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updated 8/19/2010 8:31:45 PM ET 2010-08-20T00:31:45

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

Giuliani, who led New Yorkers through Sept. 11, 2001 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.

Buthayna Abdul Rauf, the imam's mother who lives in Maryland, said Thursday she was mystified by the controversy surrounding the project, which she only recently heard about from news reports and a friend.

"This is the first time I've heard people in America being against a mosque," she told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "The Americans are very generous. ... Mosques have been erected everywhere in America."

She called her son, whom she hasn't seen for three months, a "very peaceful man."

Feisal Abdul 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. He will be visiting mosques, Department of State spokesman P.J. Crowley said Thursday.

"He will be involved in direct discussions to help people in the countries he'll visit understand the role of religion in our society, how American Muslims celebrate Ramadan, how we emphasize religious tolerance in our society," Crowley said.

Rauf won't be allowed to raise funds for the mosque on the trip, Crowley said.

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. Supporters led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg say the center's constitutional rights to religious freedom should be protected.

Bloomberg reiterated his support Thursday.

"I haven't changed my views. This is about the First Amendment," he said. "It's about people being able to pray to whomever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want. That's one of the fundamental tenets of our society. It's one of the things that differentiates us from other countries. ... In terms of this particular mosque, I've said I think it would add to the diversity of the city and be fine."

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

"Mosque Yes Hate No" read one.

Heated words were exchanged between visitor Matt Harris, of Yorba Linda, California, 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!" Harris yelled.

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

He added: "Islam is not terror. The guys who blew up the towers called themselves Muslims. But other Muslims did not blow up the towers."

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 Governor 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."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Giuliani: ‘Don’t build the mosque there’

  1. Closed captioning of: Giuliani: ‘Don’t build the mosque there’

    >> raging over those plans to build a mosque near ground zero . the current mayor of new york city , michael bloomberg , has been one of the most vocal proponents of that mosque. but former mayor rudolph giuliani has a different opinion. mr. mayor, good morning. it's nice to see you.

    >> good morning.

    >> what's your problem with it? most people say, look, it's legal, it's within the constitution. we protect religious freedom in this country. why don't you think it should be built there?

    >> i agree with all that. and beyond that it's an act of right project as far as i can tell under new york law. they never even had to go through all the reviews they went through. the question here is a question of sensitivity. people's feelings. and, are you really what you pretend to be? as i understand this cordoba house, the idea of it is to healing, to show that muslims care about the same things that christians and jews do. that we're one people. that we should be one. well, if you're going to so horribly offend the people who are most directly offended by this, most directly affected by this, the families of the september 11th victims, who i happen to know and have got ton know, you know, really well, then how are you healing? i mean all this is doing is creating more division, more anger, more hatred, and i mean, there are --

    >> are you worried about the imam behind this project ? in terms of his politics, his religious beliefs , do you find him to be anything but the moderate that he's described as by the current administration? and by the way, the bush administration before that?

    >> i'm confused by the imam. i see all the things that you're saying. but i also see a man who said that america was an accessory to september 11th . those are the very words that require me to give $10 million back to an arab chic or prince. he gave us $10 million for the 9/11 --

    >> let me clarify so people understand what you're saying. shortly after 9/11 on "60 minutes" he said, quote, i wouldn't say the united states deserved what happened, but united states policies were an accessory to the crime that happened on 9/11, because we have been accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world.

    >> well, that's exactly what the the -- what the arab prince said when he gave me $10 million. that america was an accessory to september 11th because of its foreign policy . america was not an accessory to september 11th . all you've got to do is read about jihad and -- second thing, the second thing he said was, he refused to condemn hamas, with whom he is alleged to have had some ties. a terrorist group . it's recognized by everyone as a terrorist group . and he said america should apologize. so, okay, that's one part of it. the other part of the it is, he has had a history of appearing to be a hero, appearing to be someone that wants to talk about a moderate islam .

    >> he's made appearances with condoleezza rice --

    >> there are two ways you could interpret the koran. the better way, which is the peaceful way, or the warrior way, which is the way in which you get into trouble with jihad. but those quotes trouble me. but here's what troubles me more. if he's truly about healing, he will not go forward with this project . because this project is not healing. this project is divisive. this project is creating tremendous pain to people who have already paid the ultimate sacrifice.

    >> there are a lot of issues are divisive, and yet they have to be tough choices --

    >> matt, matt, but not this. that's true. a lot of issues are divisive. but if you want to claim to be the healer, then you're not on the side of the person who is pushing those issues.

    >> let me play you something you said on our program, "meet the press" back on december 22nd of 2002 . so about 14 months after 9/11.

    >> if you think about the attacks on september 11th , i think everyone will acknowledge that part of the core of that attack was the fact that we have freedom of religion in america . that -- that part of why america was founded. it's part of what we're all about. it's one of the most prominent things about us, that you can be a catholic, a protestant, a jew, a muslim, or no religion at all, and no one's going to interfere with you.

    >> and no one's going to interfere with you. by saying that these people shouldn't build their mosque where they plan to build it, isn't that interfering?

    >> no, of course not. first of all, they have freedom of religion . they can build it. they have every right to build it. the question is, should they build it? are they displaying the sensitivity they claim by building it? for example, the pope asked the nuns to take the convent back from right in front of auschwitz or one of the concentration camps. they had a perfect right to be there. they had the freedom of religion there. the nuns were sensitive enough to the concerns of jews that they pulled it back. now here's a man who is selling sensitivity. he's got $180,000 in the bank, he wants to raise $100 million. ask me how he's going to do it, i don't know. you don't do it by creating this kind of vicious, sort of angry battle that's going on. the people who are speaking about it --

    >> some would say he didn't create the vicious, angry battle. that it's the people who decided to weigh in on it who added it to the battle?

    >> i was the first person on september 11th that stepped forward in the heat of battle, that afternoon, my first press conference and said, no group blamed. do not blame arabs. we have to understand this is a small group , and we have to focus on them. but, the reality is, that right now, if you are a healer, you do not go forward with this project .

    >> a couple of real quick --

    >> if you're a warrior you do.

    >> a couple of quick things. do you think union workers in this city, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, will build on that site?

    >> before i returned to new york last night on an airplane, i was talking to a couple construction workers there. they told me, typical new york accent. we ain't working on that project . let them see if they can go find somebody to work on that project . my answer is, i know new york well enough, you're going to probably find somebody to work on it. i question whether they can raise the money. every indication from the attorney general's report of their charity is they have about $180,000. $100 million project . where is the money coming from?

    >> in your gut do you think if we sit down a year from right now the project will be under construction at this site?

    >> i think governor paterson had an approach. nice compromise, find another place, have a beautiful mosque there. don't offend easily 80%, 90% of the families are seriously offended. i know people who are crying over this who have lost loved ones. you or i might not even agree. we might say, okay, put the mosque there. but maybe we haven't lost that -- that son, that father, person who is watching their child today, and still remember every day that person is gone. it wasn't an attack in the name of islam . it was a perverted kind of islam . but the kind of prevalent view that goes on in a lot of parts of the world. we've got to be sensitive to everybody here.

    >> rudy giuliani , good to have you here.

    >> good to see you.

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