NY political support grows for land swap of mosque near WTC site as imam tours Mideast


Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined a growing number of politicians Thursday supporting a move of a proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero to state-owned land farther from the Sept. 11 attack site.

Giuliani, who led New Yorkers through Sept. 11 and its aftermath and whose opinion on 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," 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 Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center in 2001. Muslims have been holding prayer services at the nearby building since last year.

Support is growing for a possible land swap to provide an alternate site for what's called the Park51 project, Gov. David 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," Paterson told WOR Radio on Thursday.

Paterson said he had the support of Islamic clergy, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and 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.

Paterson 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 and e-mail messages Thursday.

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

Rauf 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, pitting national Republicans against President Barack Obama and dividing Sept. 11 families and New Yorkers.

Foes argue that the proposed mosque is offensive because it's too close to the place where the terrorists killed more than 2,700 people in New York in 2001. Supporters led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg say the center's constitutional rights to religious freedom should be protected.

Giuliani noted that the right to religious freedom has nothing to do with the sensitivity of locating a large community center so close to the attack site.

"They have every right to build it. The question is, should they build it?" 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."

An expert noted that government resources have often been used to help religious organizations and their buildings.

"But the government can't simply buy property and turn it over to a religious entity where the benefits are exclusively for the members of that church," said Robert B. Ward, of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Said the governor: "Not-for-profits that are run by churches receive state resources all the time."

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Gormley reported from Albany, N.Y. Associated Press writer Brian Murphy in Dubai contributed to this report.

Source: AP News

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