Howard Dean on Mosque Comments: "I am Not Going to Back Off"

Former Gov. Howard Dean testifies in Montpelier, Vt., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008. Dean appeared before the Legislature on a bill that would extend the terms of the governor, state lawmakers and other state officials from two years to four years. AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Howard Dean
AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Former Democratic Presidential Candidate and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean is defending his comments on the so-called "ground zero mosque," which he has called "a real affront to people who lost their lives."

Writing on Salon.com, Dean states he is "not going to back off" his earlier comments - but then stops short of explicitly calling for the project to be moved, as he had earlier suggested.

He calls for compromise in the column, writing that "I personally believe that there are other possible solutions that could result from [a dialogue] and that a genuine exploration of those possibilities is something we ought to try."

"This center may be intended as a bridge or a healing gesture but it will not be perceived that way unless a dialogue with a real attempt to understand each other happens," he writes. "That means the builders have to be willing to go beyond what is their right and be willing to talk about feelings whether the feelings are 'justified' or not."

Dean argues that most of the people opposed to the "ground zero mosque" - actually a planned Islamic community center that would include a mosque two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center -- "are not right-wing hate mongers." He says that while the developers have a right to build what and where they want, they should consider that many Americans "have very strong emotional resistance to building on this site."

"This is about ending the poisonous atmosphere engendered by fear and hate, and in order to do that there has to be genuine listening, hearing and willingness to compromise on both sides," he writes.

Dean has been criticized by many on the left for his initial comments - including, implicitly at least, Democracy for America, which grew out of Dean's own 2004 presidential run.

"Well-intentioned leaders of the Democratic Party are getting caught up in the fray as well, some of them seeking to find common ground with an implacable opposition," the group wrote in an email to members, as Ben Smith reports. "It's not helping."

Dean said he was surprised by the negative reaction to his comments because much of it, he said, "had to do with defending the constitutional rights of the builders of the center."

"Of course I never attacked those rights; I explicitly supported them, as the president also did this week," he writes. "Nor did I side with the Islamophobic rhetoric of Newt, Palin et al. There are a great many people in this debate talking past each other, as is often the case these days."

MORE COVERAGE:

Trade Center Mosque Divides Sept. 11 Relatives
Fact Check: The "Ground Zero Mosque" Debate
Rudy Giuliani: Move Mosque away from Ground Zero
Does America Hate Islam?
Howard Dean: NYC Mosque a "Real Affront"
"Ground Zero Mosque" Developers: We Won't Move
Obama Defends Ground Zero Mosque

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