So is Frum seeing more than I saw or less?
The mosque developers are three Arab-American businessmen: Sharif and Sammy el-Gamal and Nour Moussa. They have a partner in Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Muslim writer and publicist who does most of the talking. But the money and credit pledged to the project belong to the company owned by Moussa and the el-Gamals, Soho Properties.Frum thinks the Gamal-Moussa businessmen really did originally intend to build condos, but that wasn't going to work, and they hooked up with Feisal Rauf believing he was the kind of guy who could connect them to guys in the Middle East who'd give them $100 million if they were buttered up in a suitably Islamic way. Is "publicity stunt" the right word for Frum's theory? It sounds more like he thinks it was a hare-brained real estate scheme.
Soho Properties has paid some $5 million in cash to buy the Burlington Coat Factory building, a building that yields no income. They are paying rent to hold rights to the Con Ed building, which also yields no income. All of this in the midst of the worst commercial property slump in memory, in an area of New York with a very uncertain economic future....
You can see why the Gamal-Moussa team would be dazzled by the notion that philanthropists in the Persian Gulf might donate $100 million to raise a grand gleaming Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You can tuck a lot of development fees into a $100 million project. And if not a mosque … what else do you do with their two loser properties on Park Place?
$100 million is not so easily raised, not even in Abu Dhabi, not in the middle of a global commercial property slump, not with the Manhattan real estate market in a shambles. Believe it or not, rich people in the Persian Gulf are not yearning to plunge into a U.S. political controversy.And, of course, the mosque will never be built. The idea that I tossed aside was different. I entertained the notion that the idea was to propose it in order to stir up the reaction that was, in fact, stirred up. Some Americans would be outraged, including a subgroup that would say anti-Muslism things, and some Americans would get passionate about freedom of religion and celebrating diversity. In this theory, the point was always and only to undermine American society by dividing us in two and touching off a terrible, endless fight between the two halves. In this theory too, then, the mosque is never built. It's not that the business scheme fails, but that the proposal was itself the project, and the project succeeds.