Feds to fund trip for imam behind controversial mosque planBy BART JONES
August 11, 2010
In a move that is drawing both heat and praise, the State Department is funding a multicountryMiddle East tour for the imam behind the mosque proposed near Ground Zero.
Critics say Feisal Abdul Rauf may use the trip to raise funds for the proposed $100-million mosque and community center. The State Department says his mission is to build goodwill with countries in the Middle East and that Rauf will not be permitted to use the trip for fundraising.
Rep. Peter King Tuesday criticized the move.
"I think the trip should be canceled," King (R-Seaford) said. "As the controversy over this mosque develops, you can't have him out there meeting with power brokers throughout the Middle East.
"The fact is, he's trying to raise $100 million and the fact is, no matter what anyone says, this is going to help his fundraising."
Rauf's wife, Daisy Khan, a 1975 graduate ofJericho High School who is a main force behind the mosque project, did not return messages seeking comment. Her office said Rauf was traveling outside the United States.
Nayyar Imam, a Muslim leader in SuffolkCounty, defended the State Department-sponsored trip, and said King was off-base and hypocritical since politicians also make contacts on taxpayer-funded trips that they eventually use for fundraising.
Imam, head of the Coram-based Long Island Muslim Alliance, said he thought the State Department was making a smart move by sending a respected, moderate Muslim leader from the United States to the Middle East as a "goodwill gesture" to build bridges and reduce terrorism.
"It's about time the State Department sent somebody from the Muslim community to visit the Middle East," said Imam, a former president of the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden.
King, once an ally of Long Island's Muslim community, has in recent years seen that relationship fracture as he accused some local mosques of having links to terrorism.
Muslim leaders have accused King of stereotyping Muslims.
Massapequa resident Rosemary Cain, whose firefighter son George Cain died on Sept. 11, sided with King, saying she thought Rauf's trip was "outrageous. Who is he? All of a sudden he is an ambassador on taxpayer dollars?"
Calling Rauf "a distinguished Muslim cleric," U.S. State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said Monday the trek to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Qatar is to promote "a greater understanding" of Islam and Muslim communities in the United States.
Another department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said Rauf's trip would take place in the second half of this month. He could not provide details of its estimated cost. Crowley emphasized fundraising "would not be something he could do as part of our program."
"We routinely send American experts from all fields overseas to build people-to-people ties," said Vasquez, adding the experts number about 1,200 every year.
The mosque proposal near Ground Zero has provoked an intense national debate, pitting America's founding commitment to freedom of religion against the feelings of some families of 9/11 victims, who feel the move is insensitive and would defile sacred ground.
The 13-floor, $100-million center, which won important New York City approval last week, will be open to all in the community and include a 500-seat performing arts theater, a swimming pool, a gym, a restaurant, child care facilities and meeting rooms, organizers say.
With John Valenti