An Islamic center is closer to being built near the site of the World Trade Center. New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission voted not to give protected status to a building in lower Manhattan, so it can be torn down to make room for the center.

Its supporters say the center is designed to encourage healing. Those who wish it would open in a different location include the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish group whose director is Abraham Foxman.

How has the ADL's position evolved on this issue?

Mr. ABRAHAM FOXMAN (National Director, Anti-Defamation League): I'm not aware that it's evolved. The ADL opposes bigotry, prejudice, Islamophobia. We continue to do so.

INSKEEP: I guess what I mean is that initially the ADL was expressing concern about the critics of this Islamic center and now the ADL has said that you wish that the Islamic center should be moved somewhere else.

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, no. Again, we will still continue to be critical about critics of the center who are critics from a perspective of bigotry and racism and Islamophobia. The position that we've articulated last week was one that deals with location and sensitivity.

We didn't even say you must, you should, you have to. We basically said that we believe that in this place of tragedy and pain and anguish, maybe the best thing would be is if people would step back and consider that if you want to heal, the best way to heal is not to do it in your face. And if the people who you reach out to, those who had suffered the most, say please don't do it in our cemetery, not to do it.

INSKEEP: What about this specific building or its specific location or its specific design makes it seem a little too in your face?

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, it - I don't know about the design. I don't know about the -for me it's similar to a position that the Jewish community took, oh, about 15, 20 years ago when there was an effort by the Carmelite nuns to build a convent in or around Auschwitz. And we then said we welcome your love, we welcome your prayers, but please don't do it on this site. This was a controversy for eight years.

We in the Jewish community, we in the ADL got accused of being bigots, that we are opposed to Christianity or the Catholic Church. And eventually the pope understood and said, OK, build it a mile away.

I know this imam and I agree with all those who have said he's moderate. Well, part of the moderation, if you want to show the moderation, is be sensitive to the people you want to reach out to, to heal.

INSKEEP: You said you met the imam, Faisel Abdul Rauf.

Mr. FOXMAN: Correct.

INSKEEP: Have you had a chance to tell him your concerns?

Mr. FOXMAN: No. I met the imam several years ago. We worked with him. More recently he reached out to me and asked for support of the mosque. He basically said to me, Abe, I'm being attacked, my character is being attacked, I'm being called an extremist, and you know me - will you stand up? And I said absolutely. And I - we have, we've stood up as an agency to counter the attacks on his persona, on his character, on him being characterized an extremist. You know, that's the extent of the conversations we've had.

INSKEEP: I wonder if a Muslim who professes to be a moderate Muslim might turn to you and say, why should this cause anybody pain? I may be a Muslim, but I am not the person who flew a plane into the Trade Center. I had nothing to do with it.

Mr. FOXMAN: Well, again, I would say to them neither were the Carmelite nuns. They had nothing to do 50 years earlier with Auschwitz. Again, everything that I know is he's a moderate. Part of moderation is to be sensitive to those around you who are responding to you out of pain and anguish.

And so, you know, I thought it would have been wonderful - who am I to tell him, but you know, I guess I tell him through this, you know, if he would say, you know what, I do want to heal, I do want to reconcile, I do want to show the American public that there is an American Muslim tradition, that would be a wonderful, dramatic beginning rather than insisting this is where we want to heal, this is where we want to reconcile, in your cemetery.

INSKEEP: Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, thanks very much.

Mr. FOXMAN: Thank you.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from