When Imam Rauf came to Detroit last week to begin his nationwide speaking tour, he probably thought it would give him a second chance to show what a “moderate” he is and how the Ground Zero mosque project isn’t something to be feared or offended by. But instead of ending controversy, it only revived it.
The day before his speech at a convention held by the Islamic Society of North America, Imam Rauf was blindsided when a local radio host asked him if he knew about how the Christian Action Network was going to screen its film against Park51, “Sacrificed Survivors” almost next door, at almost exactly the same time.
Rauf politely acknowledged his critics and the controversy over Park51 and went right back to talking about religious tolerance. And who can blame him? It’s a lot nicer to talk about how you want dialogue and better understanding than to address your ties to extremists and your plan to build a 13-story mosque at Ground Zero.
Our screening was attended by 9/11 survivors and some who lost family members in the attacks. Since day one, they have wanted their voices heard in the debate over the Ground Zero mosque. They are offended that Rauf ignores their requests to move Park51. In Detroit, we had one small chance to politely confront him. Andy Sullivan, founder of the 9/11 Hard Hat Pledge and first responder on that day, went with me to the conference about an hour before Rauf was scheduled to speak.
It was intimidating and attendees knew why we were there and how we felt about Rauf, but luckily there were no incidents. We didn’t get a chance to approach Rauf, but at least he knows we are there and will continue to be there. And more importantly, he knows the 9/11 survivors who have decided to spend their time fighting Park51 will continue.
Shortly before his speaking engagement, it was announced that Rauf would no longer remain the public face of Park51 but would remain on the board of advisors. Just like with his claim that Park51 isn’t a mosque and is an “Islamic center,” this is just another trick. He led this effort and he will continue to lead it. Putting out another man to the media as the spokesman doesn’t change a single thing about this controversy.
I came away from the screening in Detroit feeling victorious. Imam Rauf was unable to own the media’s attention and make his case without our voice also being heard. The media’s stories weren’t just about Rauf, it was also about Park51’s critics showing up, especially the group of 9/11 survivors and those who lost loved ones.
We’re moving full steam ahead. Wherever Rauf goes, we will go so he is reminded every time he speaks that his critics won’t quit until the Park51 project is cancelled. We’ll see you in North Carolina!