NEW YORK (CBS 2/WCBS 880/1010 WINS) — The man behind the mosque finally stepped in front of the cameras on Wednesday night.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said he’s not changing locations.
He finally answered tough questions about the proposed Islamic center at ground zero, and CBS 2’s Sean Hennessey was there as families of 9/11 victims watched and listened.
These were the words the world has been waiting to hear and on Wednesday night the imam himself was direct, determined, and mindful of the controversy, but not ready to walk away from it.
“I understand the sensitivity of the people. I really do,” said Rauf, founder of the Cordoba Initiative.
Imam Rauf explained Wednesday night on CNN that he really can’t back down from the anger and angst over the controversial mosque, just two blocks from ground zero.
“If we do move it will strengthen the argument of the radicals to recruit, their ability to recruit, and their increasing aggression and violence against our country,” Rauf said.
The spiritual leader said the location has been known since last year, but has only become controversial because of politics.
“Had I known this would have happened, we certainly wouldn’t have done this,” Rauf said.
Watching the imam were two 9/11 loved ones touched by the same tragedy, but who have very different takes on the appropriateness of the mosque.
When asked if he supported what the imam had said up to that point, Charles Wolf said, “this genie is out of the bottle.”
Wolf lost his wife and was never able to bury any parts of her body. Still, he said he supports the mosque location and what the imam spoke about Wednesday night.
“I believe they have overstepped our bounds because there was already a mosque there for a year, over a year and they didn’t have any problem with it. Someone decided to create a problem with this,” Wolf said.
On Long Island, Rosemary Cain watched with frustration. She lost her firefighting son, George, and never heard an answer to the question she needed.
“Why can’t the site be moved? If he really wanted to build bridges he would start right there,” Cain said.
During the interview, the imam admitted that there was a slight chance the site might be moved.
“Nothing is off the table,” Rauf said.
Watching intently was Cain.
“Everyone knows how wide an area ground zero is and I would not be surprised if human remains are on top of one of those buildings,” she said.
For his part, the imam returned to his principle of not backing down in the face of the anger that has enveloped this site for months.
“The more that the radicals are able to shape the discourse, the more it strengthens the other side,” Rauf said.
“I don’t know what the outcome will be but he sounds like he’s pretty dug in,” Cain said.
In the meantime, a widower said the imam is doing the right thing.
“I think this is one that feel this way are going to have to set aside, and understand and that there is a big difference between the different ends of Islam,” Wolf said.
The imam said he wants to continue the conversation with families of 9/11 victims, saying if the mosque moves, the chance for healing moves with it.