Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), one of two Muslims serving in Congress, recently claimed that opposition to the planned Lower Manhattan mosque is not led by 9/11 families, but by birthers and religious bigots.
In an interview with BBC Radio that aired Monday, Ellison sought to undermine opponents of the proposed Islamic center to be built two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Ellison's comments are an indication of the escalating tensions over the Islamic center just days before the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
The Minnesota lawmaker referenced a controversy over a similar proposed facility in Tennessee and a planned Quran burning to be held by a radical church group in Florida this weekend, saying they are "emblematic of the larger issue" of anti-Muslim attitudes in the U.S.
Ellison also trained his fire on Fox News, saying the station "is 24/7 trying to excite and divide Americans along religious lines. Scapegoating the Muslim community. This is sort of a well-worn right-wing tactic."
Republicans and Democrats have used the New York mosque as a political cudgel against one another, even though the debate has divided powerful members of both parties.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), like Ellison, focused
her comments on the mosque's opponents, saying their funding sources
should be explored.
Pelosi did not, however, characterize the mosque opponents except to say that "there's a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some."
Most congressional opponents of the mosque say they recognize the right of the developers to build the facility, but say that its location could offend the families of 9/11 victims. Several family groups have also come out against the Islamic center, though the sentiment is not unanimous among victoims' family members.
Ellison expressed confidence that opposition to the facility would subside.
"We have overcome momentous social barriers in the past and I think we are going to keep on doing that," he said.