NEW YORK, N.Y. - The intense debate over a proposed Islamic community centre and mosque near ground zero has jeopardized New Yorkers' sense of tolerance and unity, the leader of the area's Roman Catholics said Tuesday.
"We're just a little bit apprehensive that these noble values may be a bit at risk in this way the conversation and debate about the site of the mosque is taking place," Archbishop Timothy Dolan said after a meeting with Gov. David Paterson about the issue.
Critics say the building is too close to where Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center in 2001 and killed nearly 2,800 people. Supporters say religious freedom should be protected. Dolan said both sides have legitimate stances.
Dolan doesn't have "strong feelings" about where it should be, he said, but he expressed willingness to be part of the dialogue if asked.
The developer, meanwhile, was expected to attend a dinner Tuesday night hosted by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has spoken in support of the project. Bloomberg holds the dinner annually to observe Iftar, the daily meal in which Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Paterson has yet to meet with anyone from the Cordoba Initiative, the project's organizer. Its co-founder, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, is on a Mideast trip funded by the U.S. State Department. He alluded to the controversy at a dinner Sunday night for student leaders at the U.S. ambassador's residence in Manama, Bahrain.
"The fact we are getting this kind of attention is a sign of success," he said.
"It is my hope that people will understand more. ... This is something we are doing for your generation."
Rauf also thanked President Barack Obama, who has said Muslims had the right to practice their religion and build the Islamic centre in lower Manhattan. The president later said he wasn't endorsing the specifics of the plan.
The White House on Tuesday said that Obama would have no further comment on the issue and that the administration will not get involved in talks about relocating the facility. Republicans have vowed to make Obama's supportive comments a campaign issue in this fall's midterm elections.
Rauf, who has rarely spoken publicly about the project, said that he was leery of the media and that it is portraying a negative image of Muslims to the West. He also said he doesn't like Muslims portraying a bad image of the West to the Muslim world.
In an interview published Monday with the Bahrain newspaper Al Wasat, Rauf said he was trying to get Islamic scholars to agree on laws that will encourage Muslims to be "more effective members of their communities."
He said Muslims can remain faithful and be engaged in the affairs of the countries where they live.
"I see that every religious community faces challenges, but the real challenge lies in keeping true to the core values of the faith and how to express these values in a specific time and place," he was quoted as telling the newspaper.
He added that he wanted to see Muslims in the U.S. have "complete nationalism" and fulfil their rights and duties to the larger community.
Associated Press writers Michael Gormley in Albany and Sara Kugler Frazier in New York contributed to this report.