"Those people behind the mosque have to respect, have to appreciate and have to defer to the people of New York," Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said in an interview with the Dubai-based Arabian Business magazine. "The wound is still there. Just because the wound is healing you can't say, 'Let's just go back to where we were pre-9/11.'"
Alwaleed also said in the interview that Muslims in New York should consider a more "dignified" location, alluding to the presence of at least one strip club and several bars in the area.
"It can't be next to a bar or a strip club, or in a neighborhood that is not really refined and good. The impression I have is that this mosque is just being inserted and squeezed over there," he said.
Alwaleed said that it may take up to 30 years for the wounds of 9/11 to heal, and said that moving forward with the mosque would agitate people needlessly.
"Most governments are pragmatic, most people are logical. There are pockets of extremism in Israel, in the U.S. and in the Muslim world. But we have to fight them with reason, with logic and with compassion," Alwaleed said. "We can't just say 'go to hell.' We cannot do that."
The prince's comments were applauded by those who have been protesting the project. Conservative blogger Pamela Geller, one of the most vocal opponents of the mosque, said in a blog post today that Alwaleed "got it right."
"Pretty pathetic when our own liberal media and politicians need lessons in sensitivity from a Saudi prince. Sheesh," Geller wrote.
But Feisal Abdul Rauf, the imam of the proposed Islamic center, said he has no intention of moving the project out of the shadow of Ground Zero.
"While we respect the points of view of other interested observers, we plan to build the community center in this location," Rauf said in a statement today.
He said that hundreds of Muslims have been praying in that space every day for more than a year. He said the project is part of an effort to "tackle tough issues in a practical way in order to build better relationships among Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of goodwill from all cultures and faiths."
Alwaleed – who is worth $19.4 billion, according to Forbes, which listed him as the 19th richest person in the world – has previously given more than $200,000 to the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow program which is run by Rauf.
The proposed 13-story Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero at 51 Park Place has been in the works for several years. In recent months, however, the project become snarled in national debate about whether it is appropriate to build it so close to the World Trade Center, which was destroyed by Islamic militants on Sept. 11, 2001, killing more than 2,700 people.
It's slated to cost $100 million, but the nonprofit organization working on the project have reportedly raised a fraction of that amount and have since declared that they are open to donations from foreign governments – including Iran.
The subject has rankled New Yorkers. A poll conducted in August by Sierra Research Institute found that 60 percent of New Yorkers do not support building the mosque so close to Ground Zero. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said people should be free to open mosques, synagogues, and other religious centers and called the firestorm a mid-term election political maneuver.