NEW YORK, Sept 8, 2010 (AFP) - Moving a Muslim community center and place of worship from its planned location near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York could fuel extremist violence, the imam behind the project said late Wednesday.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said America's national security was at stake in how it handles the so-called Cordoba House, a 100-million-dollar center which has stirred raw emotions in the United States.
He warned that Muslims worldwide could react more violently than the bloody riots that followed the publication of Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005, strengthen extremists' ability to recruit followers and increase violence against Americans.
"If we move from that location, the story will be the radicals have taken over the discourse," the imam told CNN in his first televised interview since returning from a two-week State Department-sponsored cooperation tour of the Middle East.
"The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack."
But he opened the door to compromise, saying that "nothing is off the table" when it comes to moving the site of the planned center.
"We are consulting, talking to various people about how to do this so that we negotiate the best and safest option."
Acknowledging the uproar that has swelled over the Muslim cultural center planned to be set up just two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood, the imam said he would have reconsidered the plan if he had foreseen the scale of the controversy.
"If I knew this would happen, this would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it," he said, without specifying whether he would have changed the location.
"We would not have done something that would create more divisiveness."
Abdul Rauf portrayed his group's fight to set up the center as a battle between the "moderates" and "radicals" on both sides of the debate.
He also urged a small Florida church to reconsider its plans to go ahead with a Koran burning ceremony to mark Saturday's ninth anniversary of 9/11, a move that has fueled growing fears it will ignite a fresh wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and extremist violence that could endanger US troops.
|Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, addresses reporters after meeting with Pastor Terry Jones at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida on September 8, 2010. AFP|
"It is something that is not the right thing to do," the imam said.
"With freedom comes responsibility," he added. "This is dangerous to our national security and is also the un-Christian thing to do.... Jesus said to love your enemy. We are not your enemy."