In this Sept. 13, 2010 file photo, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, executive director of the Cordoba Initiative, addresses the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Rauf, who is in the midst of a polarizing political, religious and cultural debate over his plans to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site, is planning to tour the nation to promote the plan.
Noisy, nasty protests over a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan faded from the headlines after the midterm elections, said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, an organization dedicated to "improving Muslim-American relations," as well as the man behind the center's plans.
Rauf believes the mosque controversy was largely media-generated.
"A small but very vociferous Islamophobic community in the United States began to target us, in partnership with the very extreme right wing, Tea Party, anti-Obama, anti-Democratic kind of coalition," Rauf said.
"And those forces combined with the Rupert Murdoch news machine of Fox News and the New York Post that really targeted us. It wasn't about what we said -- it didn't matter what we said."
But what was played for domestic politics had international implications, said Badawi, who added that the perceptions of how Islam integrates into America's political and social culture may restrict foreign-policy options for the United States.
"If in America we are having problems between Muslims and non-Muslims, then what can we expect from America if they are to play a role in Islamic countries in the Mideast?" Badawi asked, later adding ,"Any kind of intervention or involvement in all these countries must be on the basis of understanding Muslim aspirations."
This perception problem is particularly important as the Obama administration addresses the "Arab Spring" of uprisings roiling North Africa and the Middle East.
The pan-Arabic protest movements are generally led by tech- and media-savvy young citizens who pay attention to how Americans perceive Islam and treat Muslims.
"We have to engage with the Muslim world with great depth, probity and wisdom," said Rauf. "You can't just be the ugly American."
Yet despite the disappointment of how hot the issue became, Rauf believes that, in the end, some good was done: "The optics of a Jewish mayor ... supporting the establishment of what was seen as 'the Ground Zero Mosque' raised America's profile."
John Rash is Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.