AMANPOUR: We turn now to the debate over the proposed Islamic center and mosque near ground zero. Opponents say that it's just too close to the site of the 9/11 attacks, though it cannot be seen from there. It took an ABC News producer two minutes and 45 seconds to walk from ground zero to the site of the proposed center. But the controversy has raised profound questions about religious tolerance and prejudice in the United States. And the backlash against Islam has been seen across the country, with mosques facing protests in California, Wisconsin and Tennessee. And some intelligence experts now say that the backlash could also bolster extremists abroad, who wish to portray the United States as anti-Islam.
And so, this morning we cut through the heated rhetoric and hear directly from one of the leading organizers behind the Islamic center, Daisy Khan, wife of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, and also Rabbi Joy Levitt, executive director of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, who is an adviser on the project. Thank you both very much for joining me on This Week.
Can I ask you first, Daisy, what has been you reaction? You haven't spoken publicly. What has been your reaction to the last several weeks of this?
KHAN: Well, we've been dialoguing with people. We've started meeting 9/11 families. We've started meeting other groups who have shown some concern. And you know, we've been bridge builders since 9/11, and that's what we do best, and that's what we've decided to do at this very moment.
AMANPOUR: When you say you started to meet them, did you not meet with families as you began to propose this Islamic center?
KHAN: Well, we have already been in touch with 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows. So, they represent 250 families. We've been working with them since 9/11. And so that group we have already worked with, and several other groups, but since this concern was raised, we've now started meeting with other groups privately.
AMANPOUR: Rabbi Joy Levitt, how did it come about that the two of you were working together on this?
LEVITT: Well, we got a call from Daisy when they began to think about this project, and said we want to build an MCC just like the JCC.
AMANPOUR: A Muslim community center.
LEVITT: That's right. And the JCC in Manhattan was imagined in 1990 and built its building -- actually we opened two days after 9/11. And have been thriving; about 2,500 people walk into our doors every day. We were really honored to be able to unpack what we've learned, some of the things that we...
AMANPOUR: Well, what was it meant to be, the Islamic center? Is it mosque with a dome and minarets and loud calls to prayer five times a day? What is it?
KHAN: Well, all religions Americanize over time. They go from a place of worship to a place of service, and community centers have been developed by Christian communities like YMCA, and the Jewish community has developed the JCC. And Muslim community is inevitably going to also develop such a center.
So when I visited Joy Levitt and I saw the JCC and I said, this is what we have to do. So it is a community center, but it also has a prayer space within it because it would meet the needs of the Muslim community's need to worship on Fridays.
AMANPOUR: And what about it would be the community center?