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August 31, 2010

"Missing Imam" Breaks Silence on Park51 Controversy
Posted by Shadi Hamid

I will be blogging throughout the week on the Park51 "mosque" controversy. My first post can be seen here.

People across America have been asking themselves, usually with baffled looks on their faces: where in the world is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf? One of the oddities of the Park 51 controversy is that the one person best positioned to explain and defend the mosque is the one person who appears intent on not only not speaking, but also not even being in the country to coordinate the project's message.

He has now broken his silence and granted an interview to The National. If anything should cast doubt on Imam Rauf's leadership qualities, it is his apparent inability to say something even mildly interesting about one of the more scary but oddly fascinating episodes in recent memory, one that he happens to be at the center of.

He has managed, instead, to give a remarkably sedate interview, consisting of little more than a string of platitudes (radicalism is bad; moderation is good; trust in the wisdom of the American people). American Muslims - the vast majority of whom knew nothing about this project three weeks ago - shouldn't have to pay the price for his, or anyone else's, inability to articulate a clear message regarding the vision for Park 51. As it turns out, Park 51 has presided over one of the most mismanaged media campaigns that I can remember. The project still has no spokesman. Its twitter account has been a study in how not to run a twitter account.

And despite repeated calls for him to return and lead, Imam Rauf refused to cut short a U.S. State Department tour in the Middle East, where he was speaking to audiences about - what else - how Islam and Muslims are thriving in America. Many of us had heard last week, when Imam Rauf gave a Friday sermon in Doha, that he was considering canceling the Dubai leg of his trip and returning home. He hasn't. The "missing Imam" is still missing.

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