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. Steve

    "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."


    A) He called it a Mosque. It's a MOSQUE people. It's NOT A COMMUNITY CENTER!!!

    B) This is CNN who gives these idiots every chance to say the right thing. I didn't hear "and that would be bad" or "we really don't want that to happen". Then he goes on to say "this will resonate far beyond America's shores." Ibrahim Hooper just threatened the entire Unites States of America TWICE on CNN. Don't kid yourselves, those were threats.


    We now know exactly what the Council for American-Islamic Relations is all about. They issue veiled threats of terrorism in support of pushing their religious expansion in our country. Frankly, I'm not responding well to that. I'm giving Ibrahim Hooper a "does not play well with others". on this one. HOW ABOUT WE BUILD SOME MORE SYNAGOGUES ON THE WEST BANK? I'm liking that now. It will have consequences far beyond our shores too. He was totally wrong about one thing, the worst case scenarion is Muslims cause more problems and the people of the U.S. go nuts and the nukes start flying.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:28 pm |
  2. JR

    There is no question that the idea of of a mosque near Ground Zero is insensitive and in complete bad taste. I don't buy the whole Cordoba Initiatives supposed goal of outreach because if that were the case, they'd have done it already! Do they need a mosque to reach out? Heck no. Why aren't they reaching out NOW? Don't need a building to have a heart, people. And opening it on the tenth anniversary of the tragedy? Could'nt be more insenstive if they named the place after one of the hijackers. It's ridciulously obvious that this isn't about caring.

    CAIR is merely a propaganda tool, and everyone who knows anything, knows it. As far as I'm concerned, they're irrelevant to this situation.

    We are constantly being bombarded with the tender sensitivies of Muslims being bothered by something that someone is doing in America nad elsewhere around the world. if you want me to believe that their spin is real, then they would not build a mosque this close to Ground Zero. But yet they are. Why?

    Because they don't give a damn. You'd have to be denser than a fence post not to understand what 9/11 meant to not only NYC but to the rest of the country. Unless they're recent immigrants, THEY KNOW. So what the plans to build this mosque despite public outcry tells me is that THEY DON"T CARE.

    I keep looking for kind souls of reason and comapassion, empathy and 'godliness' or whatever, but where is it? I guess Islam isn't into turning the other cheek, and is always more into 'in your face'. But dear Lord, don't look at anyone funny or you're going to hear about it. Goodwill only seems to go in ONE direction.

    Not religious over here, and I am certainly behind people's Consititutional right to practice their religion as they see fit. But actions have reactions, and I'm personally repelled by the idea of a mosque almost literally on the mass grave of thousands of Americans who died at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists. It's as simple as that.

    They're free to do it and I'm free to think that frankly, they're a bunch of jerks. I also think that NYC is stupid to allow it. They can build a mosque....just build it a few MILES AWAY.

    The longer that this story goes on, the less I believe anything positive about the people who support this.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm |
  3. Nimrod

    I don't believe that ALL muslims are evil, but it has been said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Of course this could be used by either side of the argument, depending on where one sees the evil. Many would view the denial of permission to build the mosque as the evil as it appears to be against the principle of religious tolerance of which Americans are rightly proud. I would posit that the evil about which we need to be more concerned is the relatively rapid incursion by a religion that puts a denial of religious tolerance at a premium. Perhaps a belief system that allows the rape victims to be punished as whores (or for that matter flogs or kills whores), advocates killing those who speak against it, or advocates killing those who won't convert doesn't rate the kind of tolerance civilized people do. I am certain that it isn't just a vocal minority of bigots who are against this mosque but rather the VAST majority who are outraged by this affront to the people of America. I am equally certain that the VAST majority of Americans are sick and tired of hearing what a gentle and peace loving religion Islam is. Even Akbar Ahmed makes reference to young Muslim men strapping bombs to themselves in response to possible actions by those who oppose the mosque., Such an action would be the worst thing that could befall the American Muslim community, but possibly one of the best things that could happen to America. I will close with a quote from Edmond Burke "Better to be despised for too anxious apprehensions, than ruined by too confident a security." The muslim world wants world domination and America and the western world better wake up!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  4. Joe Williams

    Call me a bigot, if you will. Now they do not want to listen to a "vocal minority." So, when the minority is mostly Christian, one need not listen, but when the minority is Muslim, all must allow them to be heard; how convenient. If Muslims are good Americans, then they will demand the mosque be move away from ground zero. But, they will say nothing and the politicians will serve the Muslim purpose with grand comments of support. Uck!

    August 5, 2010 at 11:22 pm |
  5. Meaty Portion

    Is this over yet? Can I go back to not giving a sh1t about religion?

    August 5, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  6. Flipside

    The Muslims have every legal right to build their Mosque near Ground Zero, and those trying to use to courts to block them are wasting their time and have no concept of Constitutional Law.

    That said, the idea of a Mosque so close to Ground Zero seems feels wrong on a viscerally level. I would feel the same way if Germans wanted to open a Beer Garden outside of Auschwitz.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  7. Kendall

    JBB- You do realize that Feisal Abdul Rauf is an American citizen right?
    You know, one could easily tell the 9-11 relatives and those that are dragging their feet to build the Twin Tower's replacement to take their millions and do something constructive with it.
    Also, they love our American ways...including the right to free speach and religion.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:17 pm |
  8. hoeech

    @Agibo....Your quote from The Qu'ran about idolators is correct. It states that worshipers of idols must not be tolerated. The Bible says the EXACT SAME THING. The Second Commandment handed to Moses states "Thou shall have no other Gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol." As for preaching death to your enemies, Deuteronemy 20:10-17 states:

    "When you approach a city to fight against it, you shall offer it terms of peace. If it agrees to make peace with you and opens to you, then all the people who are found in it shall become your forced labor and shall serve you. However, if it does not make peace with you, but makes war against you, then you shall besiege it. When the LORD your God gives it into your hand, you shall strike all the men in it with the edge of the sword. Only the women and the children and the animals and all that is in the city, all its spoil, you shall take as booty for yourself; and you shall use the spoil of your enemies which the LORD your God has given you. Only in the cities of these peoples that the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not leave alive anything that breathes”

    Sounds like the call to murder to me. Don't measure one religion without learning something about the one you claim is "more peaceful".

    August 5, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
    • Nimrod

      Two points, have you ever heard of the New Testament, which for Christians is supposed to supplant the teachings of the Old Testament (although I am really more of an Old Testament kind of guy myself, eye for and eye, tooth for a tooth etc.)? Have you ever heard of the Reformation?

      August 6, 2010 at 12:35 am |
    • hoeech

      @Nimrod...then why does every "holier than thou" preacher go running to the Old Testament whenever they see something in modern society they don't like? How many times has homosexuality been referred to as an "abomination" because of what they take from Deuteronemy? The hypocracy is simply staggering and the grief caused by it is tragic.

      August 6, 2010 at 2:18 am |
    • Steve G

      More to the point, read the charming book of Joshua, a litany of mass murder as directed by God.

      August 17, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  9. Ravi

    This is sick..muslims think they are the victims? Your religion basically declared war on all free people and you want us to turn the other cheek..and let you build a victory mosque on the ground where people were murdered?..This is not the minority..this is teh god damn majority that thinks that its cruel and vicious..

    August 5, 2010 at 11:15 pm |
  10. missadr

    They should just back off of this project. It's a disaster in the making. Americans have been looking for a target to attack since 2001. they're about to give us one.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
    • Nimrod

      Actually, my vote has always bee the Kaaba during the Hajj.

      August 6, 2010 at 12:37 am |
  11. hank

    Omg. yes, Oh my God. You people who are saying that all the worlds problems are caused by religion , are morons!!! MORONS cause the worlds problems, yes, you people who take the FREE WILL god gave you and selfishly use it for your own purpose. Religion is just a rule book, that if you dont follow PROPERLY, without reservation, will cause the problems in the world. god damns morons to eternity, without death burning with the intensity of a thousand suns... now, have a nice day morons.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  12. hmmmmm

    america just needs to face the facts. America is not a christian nation. Its a capitalistic nation that hides behind christian values. Dont think so then tell me why gays are being allow to get married in cali. The united states gave freedom of religion cause it attracts everybody to this place unlike a islamic nation that wont stick to there own religion. Since the untied states is so money hunger they have open the door for anybody to walk it and now the worse case senerio is 911 and ten years later a Mosq being built near it. People need to not forget muslims did die in the world trade center too and Muslims are born and raised in america too. So yes Muslims are Americans too. I ask is this war against terrorist or a war againt muslims and islam. If people would just say its a war against Muslims and islam flat out. We could live with that but they dance around the truth and here is what yall get. Its not against the law to build a mosq but to because violent against those who have not broke any laws is so please be non violent when protesting.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  13. Gordon MacDonald

    This mosque is sheer provocation, and consistent with Islams practice of building mosques on the sites of worship in conquered lands. The very name of the organization undertaking this insult is called the Cordoba House. Cordoba is the location in Spain where the first European cathedral was converted into a mosque – coincidence? (not damned likely!)

    August 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  14. Reasonable

    Try building a temple, synagogue or a church next to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. When that happens, you can build next to the WTC. The nerve. Building this mosque will bring a severe backlash, and will represent a beacon to all Muslims that Americans will roll over for anything. WE WILL NOT STAND FOR IT, AND I KNOW THAT EVERY NEW YORKER WILL NOT LET THIS HAPPEN.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:05 pm |
  15. Caspian

    Victor, Here are some verses for you from the Quran. Read it for yourself.
    9.5: So when the sacred months have passed away, then slay the idolaters wherever you find them, and take them captives and besiege them and lie in wait for them in every ambush, then if they repent and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, leave their way free to them;
    4.89 : They desire that you should disbelieve as they have disbelieved, so that you might be (all) alike; therefore take not from among them friends until they fly (their homes) in Allah's way; but if they turn back, then seize them and kill them wherever you find them, and take not from among them a friend or a helper.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  16. Charlotte Perkins

    I don't believe that the real problem is that they want to build a mosque. The real problem is where they want to build it. Can you imagine the reaction of the Muslims who hate us if it is built near ground zero? It will be the equivalent of a Muslim "high five". They destroy the World Trade Center and then a mosque is to sit in almost the same place. The thought makes me ill. The people who are making the decisions on this should consider the potential for more terrorist acts from those who want the mosque and those who don't. Can you imagine how the Japanese would have felt if we went to Heroshima and erected a lifesize scale replica of the Enola Gay at their ground zero? In case the Muslims don't understand how deeply 911 wounded us, this is about the way we feel about a mosque being built so near ground zero. If they really are a religion of peace, they should choose another spot ! !

    August 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  17. Emiliano

    American Christianity is as hate-based as religion get, period.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:00 pm |
  18. Emiliano

    One would have to be insane not to understand that 9/11 was an inside job perpetrated by neocons in order to get the "Pearl Harbor" event they deemed necessary to unfold their plot for world domination. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all the people all of the time. Wake up America, we’re slipping into neocon fascism.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
    • NYer

      What have you been drinking, you watch too much tv.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  19. Gordon MacDonald

    Islam is big on Paradise, but this initiative is a fools Paradise.

    They are playing with one of the most deeply rooted pain (and rage) which is simmering just below the surface across all of America.

    The building of this mosque is a very dangerous miscalculation on the part of Islam

    August 5, 2010 at 10:56 pm |
  20. Reasonable

    If the goal of Muslim Americans is to incite anger and hatred, their actions by building a mosque close to the WTC is a huge injustice. Its like if a Church, temple or synagogue went along side the Mecca in Saudi Arabia. The actions of a few that drove a nail in american hearts might have healed over, but the scar remains. Building a mosque so close to the WTC will bring backlash. Just a bad idea. PS. this mosque is like right next to the WTC. Of all places to worship, I don't think that spot is ideal.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Victor

      Comparing Mecca to NYC is like comparing the Vatican to Las Vegas. Should we remove every Church in the Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, etc, because Christian Crusaders killed and literally swam in the blood of Muslims and Jews?

      August 5, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
    • Caspian

      Non-moslems are not allowed to build worship centers anywhere in Saudi Arabia. And Mecca and Medina are cities like any other.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:18 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.