While Sharif El-Gamal, developer of the planned Park51 Islamic cultural center and mosque in lower Manhattan, says the project is definitely going forward, he won't say whether he is committed to the proposed location two blocks away from Ground Zero.
"There are no final plans in place as of yet. We're working off of possibilities," El-Gamal told ABC News over the weekend. "We're in meetings right now to determine how best to serve our community and our neighbors. We'll be modifying plans based on these discussions and discoveries. We do know what we want to provide: a world-class community center with the facilities all of New York can benefit from."
He also said construction was "still some years away," and that he hoped to go with an American construction company. Its management's or employees' religion is none of his business, he said.
The 37-year-old developer, owner and CEO of Soho Properties, was born in Brooklyn to a Polish mother and an Egyptian father. He is as American as any of the other millenials whose parents immigrated to the U.S. within the last fifty years. He is naturally blonde and blue-eyed. Married to his first girlfriend, who is also American, he is the father of two little blonde, blue-eyed girls. He is technically more American than Miss USA 2010 Rima Fakih, who is an Arab Muslim immigrant. He is -- although some will debate this -- as American as President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.
Yet these days, he is finding himself identified as the "Ground Zero mosque developer", and now spends most of his days defending his multi-million dollar Islamic community center and prayer space. The center would be built in a building that was partially destroyed by falling debris from the terrorist attacks on September 11. Critics call his partnering with New York Islamic community-fixtures Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan to build the center so close to Ground Zero insensitive, and disrespectful of those who died there at the hands of extremist Muslims.
His frustration, over a seemingly-benign project that has been years in the making, is palpable.
"Of course, many New Yorkers and Americans have strong feelings about the project. Unfortunately, the productive conversations we've had and are having with neighbors, partners and stakeholders locally and nationally are overshadowed by the way in which this has been made into a campaign issue," El-Gamal said.
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is seen as a possible 2012 presidential contender, has been a vocal critic of the project.
In a recent interview with ABC News, Gingrich rejected the suggestion that the issue was merely a political football in a mid-term election year.
"The opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is based on deep feelings and principles and would lead to the same fight in a non-election year," he said.
Others call it dangerous, and paint it as a meeting ground for radical Muslims and would-be terrorists, belying the notion that Muslim Americans would also have a vested interest in a safe and secure America, including those who work in the U.S. government, and who already pray within their respective buildings.