In an op-ed article published by The New York Times, Feisal Abdul Rauf, the chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, offered his first public comments on the controversy surrounding the project, also called Park51. He has been out of the United States for two months, speaking about religious tolerance and cooperation, and said in the newspaper article that he and "nearly everyone" he met had "been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become."
"The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship," Rauf wrote.
"We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons."
Rauf said the community center "will amplify the multifaith approach that the Cordoba Initiative has deployed in concrete ways for years.""Our initiative is intended to cultivate understanding among all religions and cultures," he said.
Rauf said the initative's "broader mission" is to "strengthen relations between the Western and Muslim worlds and to help counter radical ideology" and he said it was essential to confront polarizing issues rather than avoid them.
He said he is "very sensitive to the feelings" of survivors of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack that took almost 3,000 lives and destroyed the World Trade Center twin towers.
"We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center," Rauf said. "Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing."