difficult though ultimately more fruitful route. It not only signals a message of defiance to the hate mongers, but the dialogue will those who don’t understand what is going on, make the picture clearer.

  • Crow

    Its not the building of the Park 51 community center thats a danger to the US, the community center would promote outreach, dialouge and understanding. The true danger is the facist right who want intolerance, ignorance, fear and hatred to be prevelant. To me its the evil, ugly ideology of the right that threatens the US as we know it.

  • Mosizzle

    “Because of death threats that the imam has received, none of his addresses will be open to the general public”

    Death threats? From non-Mooslims? That’s impossible!!!

    Anyway, It’s lovely to see how this thing world out for the better. And I agree, Mayor Bloomberg’s defence of the project would definitely improve the image of Jews in the Muslim world, if only more Muslims knew. The opposition to the mosque made most of the headlines, unfortunately.

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