Volume 20, Number 39 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | September 15 - 21, 2010
Park51 Imam returns home, addresses controversy
BY Aline Reynolds
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday that the Park51 site on Park Place in Lower Manhattan should not be deemed sacred ground, pointing out that the street also contains a strip club and a betting parlor.
“It is absolutely disingenuous, as many have said, that the block is hallowed ground,” said the Imam. “So let’s clarify that misperception.”
When asked about the controversial location and its proximity to Ground Zero, Rauf replied, “We are exploring all options as we speak right now, and we are working to what will be a solution, God willing, that will resolve this crisis, defuse it and not create any unforeseen or untoward circumstances that we do not want to see happen.”
The Imam stopped short however of mentioning alternative sites to the proposed 45-47 Park Place location.
Later in his speech, the Imam asserted that the current site is important for strengthening American-Islamic relations.
“We need a platform where the voice of moderate Muslims can be amplified. This is an opportunity that we must capitalize on so the voice of moderate Muslims will have a megaphone,” said the Imam.
Some New Yorkers were offended by the Imam’s declaration.
“I just think he’s being very insensitive to say it’s not hallowed ground because of who’s occupying the buildings,” said Jim Riches, a former N.Y.C. deputy fire chief whose son, Jimmy, died on 9/11. “The strip club didn’t murder my son.”
Toward the end, the Imam rhetorically asked whether the project was worth the upheaval. “The answer is a categorical yes,” he said. “Why? Because this center will be a place for all faiths to come together in mutual respect.”
The Imam added, “The world will be watching what we do here.”
Floridian pastor bails on threat to burn Korans
Terry Jones did not follow through with his original plan to burn copies of the Koran on the ninth anniversary of 9/11.
He told interviewer Carl Quintanilla on NBC’s the Today Show that, even though he didn’t follow through with the act, his church accomplished its “goal of exposing an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical.”
Jones said he still hopes to meet with the Imam.
“Even though we have not burned one Koran, we have gotten over 100 death threats,” he said. “We feel that God is telling us to stop, and we also hope that [might] open up the door to maybe be able to talk to the Imam.”
When questioned, Jones confidently told CBS’s “Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith last Wednesday, “We are still determined to do it, yes. As of right now, we feel that this message is that important.”
The Pastor’s original intent to desecrate the Koran was to “send a message to them that we don’t want [radical Islamists] to do as they appear to be doing in Europe. We want them to know if they’re in America, they need to obey our law and constitution and not slowly push their agenda upon us.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg called the minister’s plans “distasteful,” but contended that he has a prerogative to carry them out.
“We can’t say that we’re going to apply the First Amendment to only cases where we are in agreement,” he said.
The Imam on “Larry King Live”
The religious leader spoke publicly about Park51 for the first time since returning from abroad.
Rauf conceded that he would have never initiated the project had he known it would cause such an upheaval.
“We would not have done something that would create more divisiveness,” he told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien.
Rauf also said that “nothing is off the table” when O’Brien asked him whether he is considering moving the center.
However he said more than once, “If we move from that location, the story will be the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack.”
The Imam said that he is nevertheless consulting with various parties to figure out “how to do this so that we negotiate the best and safest option.”