- Associated Press - Thursday, August 19, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) | Former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani joined a growing number of politicians Thursday supporting a move of a proposed mosque near ground zero to state-owned land farther from the Sept. 11 attack site.

Mr. Giuliani, who led New Yorkers through the terrorist attack and its aftermath and whose opinion about the mosque could carry considerable clout, made his comments as the imam leading plans for the community center toured the Middle East promoting religious tolerance.

“If you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project,” Mr. Giuliani said on NBC’s “Today” show, referring to the center’s leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. “If you are a warrior, you do.”

Developers want to build the $100 million community center, including a mosque, at a building two blocks north of where Islamist terrorists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001. Support is growing for a possible land swap to provide an alternate site for what’s called the Park51 project, Gov. David A. Paterson said.

“One of the problems the cultural center is going to have is just a constant point of antagonism, which I don’t think is what they want,” Mr. Paterson told WOR Radio on Thursday.

Mr. Paterson said he had the support of Muslim clergy, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Mr. Giuliani. The governor and state officials refused to say what site would be suitable for the proposed cultural center, or where the state owns nearby land. The governor said he expects to meet with the developers in a couple of days to persuade them that a move could best assuage the “national hysteria” that has followed the project.

Sharif el-Gamal, Park51’s developer, and the Cordoba Initiative, an organization that hopes to operate the community center, didn’t return telephone or e-mail messages Thursday.

Mr. Rauf, who heads Cordoba, arrived in Bahrain on Thursday for a U.S.-funded outreach trip for two weeks in the Middle East. He was expected to discuss Muslim life in America and promote religious tolerance.

The imam won’t be allowed to raise funds for the mosque on the trip, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Wednesday.

The project has caused a political uproar, with foes arguing that the proposed mosque is offensive because it was chosen for its proximity to ground zero. Supporters led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and President Obama say the center’s constitutional rights to religious freedom should be protected.

Mr. Bloomberg reiterated his support Thursday. “I haven’t changed my views. This is about the First Amendment,” he said.

Both sides were on display Thursday at the site, where on the sidewalk passers-by had scribbled messages in multi-colored chalk.

“Mosque Yes Hate No” read one.

Heated words were exchanged between visitor Matt Harris, of Yorba Linda, Calif., standing face to face with Matt Sky, a New Yorker who hoisted a placard that read: “Support Freedom of Religion.”

“Dude! You have other mosques in New York - why here? This is lack of respect!” Mr. Harris yelled.

“We believe there is freedom of religion in this country,” replied Mr. Sky, a 26-year-old resident of Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood.

Mr. Giuliani noted that the right to religious freedom has nothing to do with the wisdom or prudence of the project.

“They have every right to build it. The question is, should they build it?” Mr. Giuliani said, noting the group claims to be about sensitivity and healing between cultures. “All this is doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred.

“I think Gov. Paterson had the best approach,” the Republican said of the Democratic governor. “Nice compromise, find another place, have a beautiful mosque there.”

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