“It’s easy to choose between wrong and right. What’s hard is choosing what wrong is more right…”–Annette Bening, “The Siege” (1998)

Now that the smoke has cleared somewhat over the proposed mosque near the site of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, it may be instructive to step back and take another look. Indeed, this is one of those controversies that has merit on both sides.

For the record, I agree wholeheartedly that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has the clear right to operate such a mosque anywhere in the city. However, I am dead set against the mosque being so close to what has become known as “Ground Zero”–a term first identified with where atomic bombs were dropped on Japan to end World War II.

Like many in New York, I believe in religious freedom. However, the issue here is insensitivity to families and friends of the 2,752 people murdered in the city in attacks by Islamic extremists. The mosque site is too close to our Ground Zero. It is a provocative act and an insult. It is why polls show 70 percent of New Yorkers oppose the location.

The proposed mosque at 45 Park Place is close enough to have been hit by a landing gear assembly from one of the hijacked airliners. It’s 1,032 feet from the center of the Twin Towers site and only 403 feet from 7 World Trade Center, which also went down. It is just 348 feet from the nearest remains of victims found atop the post office on Barclay Street.

Gov. David Paterson is wise in suggesting state land as an alternate site in the city that won’t rub salt in open wounds. He knows how wrong it is to build the mosque so close to the hallowed ground where radical Islamic terrorists vented violent jihad against America. It’s sad that Sharif El-Gamal–who paid $4.85 million in 2009 to develop the site–has again ruled out the possibility of relocating it.

Before proceeding, let me say I have nothing against the Islamic religion. Growing up in Milwaukee, I was good friends with several Black Muslims. One of these was Leroy Monroe–a high school classmate–who converted to Islam and became Leroy X.

As a very young reporter for the Milwaukee Sentinel in June 1965, I was privileged to meet and interview Muhammad Ali, who had just converted to Islam and dropped the name Cassius Clay. I talked with him following his nighttime speaking appearance at Muhammad’s Mosque No. 3 of the Nation of Islam–something I’ll never forget.

Fresh from his controversial (many say “fixed”) first round KO of the fearsome Charles “Sonny” Liston in their rematch, the 23-year-old champ looked good and talked better, and I learned many positive things about Islam. I was the only reporter permitted inside since whites–including my paper’s photographer–were not welcome.

My report the next day was my first exclusive story at my first daily newspaper job and remains one of the most relevant I’ve ever covered. In succeeding years, I have recounted that memorable, hot summer night for a number of publications, including Essence magazine in its “Say, Brother” feature in December 1984.

When I interviewed Ali outside afterward–eagerly praising his heartfelt sermon–I told him how it pleasantly surprised me. This evoked a smile and courteous “thank you, sir.” But when I asked him point-blank about the so-called “phantom punch” with which he dispatched Liston, he seriously told me, “I hit that chump hard.” Uh-huh.

Back to the issue at hand. It was good to recently hear Imam Rauf say he is “looking at every option” to resolve the crisis caused by his plan for a mosque and Islamic center in the shadow of Ground Zero. He said had he realized it would cause such consternation he might not have proposed it–and would consider delaying the $100 million project.

According to Rauf, his proposed, 13-story mosque–two blocks north of the World Trade Center–will have a board of directors that will include Christians and Jews in addition to Muslims. In a recent appearance on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes,” Rauf said that to reduce fears that terror organizations would contribute to the project, he would ask American government officials to approve its funding sources.

And where does Barack Hussein Obama stand? At a White House dinner observing Ramadan, the president equated the Ground Zero mosque solely with religious freedom.

“I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else…,” he said. The following day, he backtracked thusly: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there.”

Huh? What? Aside from freedom of religion–in which most people believe–why won’t Obama tell the American people if he feels it is wise or unwise to build a Muslim mosque at that location? Failing to adequately explain himself inspires little confidence.

This kind of indecisiveness is a major reason the president’s approval ratings late last month hit an all-time low of 42-percent. And his stance on the question also may explain why a recent Gallup Poll found that he retains the support of 78 percent of Muslims.

My memories of a fervent, young Muhammad Ali at a Black Muslim mosque helps me better understand religious freedom. Yet, the harsh reality of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists helps me better understand the feelings of those who lost loved ones on the dreadful day that changed the world. Thus, I feel it is patently unwise to build a Muslim mosque in that location. Imam Rauf and El-Gamal should look elsewhere.