The State Department plans to send Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the controversial ground zero mosque, to the Middle East as part of a public diplomacy mission to explain how Islam is perceived in America. Critics are complaining the imam is too 'radical' to represent the US.
The controversy over plans to build a mosque and Islamic center near ground zero has already taken on national dimensions, and now it’s going international.
The State Department has plans to send the imam behind the controversial mosque project to the Middle East as part of a program to explain how Islam is perceived in America. And that is starting to cause a howl in Washington.
At least two Republican members of Congress have come out in opposition to the plan, calling it “unacceptable” that the US would fund the travel of a Muslim religious leader who they say has been less than categorical in his condemnation of 9/11.
“It is unacceptable that US taxpayers are being forced to fund Feisal Abdul Rauf’s trip to the Middle East,” say Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R) of Florida and Peter King (R) of New York in a statement issued Tuesday. “This radical is a terrible choice to be one of the faces or our country overseas. The USA should be using public diplomacy programs to combat extremism,” they add, “not to endorse it.”
But the State Department says its choice of Mr. Rauf to represent the US in a forthcoming trip to Bahrain, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, reflects the religious leader’s established record of moderation and his past experience in taking Islamic life in America to foreign audiences.
“His work on tolerance and religious diversity is well-known and he brings a moderate perspective to foreign audiences on what it’s like to be a practicing Muslim in the United States,” State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley said Tuesday. He added that the department’s public-diplomacy offices “have a long-term relationship with” Rauf – including during the past Bush administration, when the religious leader undertook a similar speaking tour.