WASHINGTON — A New York imam and his proposed mosque near ground zero are being demonized by political candidates despite the fact that Islam is already very much a part of the World Trade Center neighborhood. And the fact that Muslims pray inside the Pentagon, too, less than 80 feet from where terrorists attacked.
And that the imam who's being branded an extremist has been valued by both Republican and Democratic administrations as a moderate face of the faith.
Even so, the project stirs complicated emotions, and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf is a complex figure who defies easy categorization in the American Muslim world.
He's devoted much of his career to working closely with Christians, Jews and secular leaders to advance interfaith understanding. He's scolded his own religion for being in some ways in the "Dark Ages." Yet he's also accused the U.S. of spilling more innocent blood than al-Qaida.
Many Republicans and some Democrats say the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque should be built elsewhere.
A look at some of the claims and how they compare with the known facts:
* "The folks who want to build this mosque — who are really radical Islamists who want to triumphally prove that they can build a mosque right next to a place where 3,000 Americans were killed by radical Islamists — those folks don't have any interest in reaching out to the community. They're trying to make a case about supremacy." —Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
* "This radical is a terrible choice to be one of the faces of our country overseas." —Statement by GOP Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Peter King of New York.
No one has established a link between the cleric and radicals. New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said: "We've identified no law enforcement issues related to the proposed mosque."
Ros-Lehtinen and King were referring to the State Department's plan, predating the mosque debate, to send Rauf on a religious outreach trip to the Middle East as part of his "long-term relationship" with U.S. officials in the Bush and Obama administrations. The State Department said Wednesday it will pay him $3,000 for a trip costing the government $16,000.
Rauf has denounced the terrorist attacks and suicide bombing as anti-Islamic and has criticized Muslim nationalism. But he's made provocative statements about America, too, calling it an accessory to the 9/11 attacks and attributing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children to the U.S.-led sanctions in the years before the invasion.
At ground zero
* "Mr. President, ground zero is the wrong place for a mosque." —Rick Scott, Republican candidate for Florida governor.
* "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center." —Gingrich.
No mosque is going up at ground zero. The center would be just over two blocks from the northern edge of the World Trade Center site.
The center's location is already used by the cleric for worship.
To be sure, the center's association with 9/11 is intentional and its location is no geographic coincidence. The building was damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks and the center's planners say they want the center to stand as a statement against terrorism.