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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. joan

    aayan hirsi ali has been a very vocal person as she tells the rest of the world about the REAL quranic principles. she insists that the call to violence/eradication of "infidels" is definitely part of the quran's teachings. she grew up in the heart of muslim society, as a "believer," and she knows! google her name, or google the name of her book titled "infidel" – read for yourselves!

    August 6, 2010 at 12:17 am |
  2. NYN8IV

    Muslims just don't get it. Ground zero is sacred ground to we Americans. Not like you fake want to be Americans. Simply put, one can not serve two masters, one can not have two countgries. If you want so much to practice your heritage and cultural shananagans, then go back to where you are from. Stop trying to force the way of life that you left down our throats. We dont want it. If you truely feel that it is a good idea to open a mosque (ie: terrorist recruitment center) then FIRST let the jews open a temple in Meccah. Only then you will prove to me that this isn't an in your face move. At ground zero, to open on Sept 11 and you name it the Cordoba house many may not understand the significance, but me I study my enemy so I have read your koran, I have studied your mohamed and I know about cordoba. You all are nothing more than disrespectful curs. I am a non believer in any god. I do believe in my freedom and I believe in my city which you violated. As for you wanting to kill the disbeliever, you have had two chances and nearly four years to do so and in all that time , YOU MISSED!!!!!! Unfortunately I probably won't be sent back before the troop withdrawl. Id love to go increase my numbers. Keep those diapers on your heads cause you definately have s___ for brains. AND get the hell out of MY country. I will never submit to you or your way of life I will never respect your god or your beliefs, If I walk past a mosque I will desicrate it and I promise I will fight you to the death. QAnd buy some deoterant.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  3. joan

    if the muslims truly DO appreciate our sentiments, they would not, for a single second, allow this idea of a mosque on that site to go forward. the fact that this religious group is trying to push the idea through is blatant proof of their total insensitivity.

    allah, schmallah! if this is the way their allah guides their spirits, i want nothing to do with them, or their god, or their religion, or one of their worship/education centers on the site of their religion's worst atrocities. they should first learn sensitivity to other people and their feelings, and THEN try to establish meaningful communication with american public.

    their religion spawned the horrific atrocity that was unleashed on innocent people, so why are we even considering giving that religion real estate space on the very grounds of its worst failure?

    shame on everyone and anyone who may help this atrocity happen!

    August 6, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  4. Steve

    I wouldn't be surprised if they wanted to break ground for the new building on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

    August 6, 2010 at 12:06 am |
    • Yvette

      That is their intent...no joke!!

      August 6, 2010 at 5:34 am |
  5. Chris

    Join to help our nation's heroes, the 9/11 first responders, get the healthcare they need. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=143291502365719&v=info&ref=mf

    August 6, 2010 at 12:04 am |
  6. ilkay

    well, i am a muslim.(elhamdulillah)

    and i do understand iand i agree with all of whom dont want to have mosque right next to 9/11 area. because all the muslims are same for you guys. like every christian, or jewish or others are same for us too. christians are christians. we do not personlize it. so you dont. i dont think is a good idea to have a mosque way to close that area.

    but i would like you to stop thinking every single muslim as a potantial terorist. basicly there is always good and bad guys in every religion. dont you guys have crazy people calling them selfs as jesus.so we have some stupids too.

    there is no religion telling you to kill people. in our religion you can not kill someone except, if they tried to kill you or your family basicly you can selfdefense. but not supposs to kill someone or yourself. in our religion if you killed your self you dont go to haven.. because you can not give lifes back you can not take it away. god gave you that body that soul so he/she is the only one can take it away...

    also you can not panish some one to become a muslim. you can teach them but you can not push them to be amuslim. that is againts our religion.

    and honestly dont believe osama did this attack by himself someone else helped him from this country.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  7. Gentleman

    Hi Folks!

    I appreciate the emotions but please understand this:

    1. Islam IS a peaceful religion.
    2. The violent verses people are quoting are out of context – the infidels and idolators are labels for adversaries in war just as today we may say things about exterminating the Al Qaeda like the plaguing vermin they are.
    3. If we stop this mosque from being built it is like giving in to these vermin terrorists – playing right into their hands – they will have succeeded in destroying Americas freedom and succeeded in polarizing the conflict to seem like it is Islam vs. The Rest – please please we cannot let these vermin win we cannot forget who we are !
    4. Muslims also died on 9-11 Muslim communities everywhere also saw this as an attack on them.

    My dear Americans let's not be fooled – let's not let our biases and incomplete view fool us.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • Yvette

      No one is saying not to build it...just somewhere else. This is a graveyard...What the terrorist wouldn't want is for Muslims to stand with Christians or any other religion or American for that matter! Peace and respect is what religion with good intent is about. Peaceful Mulsims should stand with Americans on this issure plain and simple. Otherwise you are causing the divide further and I'm pretty sure the terroroist of 9/11 would would want to cause a religious war within our own country. Is the mosque worth it??

      August 6, 2010 at 5:32 am |
  8. mike tilling

    why don't the muslems look at their belief system and question their arrogance of assuming knowleged of the unknowable

    August 5, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
  9. kurtinco

    BS...islam is not a religion, it is a political movement. It must be stopped and completely eradicated from the face of the Earth.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
  10. not a coward

    Are you people really this stupid and brainwashed by the zionist press and oligarchs who have robbed this nation by buying our congress and president and own all the press including the one you are on right now? There is no way you could go watch on youtube, building 7 falling and not see that it was done by controlled demolition. You are all disgraces. The muslims didn't do 911. This was another false flag done by the usual decievers. You better watch "khazarian conspiracy" and "invisible empire" both free on youtuvbe. I dare you to look up "kosher tax" you are paying it and don't even know it. Then you will see what is happening to you. lol. bye sheeple.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • NYer

      Not a coward, I love hearing nonsense, and you have made my day. What makes you an expert on controlled demo, are you a structural engineer. I actually sat thru a seminar talking about the 911 attacks as I am an architect and then buildings were taken down by the planes. The fires were huge, not minor fires caused by thousands of gallons of airline fuel that burns a very high tempatures. On top of that the force of the planes knocked the fire protection off the steel. The reason the buildings fell neatly was because of pancacking. The load of each floor falling down forced the lower floor to fall down. Just because you watch some kids say that they are experts does not mean they are correct. Ask someone who actually understand buildings.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:57 am |
  11. Shange

    Muslims, Christians....pretty antiquated mindsets borne of backward ideas to begin with.... framed on that canvas, what other mental graveling in anger and violence against one another can any 'intelligent' entity expect? ghosts, shadows, superstitious rituals protected as cultural treasure pieces and deemed worthy of merit simply because....they've been carried out so damn long....the voice that rising above this din one day are those that have no religious affiliation at all, a dogma worth swallowing.....

    ....bottom line any mind that follows either is devoid of self worth and dignity, no better than a dog being told to sit and shake hands....

    August 5, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
  12. jeffallan

    There are churches within blocks near the timothy McVeigh bombing site and other clinics that got bombed.
    There are churches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the atomic bomb was detonated specifically chosen to annihilate people instead of the Japanese army
    And this is not a mosque but a cultural islamic center. Since the Muslims are American Citizens they can build their prayer house in private property even if it is on top of WTC.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
  13. iremember

    So the worst case scenario is scene and understood by the leaders wanting to make this mosque near ground zero, and yet, they are creating the exact 'flash point'. The answer her is simple, let New York vote on it. A flash point is being deliberately created. America has not forgotten, and this will end in trajedy. If the Muslim community really wanted to build bridges and foster an idea of brotherhood, they would move a few blocks over, and not press this issue. The end result? This flashpoint is exactly what these muslim leaders want. It's a win win win situation, either America turns its face away and lets the salt get rubbed into the wound and bears it, and they get their 'Dome on the Rock' or 'Victory Mosque' near ground zero, or tragedy occurs, and the Muslim community is portrayed as 'victims'. This then becomes a global advertisement and portrays america as the aggressor and furthers the very cause that sent the jets to their tragic endings, and destroyed over 3000 families. If the islamic leadership didn't want this very flashpoint, then they would have moved their planned center away a bit.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  14. Mandel

    "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.

    So, if the Mosque or Imam is attacked... Young Muslims will blow something or themselves up? Interesting.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm |
  15. Muhammed was high!!!

    He didn't see angels or hear the voice of god! He was just high out of his mind on hasheesh, hallucinating!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
  16. Say no to drugs...

    Muhammed was just a crack head! He didn't actually see angels or hear the voice of god. He was just high out of his mind on hasheesh, hallucinating! The Qur'an is the holy book of a drug addict.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:41 pm |
  17. Say no to drugs...

    The Qur'an says that Muhammed heard the voice of god and saw angels. ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! Muhammed was just high out of his mind on hasheesh! Are we going to allow a holy crack house (aka "mosque") to be built upon the site of the 9/11 tragedy? I say nay!!!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
  18. Kendall

    Caspain...might I suggest you read the Book of Joshua and Judges. I do believe the ppl of Israel completely wiped out every man, woman and child within many cities simply because they were not worshippers of God.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:33 pm |
    • Nimrod

      And what century was that?? Not behavior that would normally be condoned in modern times.

      August 6, 2010 at 12:17 am |
  19. guest

    how about all of you stop believing in and stop fighting over stupid stories of imaginary characters and beliefs.

    August 5, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  20. Jeff

    The Muslims just don't get it and never will. To build the mosque near Ground Zero is like pissing on someone's grave. Use some common sense and build it somewhere else. Yeah, that's right the wounds are that deep, the emotions run that strong. We continue to suffer over that day. Can't you people see it?

    August 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
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About this blog

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.