The imam behind the proposed Muslim mosque and community center near ground zero said Sunday that he would have drawn up different plans if he had known the level of Islamophobia generated by the proposal.
Speaking on ABC's "This Week With Christiane Amanpour," Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf said, "I would never have done it."
"I'm a man of peace," he said. "I mean the whole objective of peace work is not to do something that would provoke controversy."
Mr. Rauf said a final decision on the center's location "will be predicated on what is best for everybody" and repeated his concern that, if the center is moved, "the headline in the Muslim world will be: 'Islam is under attack in America.'"
"This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment. This will put our people — our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens, under attack in the Muslim world," he said.
The remarks follow a tumultuous week leading up to the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, in which the debate over the Mr. Rauf's proposed religious center two blocks from the ground zero has become a flash point of the political season. Tensions were further inflamed by the pastor of a tiny Florida congregation who threatened to burn copies of the Koran on the anniversary of the attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York.
The Rev. Terry Jones decided to cancel his Koran-burning plan after Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates called him to say the burning would likely jeopardize the lives of American troops stationed in Afghanistan and other Muslim lands.
On Sunday, the debate continued as former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani criticized Mr. Rauf on NBC's "Meet the Press," saying that common sense dictates the "mosque" should be moved top another spot.
"The imam has a right to put the mosque there," the Republican said. "Freedom of religion gives him that right. The minister has the right to burn the Koran. The same amendment to the Constitution gives him that right, the First Amendment. In either case, common sense and a real dedication to healing that these men of God would theoretically have would tell you not to do it because you're hurting too many people."
Mr. Giuliani said that Mr. Rauf appears to be "more interested in confrontation than in healing" and described his warnings about the backlash from Islamic radicals as "not the kind of tactic I would have expected from the imam who is featured as a man of conciliation."
"We have the imam who tells us if he doesn't get his way, there could be significant and very dangerous violence. Those are very, very strong words. And to enter a sort of a suggestion of a threat into this, I worry about this as the kind of tactics he pursues," he said.
Mr. Rauf said the plans for his development should not be compared to plans to burn the Koran.
"How can you equate burning of any person's Scripture with an attempt to build interfaith dialogue?" Mr. Rauf said. "This is a house with multifaith stakeholders, with multifaith partners intended to work together toward building peace."
Asked about how he will decide where to put his community center, Mr. Rauf said, "That's been very difficult and very challenging because, unfortunately, the discourse has been, to a certain extent, hijacked by the radicals.
"The radicals on both sides, the radicals in the United States and the radicals in the Muslim world, feed off each other. And to a certain extent, the attention that they've been able to get by the media has even aggravated the problem," he said.
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