US Govt Sending Ground Zero Mosque Imam to Mideast
The department is sponsoring Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's visit to Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, where he will discuss Muslim life in America and promote religious tolerance, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. He said the imam had been on two similar trips and that plans for the upcoming tour predated the mosque controversy.
"We have a long-term relationship with him," Crowley told reporters, noting that Rauf had visited Bahrain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar in 2007 and went to Egypt last January as part of an exchange program run by the department's Office of International Information Programs.
"His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it's like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States," Crowley said.
Crowley said that during the trip Rauf will not be allowed to raise funds for the proposed Islamic Center and mosque near ground zero that has drawn opposition from some who say a mosque near the site is disrespectful to those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
"We do not expect him to fund-raise," Crowley said.
Crowley said the Obama administration has no position on Rauf's plans, which he termed a local zoning matter for New York. But he acknowledged that the State Department had posted a transcript of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Aug. 3 speech defending the project on a website, http://www.America.gov, that it runs for foreign audiences.
"We posted it because we thought it was useful for people overseas to understand perspectives on this issue," Crowley said. "We certainly support what the mayor was underscoring, which is the history of religious diversity and religious tolerance in his city."
In addition to the original English language version of Bloomberg's speech, the department has posted Arabic and Farsi translations of the remarks in which the mayor adamantly rejected opposition to the mosque.
The mosque, to be located two blocks from ground zero, would be part of a 13-story, $100 million Islamic center that would feature a 500-seat auditorium, a swimming pool and a gym. It's a project of the Cordoba Initiative, an advocacy group that promotes improved relations between Islam and the West.
The mosque has drawn vocal opposition from many relatives of the Sept. 11 victims and local and national Republican leaders, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, is also opposed.