Feyrick conducted her hardball interview of el-Gamel at his New York City office. The CNN correspondent almost immediately launched into her prayer space question. When the real estate developer initially replied, "There are Jewish community centers all over the country," Feyerick interrupted with a sharp retort: "But the Jews didn't take down two towers." El-Gamel continued that "there are YMCA's all over the country," but she gave a similar reply: "But the Christians didn't take down two towers."
The journalist followed up with the issue of the planned mosque's proximity to the Ground Zero and mentioned the plane wreckage that ended up on the site: "For those who are so- still sensitive and so raw to this, their question- their overriding question is, why here? Why so close? It's two blocks, but it was close enough that landing gear ended up on the roof. Why?"
Later in the segment, Feyerick mentioned the recent confrontational zoning meeting where supporters and opponents of the mosque faced off and quoted from one of the opponents who used a historical parallel: "Coming out of that hearing, somebody said, 'The Japanese would never have dared to build on Pearl Harbor.' What makes this different?"
Towards the end of the segment, the CNN correspondent asked el-Gamel if he planned to make sure Islamic extremism stays out of the "Islamic community center" and if they would reject funding from Islamist sources: "Can you guarantee that this center will root out extremism or completely reject any extremists that try to get into it?...Will you reject any money that comes...from any person, any country, any organization...that has any links to terrorism? Will you be doing due diligence?"
In her final question, Feyerick asked the developer to directly address a key claim by the opponents of the mosque: "For those who would say, this is not an olive branch to greater understanding, this is more an act of defiance- how would you answer those people?"
The full transcript of correspondent Deborah Feyerich's interview of Sharif el-Gamel, which aired 47 minutes into the 12 pm Eastern hour of Wednesday's Newsroom program:
FREDERICKA WHITFIELD: Some say plans to build an Islamic center and mosque near 9/11's Ground Zero disrespects the victims of the attacks. Others say that attitude is bigoted and intolerant. CNN's Deborah Feyerick spoke with the developer of the project to get his thoughts.
DEBORAH FEYERICK: This is where you sort of conceived of the idea?
SHARIF EL-GAMEL, SOHO PROPERTIES: Yes, it is.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Meet New York real estate developer Sharif el-Gamel, the man at the center of a controversial plan a stone's throw from the World Trade Center site.
EL-GAMEL: This is an Muslim-led project. This is an Islamic community center that will cater to all of New York. There's gym and basketball courts.
FEYERICK: Plans include a performing arts center, swimming pool, child care facilities, and yes, a Muslim prayer space two blocks from the worst terror attack in U.S. history.
FEYERICK (on-camera): Why not have a prayer space for Buddhists or Jews or Christians or- why must it be Muslim? It can't just be a business decision.
EL-GAMEL: There are Jewish community centers all over the country. There are Y-
FEYERICK: But the Jews didn't take down two towers.
EL-GAMEL: There are YMCA's all over the country-
FEYERICK: But the Christians didn't take down two towers.
EL-GAMEL: And this is- and this is a need that exists.
FEYERICK: For those who are so- still sensitive and so raw to this, their question- their overriding question is, why here? Why so close? It's two blocks, but it was close enough that landing gear ended up on the roof. Why?
EL-GAMEL: There is a need. It's supply and demand. The community wants it. The politicians are supporting it.
FEYERICK (voice-over): Maybe, but many who attended a town hall meeting recently were dead set against it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have we forgotten what happened at 9/11?
EL-GAMEL: What happened that day is not Islam. What happened that day is terrorism.
FEYERICK (on-camera): Coming out of that hearing, somebody said, 'The Japanese would never have dared to build on Pearl Harbor.' What makes this different?
EL-GAMEL: If you were at that hearing the way that I was at that hearing, you come out understanding that there is a great need for dialogue now.
FEYERICK (voice-over): El-Gamel says many people don't understand Islam. But does that make it Islamophobia?
EL-GAMEL: One hundred percent.
FEYERICK (on-camera): Why?
EL-GAMEL: Because the moderate voice of Islam is not coming out.
FEYERICK: Can you guarantee that this center will root out extremism or completely reject any extremists that try to get into it?
EL-GAMEL: One hundred percent- we will not tolerate extremism. We will not tolerate extremism.
FEYERICK (voice-over): And yet, critics say the religious leader, Iman Faisal Abdul Rauf, has links to groups that support terror.
EL-GAMEL: Imam Faisal is one of the most moderate Muslims that exists in this country today.
FEYERICK (on-camera): Will you reject any money that comes, either directly or indirectly, from any person, any country, any organization, any corporation, that has any links to terrorism? Will you be doing due diligence?
EL-GAMEL: We are going to be doing extreme due diligence, and we are going to hire the best security experts in the country to help us walk through the process, and we plan on being very transparent throughout the whole process.
FEYERICK: For those who would say, this is not an olive branch to greater understanding, this is more an act of defiance- how would you answer those people?
EL-GAMEL: This is an olive branch.
FEYERICK: El-Gamel points out there are more than a million Muslims in the tri-state area, and that the American Muslim consumer spends nearly $200 billion a year. So, when he talks about this center as a business, it certainly is that. He also says he wants his two young daughters to have a place where they can feel a sense of cultural and religious pride and belonging- where everyone can learn and share in the mainstream Muslim experience. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, New York.
Tags: cnn, cnn correspondent, CNN Newsroom, Culture/Society, Deborah Feyerick, Islam, islamic community center, islamic extremism, jewish community centers, Moderate Islam, plane wreckage, protestors, religion, Sharif el-Gamel, space question