In the Ground Zero mosque saga now playing out under the grim shadow of the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks, one of the weirdest motifs is the summer vanishing act of the imam who peddled this project, Feisal Abdul Rauf. His name is all over the project, and much-mentioned in the fierce debate. Yet Rauf himself has disappeared from New York, and left the country for the summer. Apparently he’s not even talking to the New York Times — which, in a long piece Wednesday included what in recent weeks has become a refrain: “Imam Feisal is in Malaysia and could not be reached for comment.”
After days of hemming and hawing, the State Department finally confirmed this week that Rauf will round out August with a taxpayer-funded swing through some of the oil-rich capitals of the Middle East. He’ll be going to Bahrain, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Saudi Arabia has dropped off Rauf’s State-sponsored itinerary. (Will he go there anyway? Who knows?). Though, piecing together information from Rauf’s wife and partner in Islamic nonprofits, Daisy Khan, it looks like a Saudi stop on Rauf’s taxpayer-funded tour might have been quietly scrubbed within the past week — and according to both Khan and a State Department press guidance memo, State has merely postponed Rauf’s taxpayer-funded travel to Saudi Arabia, not scrapped the prospect entirely. For more on all this, plus Rauf’s vanishing Malaysia office coordinates, the two spellings of Daisy Kahn/Khan’s last name, and the lone date this summer on which I have been able discover where, exactly, Rauf on that day might be located, here’s a link to my latest column: Mysteries of the Absent Imam Feisal.
Basically, what on earth is going on here? In New York, emotions are rubbed raw. The questions keep multiplying. Instead of showing up to answer them, the imam who wants a mosque and Islamic center near Ground Zero, so he can reach out to New Yorkers, isn’t even taking calls from the U.S. press.