Imam: Moving Cultural Center May be Difficult

The man behind the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan spoke out Sunday and other voices were heard in the ongoing debate over Islam in America.

One day after the protests at the proposed Islamic cultural center near ground zero it was much quieter, in part due to police barriers that now cordon off the block. And the man in the middle of the controversy was speaking about it.

"I'm a man of peace, dedicated to peace," said imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.

In an interview with ABC News, Rauf said a decision on changing the site is complicated.

"My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America," he said. "This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world."

In the latest polls some seven out of 10 New Yorkers say it should be moved, far different from when the public first learned of the plans for the cultural center last December, reports CBS News correspondent Jim Axelrod.

Islam Controversies Cast Shadow Over 9/11 Events

In a New York Times article describing the plans then the imam was quoted as saying "we want to push back against the extremists." A spokesman for the Sept. 11 memorial called it "positive" and the mother of a man killed on Sept. 11 described it as "a noble effort."

"We certainly had reached out," said Rauf. "No one objected."

"He seems, by his action, interested in confrontation rather than in healing," said former mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani.

On Sunday Giuliani compared the cultural center with the Florida minister's threat to burn the Koran.

"The imam has a right to put the mosque there, the freedom, that right," said Giuliani. "The minister has the right to burn the Koran. A real dedication to healing that these men of god would have would tell you not to do because you are hurting too many people."

Tom Kean, who chaired the Sept. 11 commission, says a discussion is important, but is concerned about its tone.

"There were Muslim-Americans killed on Sept. 11 in the World Trade Center. This is 7 million people in our country, loyal Americans. But that has gotten lost in this discussion," said Kean. "It cannot get lost because when it does we play into the terrorists' hands. That's what they want they want, this division. They want hate."

Kean says what's needed is more reason and less passion. The question going forward: How much of each will mark the debate?

  • Jim Axelrod

    Jim Axelrod is the senior national correspondent for CBS News, reporting for "CBS This Morning," the "CBS Evening News," "CBS Sunday Morning," and other CBS News broadcasts.