The developer who wants to bring a controversial new mosque and Islamic center near the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan spoke exclusively with NY1 for his first extensive interview.
Sharif El-Gamal told NY1's Josh Robin that he blames the media for the furor over the so-called "Ground Zero Mosque" and maintains the project will combat Islamic extremism.
The developer said he will not abandon his plans for the Cordoba House, which are drawing international attention, and insists he never anticipated the outrage his plans unleashed.
He also dismissed the suggestion he was being naive in thinking a mosque so close to the World Trade Center site would sail through without a hitch.
"It's not about being naive at all. I understand that there was such a misperception about Muslims and Islam. That's what this brought to my awareness, that there's a tremendous misperception about Islam..., that we are terrorists," said El-Gamal.
He said the media has only been interested in seeking out opposing viewpoints from the families of victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.
"The media went out and started looking for 9/11 family members that are opposed to the project, and they were specifically looking for people opposed to the project," continued El-Gamal. "Because on May 5, there was nobody opposed to the project. There was a unanimous vote from the community board, and that community board, everyone looked at each other and said, 'Wow, can you guys please build this sooner?'"
The local community board has since signed off on the project, which now faces review for landmark status.
Critics, including Republican candidate for governor Rick Lazio, are raising questions about funding for the center.
El-Gamal said those who bought the building are all American citizens, but would not identify them.
Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who is also criticizing the proposal, recently took to her Twitter account asking that Muslims "refudiate" the mosque.
"I just started laughing. I could not believe that a potential presidential candidate cannot spell or cannot use the English language correctly," El-Gamal said.
The developer said fundraising for the center has not even started, but said he is already talking with security experts and will talk with the state attorney general's office about ensuring due diligence.
Lastly, El-Gamal says the sounds of prayer will not waft from the mosque to the World Trade Center site, addressing a key concern from those who lost family members in the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
"This isn't about converting people, this has nothing -- we don't need any Muslims, I have to be very honest with you," said El-Gamal.