By Anthony M. Destefano
Reaction was mixed Wednesday to published remarks by a key backer of the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan, with opponents of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf blasting his remarks as threatening, while supporters said he spoke the plain truth.
In a New York Times op-ed, Rauf, whose Cordoba Initiative is planning the center on Park Place, about two blocks north of Ground Zero, said the $100-million structure would be a multifaith facility designed to help strengthen relations between the West and Muslim worlds "and to help counter radical ideology."
Rauf said that America shouldn't back down from completing the project because to do so would surrender the future "to radicals on both sides."
Those remarks angered Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who saw them as coercive. "It was very arrogant," King said of the op-ed. "It was an implied threat that if Americans don't support the . . . [center] they are going to to hurt us overseas," he told Newsday."The paradigm of a clash between the West and the Muslim world will continue, as it has in recent decades at terrible cost," Rauf said.
"It is very unfair and dishonest of him to say we have to prove ourselves as a nation to support his mosque," King added.
But Rabbi Arthur Waskow, a Rauf supporter, said the cleric was speaking the truth.
"It doesn't seem to me like a threat; it seems to me a description of reality," said Waskow, who runs the The Shalom Center in Philadelphia. "It is not a threat to say if things don't change it is going to get worse."
Dr. Saud Anwar, co-chairman of the nonprofit American Muslim Peace Initiative, said that rather than being a threat to America, the moderate Rauf is "one of the biggest threats to al-Qaida, is the most dreaded threat to Osama bin Laden."
"People who are opposing the Islamic center are basically trying to suggest that 9/11 was caused by all Muslims and that is an insult to Americans, an insult to all Muslims and insult to all [the 9/11] victims," Anwar said.
However, Sally Regenhard, a key advocate for 9/11 families who lost her firefighter son Christian at the World Trade Center, was outraged by Rauf's article.
"This is a person who is supposed to be building bridges; it is more like he is destroying the bridge," said Regenhard, of Manhattan. "It is so outrageous that sensibilities of 9/11 families have been trampled upon."