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August 5th, 2010
05:40 PM ET

U.S. Muslims underestimate 9/11 effect, Muslim thinker warns

Linda Rivera holds her head after a New York panel ruled the site of a planned Islamic center and mosque near ground zero can be demolished.

There's been plenty of opposition to the plan to build an  Islamic center near the site of ground zero in New York, but so far it has overwhelmingly come from outside the Muslim community.

Now a prominent Muslim thinker is warning that the idea is potentially dangerously misguided, and that American Muslims have failed to grasp how deeply the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, affected the country.

"I don't think the Muslim leadership has fully appreciated the impact of  9/11 on America. They assume Americans have forgotten 9/11 and even, in a profound way, forgiven 9/11, and that has not happened. The wounds remain largely open," said Akbar Ahmed, an Islamic studies professor at American University in Washington, D.C.

"And when wounds are raw, an episode like constructing a house of worship - even one protected by the Constitution, protected by law - becomes like  salt in the wounds," he argued, even as he said that "blaming an entire community for 9/11 is ridiculous."

But a leading spokesman for the American Muslim community is not convinced by Ahmed's analysis.

"The Council on American-Islamic Relations feels the impact of 9/11 on a  daily basis," said its communications director, Ibrahim Hooper.

"We take hundreds and hundreds of cases each year of anti-Muslim bias and  hate crimes. To a large degree it's the by-product of 9/11," Hooper said.

He rejects the controversy over the planned Islamic center as "manufactured" by "bigots."

"There has been a mosque in that neighborhood for 27 years," Hooper asserted.

And he said Muslims should not back down simply because a vocal minority was complaining.

"I am not going to base my actions and my principles and my future on the  ability of bigots to manufacture a controversy," he said.

The American Center for Law and Justice filed a lawsuit Wednesday, trying  to throw an obstacle in the way of what has come to be known as the "ground zero mosque" - although it is two blocks from the site of the World Trade  Center and backers say it will be more a community center than just a house of worship.

Ahmed and Hooper did agree, however, that the New York dispute is just an  extreme example of a problem Muslims face whenever they set out to build a  house of worship in the United States.

"Every time Muslims raise their head in America, these groups are going to come against Muslims," said Hooper, adding that the problem is worse now than in the immediate wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

"There was still a reservoir of good will after 9/11," Hooper said. "Now you've got people bringing dogs outside a mosque in California last week."

"The attacks on mosques are increasing in frequency and intensity," Ahmed  concurred.

"You recognize a minaret, so that becomes the focus and the lightning rod  of the fear and anger," said Ahmed, whose new book, "Journey Into America: The  Challenge of Islam" is an intensive study of Muslim communities across the  country, based on a year of travel, visits, meetings and surveys.

He found that the closer you get to New York, the higher the tension is  between Muslims and non-Muslims.

"Step back and put (the Cordoba Initiative project to build the New York Islamic center) in the context of American society today and then it will make perfect sense - the anger, and also the failure of the American Muslim leadership, an influential leadership, to explain to Americans that we, too, are Americans. We live here," he said.

The Cordoba Initiative did not answer CNN requests for comment.

Ahmed, who is also critical of "the American leadership" for not building bridges with Muslim America, warns that the New York project could become a dangerous flashpoint.

"Say non-Muslims go attack this mosque or attack the imam, and in response some young Muslims blow something up or blow themselves up," he warned. "That is the worst-case scenario."

"The best-case scenario is that the Muslim leadership really steps up its activity to explain themselves to the American community. We are at a crossroads," he said.

And whatever happens will resonate far beyond America's shores, he said.

"What happens in America will have an impact in the Muslim world,  especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, and vice versa," he argued. "Whatever happens now becomes critical."

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Muslim • Religious liberty • Violence

soundoff (904 Responses)
  1. Dude

    I consider the entire debris field of 9/11 ground zero, and since the build to be placed with the islamic conquest trophy mosque was struck by debris, it is indeed at ground zero. Also, I reserve the to hate whoever and whatever I choose, and choose to hate islam and muslims. Any day without even thinking about them, forgetting that they exist is a very good day, indeed.

    June 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  2. Woody Pfister

    The Imam is a phony provacateur who cannot find the moral courage to condem Hamas. He proposed this mosque to create a controversy. I have never even had this thought until now: "Remember 9/11."

    September 6, 2010 at 1:14 am |
  3. skindeep

    It IS a ground zero mosque. Last time I checked, two blocks was not a very long distance, it's still in ground zero to a lot of Americans, so you can pretend that 2 blocks is not on ground zero but fact is it's close enough to look like a trophy mosque. We need to drive these terrorist from our lands. We're so busy focusing on wars overseas we aren't even protecting the homeland!!!!!

    August 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  4. kneehigh1950

    have you seen the tolerance of Christians at and near the muslim festivals. None! Christian religion is supposed to promote peace and love, admittedly we do fall short sometimes, but the Koran teaches dominence, conversion or death. It is not a religion that is peaceful or believes in live and let live. I saw pics of muslim worshipers at 2 locations in New York where traffic has to be stopped 2 times a day due to them kneeling out in the streets because of overflow from the mosques. Do not be deceived, everything they do is part of the grand scheme; and remember they are patient. If they really wanted

    August 16, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
  5. Joe2

    I think we should put a military recruiting station next door.

    August 15, 2010 at 8:20 am |
  6. Joe

    People, please do some research and compare and contrast the teachings of Jesus to the teachings of Mohamed. It is ignorant to say we need to be tolerant of all religions when some religions teach intolerance. Jesus was not tolerant of the pharisees and their teachings that were not based on love but on gaining power over men. Islam is a religion based on intolerance. To see the true Islam you need only see countries that are dominated by Islam. The 9-11 terrorist were following the teachings of Mohamed plain and simple. Please educate yourself about what Mohamed taught his followers to do. The truth will set you free.

    August 15, 2010 at 7:21 am |
  7. jonathan

    As a Christian I protest against Christians protesting against the Muslims mosque..We have wayyyy too much power with God to fret over small issues like this..Since we are still living in the shadow of 9/11 let us do the very best and greatest things..that will put that day behind us and under our feet..Let us not allow Satan to rule in hour hearts and minds..Put On Jesus Christ and live up to his level in everything...

    August 14, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  8. rodrigo

    It is very easy to call every person who contradicts you "bigot", yet CAIR is the biggest bigot of them all (read The Muslim Mafia, very enlightening.) That said, it doesn't even require a 3 digit IQ to understand that not all Muslims are terrorist, yet terrorism is a growing movement and research show it is coming from mosques. Please allow people to be skeptical of some muslim leaders' motifs.

    August 13, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  9. Acmed Shams

    Why can we not make this a center for all religions? either way, We should be wary of overt islamophobia, and be careful to single out extremists, such as the Taliban.
    You absolutely MUST see this:

    [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r9aw6Cnw0hY&w=640&h=390]

    August 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.