By Toby Harnden, in Washington
Published: 8:51PM BST 12 Sep 2010
The Muslim cleric behind plans to build a mosque close to the Ground Zero site has blamed politicians such as Sarah Palin for fuelling a "growing Islamophobia" that led to the burning of Korans on the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
The Reverend Terry Jones abandoned his "international burn a Koran day" in Gainesville, Florida on Saturday but there were isolated instances in Tennessee and New York of the Muslim holy book being set alight.
"What has happened is that..certain politicians decided that this project would be very useful for their political ambitions," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf said, adding that this had prompted a "growing Islamophobia" in the US.
Imam Rauf's proposal for an Islamic Centre, containing a mosque, two blocks from the site of the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre, has become embroiled in controversy.
Mrs Palin was the first major national figure to get involved in what had been a localised dispute when she sent a Twitter message in July stating: "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing."
Imam Rauf said Mrs Palin's intervention had been "disingenuous" and played a part of the issue being "hijacked by the radicals" over the summer.
In Springfield, Tennessee, the Reverend Bob Old and the Reverent Danny Allen, both evangelical pastors, burned Koran to coincide with the anniversary of the September 11th atrocities.
"It's about faith, it's about love, but you have to have the right book behind you. This is a book of hate, not a book of love," said the Rev Old as he held up a Koran.
In New York, an unidentified man ripped pages from a Koran and lit them near the proposed site of the Islamic centre. "If they can burn American flags, I can burn the Koran," he said.
Imam Rauf said that he would not have proposed his Islamic Centre had he anticipated the furore that has resulted. "I would never have done it."
But he was reluctant to consider a different site because of how this would be interpreted by Islamic extremists. "My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America.
This will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people -- our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens -- under attack in the Muslim world and we have expanded and given and fuelled terrorism."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has given his backing to the mosque proposal and President Barack Obama intervened to remind critics that religious freedoms in America allow anyone to open a holy place. But several senior Democrats including Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, publicly distanced themselves from the presidents position.
Official commemorations for the attacks on the New York's Twin Towers and the Pentagon were solemn affairs but took place against a backdrop of fierce debate about the relationship between Islam and terrorism.
"As Americans we are not – and never will be – at war with Islam," said Mr Obama. "It was not a religion that attacked us that September day – it was al-Qaeda, a sorry band of men which perverts religion."
Click to view image: 'Imam'
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