The controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” project (which is not actually at Ground Zero, and of which the mosque aspect is only a tiny piece) continues unabated, with Sarah Palin entering the fray calling upon all “peaceful muslims” to “refudiate” the project because it “stabs hearts”. Of course, Sarah Palin (like myself) is no New Yorker. The good news is that a plurality of Manhattan residents support the project (including tech guru Dave Winer, in a very thoughtful supportive post), but the bad news is that a majority of New Yorkers overall still oppose it, which means that the organizers of the project have a lot of work to do.

This is why I am excited to report that Sharif el-Gamal, CEO of Soho Properties (the developer of the Park 51 project) has graciously agreed to an interview about the project. I am grateful to Sharif for taking the time to engage personally in this way.

And let’s repeat that this is not about a “mega mosque” being constructed right atop Ground Zero. The Park 51 project is a large-scale development of a community center for lower Manhattan, for arts and culture, education, and recreation. The list of facilities includes a swimming pool, 500 seat auditorium, art exhibition spaces, and even a culinary school. The broader Park51 project will include a mosque and the Cordoba House center for interfaith dialogue, but these are only small pieces of the overall vision.

My goal with the interview is to ask some hard questions, not softball it. As the polls results show, ordinary New Yorkers have genuine concerns about the project, and those concerns are being cynically exploited by people like Sarah Palin for their own political self-interest through fear and misinformation. As I said earlier, it isn’t just muslim Americans who have a stake in this project, but all Americans. Here’s a chance for Park 51 to set the record straight.

Stay tuned, I hope to have the interview up by the end of the week!

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