He claims he wishes to improve the standing of Muslims in the United States, to build understanding between religions, and to enhance the reputation of America in the Muslim world. But in the weeks since he — unintentionally, he says — set off an international conflagration over his plans to build an Islamic center near the scene of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in New York, he has set back all three of his goals…

He further aggravated the situation Monday morning, putting opponents of the mosque on equal footing with Muslim extremists. “Every religion in the world has extremists; sadly, Islam is among them,” he said. “All faiths have among their members those who distort and twist the core values for their own agendas.” The imam, who said he had seen in recent weeks “how destructive the power of extremist acts and language can be,” pronounced that “the real battle that we must wage together today is not between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is between moderates of all the faith traditions against the extremists of all the faith traditions.”

It was a neat formulation. On one side: Osama bin Laden, Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham; on the other side, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. When Council president Richard Haas challenged this parallelism with an observation that “ninety-nine percent of the world’s most dangerous terrorists are Muslims,” Rauf blamed the Arab Israeli conflict and the “presence of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, which has expanded the amount of terrorist acts.”