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. Elizabeth

    I am a political liberal too. The First Amendment though has been abused by those seeking a separation of church and state as much as by some religious groups. Children are not allowed to pray or discuss religion, and it is only quickly covered in some world cultures courses. Music at school may not use classical religious pieces. You can't get loan money to study any theology. You can be fired for mentioning religion at your workplace. St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which had been under the World Trade Center and collapsed on 9/11, is still not rebuilt. Now Moslems seek to destroy a landmark building instead of using it as is; which has the appearance of evil; it's a landmark building, case should be closed, but people are still going to be upset.. Maybe 9/11 is a fulcrum for pent-up silence and the frustration of not being able to state another viewpoint. Moslems often do not allow women to appear in a court of law. My great-grandmother fought for the right of women to vote and work outside the home. It is time to interpret the First Amendment so that it also says that the state may not dis-establish any religion, and we must study about world and American religious movements. If you do not study history, you are bound to repeat it. There will be no understanding as long as the Moslems muzzle women, and our government does not allow religious people to discuss their faiths.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:57 am |
  2. Ex-NCO

    Religion is BS. Open your eyes people! No Mosque should be built there, or anywhere else. This goes for Christ Cultists churches too!

    Enough killing in the name of a figment of someones imagination that you decided to believe. Religion is a giant yoke on humanity's neck!

    August 6, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  3. UberZ

    Ha Ha what an idiot CL2 is !

    August 6, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  4. Colin

    Does anyone remember the Branch Davidians? A sect of the protestants, which is a sect of christianity. The Branch Davidians' leader, David Koresh, got a message from God telling him to take up arms and siege the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas. What if David's message from God told him to crash two planes into the Twin Towers, would we be here arguing whether Christians should be allowed to build a center near the old site of the Twin Towers? No, because most of us are Christians. Stop judging muslims because you are not one of them or you do not understand them. We should not be judging all one billion of muslims because of one radical sect's actions. This is the USA right? First amendment? Freedom of religion?

    August 6, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  5. AntiPalinAlaskan

    There is NO justification for the hostility fo this community center.

    Muslims are not COLLECTIVELY responsible for 9/11.

    Many Muslims who worked at the WTC were innocent victims of Al Qaeda on that day.

    And it's a community center, NOT a mosque, so this is no different than building a YMCA.

    The American Muslim Community are owed a massive apology for all the hatred the Right has cynically whipped up over this.

    This backlash is not the fault of "Muslims", nor was the tragedy of 9/11. 9/11 was the fault of a tiny group of extremists, and no one else.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:50 am |
  6. D Howell

    The wounds of the Civil War have not healed. The wounds of the New Deal and the Civil Rights Act have not healed. The wounds of Roe v. Wade have not healed. We are currently refighting Loving v. Virginia. Nothing heals here. How naive to think it does.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:49 am |
  7. lyn

    The right to buid a mosque within sight of Ground Zero is protected by the First Amendment. However, the fact that they are pushing the building of this mosque so soon after 9/11 shows a lack of sensitivity on the issue and poor taste.

    Being a white American, I know all about lack of sensitivity and poor taste.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:43 am |
  8. Anth

    People of Muslim religion will never hold hands with the devil (an infidel) that is the very foundation and core of their belief, to destroy infidels, that is Islamic law .. Put it this way, would the Christians make brotherhood with Satan? Infidels = Satan .. and further more it is a known fact, that this religion is not against men screwing little girls, calling them their wives, because that's what their militant leader did also (Muhammad) .. it is documented facts

    August 6, 2010 at 12:41 am |
  9. stretch

    Perhaps a neo-nazi group should build a rec-center on the site of a concentration camp. why can't the Muslims just understand the sensitivity of this situation. Are the lives of 3000 people not sufficient?

    August 6, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  10. Marc

    I have worked alongside muslims and I find them as agreeable as anyone else when they are not in their groups. When they congregate with other muslims I have noticed they act differently. I hear a lot of comments about how things are done in their home country to justify their actions which are inappropriate here. The ones I talk about are students and immigrants from the Middle East and it is obvious they carry the desirable culture, as well as the undesirable, with them. It especially becomes apparent when they surround themselves with other muslims. My experience is that they have an attitude of disregard and insensitivity for others when they are not in a situation that demands it.
    I think that observation squares away with their apparent obliviousness to the affront of their proposition. Portraying themselves as clueless victims of bigots despite the incendiary nature of their proposal is part of their PR strategy, I'm sure. It goes to show that they hold in disregard the culture that surrounds them and that they mean business. This isn't a situation that warrants sympathy or empathy because they have no intention to return it.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:36 am |
  11. percysmama

    It is irresponsible of the Muslim leaders to build an Islamic center near ground zero. Most Musliems maybe peaceful, but the facts remain that there are many suicide bombers out there and they will come to that center. The leaders can not stop them and it is unfair to those who died. There is a large Muslim population that believes in suicide bombing and I do not think the NYPD who lost personnel in the attack should have to ramp up security and have to be more on guard at ground zero. Build your center somewhere else. This shows how little the Muslim leaders care for the American people.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  12. Socratease

    I'll be for the mosque when (1) Saudi Arabia allows a large Christian church to be built in their capitol, (2) when the Iranians stop murdering socially deviant women, (3) when backward cultures stop female genital mutilation, and (4) the Taliban step forward with a viable and permanent peace plan that is OK with us.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:33 am |
  13. Bel Air

    So to all the muslims replying to this article; answer this please, "What would happen if a proposal was put forth to build a Christian church in Iraq, perhaps Afghanistan?

    I already know the answer, but I'll post it for you – A Christian church in those lands would absolutely not be erected as it is against Islamic law. So, who do you think you are telling us, the citizens of the US that you have just as much right as everyone else. Where is the compassion and sensitivity that the US doles out on a daily basis to your muslin world? You have none.

    Most readers probably aren't aware that our US Soldiers are also forbidden from entering a Mosque in those countries as well. Why is that? You sure as hell want us to protect you, but yet we aren't good enough to pray to the Lord in your Mosque? And how about you take a stand against the monsters who did this? Why don't you hand over Bin Laden and his ilk? Why won't you stand with our soldiers and those from all over the world who are trying to stop the terrorism?

    August 6, 2010 at 12:32 am |
    • AM

      That is why we live in America, not a country governed by extremist muslim laws. Let them get a taste of freedom and enjoy it... maybe it'll spread.

      August 6, 2010 at 8:53 am |
  14. Dennis


    OK, so in the future we will not only have to deal with Jesus freaks but soon to come mohammed freaks as well. Great, two religious circuses in a country that doesn't need one. Go home mohammed only one freak show at a time.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  15. CitizenOne

    The Constitution, Federal Laws, State Laws, Municipal Laws are pretty clear on this. The mosque shall be built. It may be insensitive to many people, but there is nothing that can legally prevent it. You can debate the moral issues anyway you want, but legally there is nothing to debate. So maybe you want to change the laws? Change the Constitution? Not going to happen anytime soon. If it did change soon, you can be assured many of the rights you have will also change.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:29 am |
  16. E

    A Muslim center should NOT be built where Muslims murdered thousands of innocent people. Also a Muslim dome should not be built where God's temple was built in Jerusalem. Both are sacrilege.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  17. JP

    Throughout history, as the ultimate "dis", religions have built their own religious buildings over the remains of the most sacred grounds of others that they've just finished destroying – just look at the mosque in Jerusalem. While this may not be directly on the exact same ground, I believe it strongly parallels this heinous custom. The problem is that the people who are doing it are completely unaware or unconcerned about how this affects anyone else, nor do I think they really care. This is out and out wrong – whoever does it. Unfortunately, the Muslims are probably the biggest perpetrators of this act – shame on you!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  18. Jason

    White folks won't let this muslim hate die like black people won't let slavery die. How many black people were killed during the several hundred years of enslavement by white Christian people? Do you really think those that flew planes into the World Trade Centers were doing it to defend Islam? What were the struggles pre 9-11 in the world? Economic control over the world's $. That will explain why the trade centers and the Pentagon were attacked and not Churches, Synaoges, or Temples. Do you know how much money is being made on this war? They blind you with the deficit its causing but fail to tell you the money its generating for big business. If a hick like Bush can become your president then what does it say about your intellectual decision. You're losing your intelligence and allowing them to control your decisions. Open your eyes America, don't let them blind your mind.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  19. M&M

    This is a great start for this Muslim to stand up and speak out. I just wish that more of them would be more vocal about what is right and what is wrong. If you Muslims are Americans as you claim, how is it that more of you are not speaking like Americans? You sit silent and say nothing. Were you not pained by what took place on 9/11? How come we don't hear you say so? Did you not think it was wrong for those involved to do what they did? How come you don't say so? I don't trust any Muslim who claim to be American and don't stand up and speak freely about the wrong that is done in the name of Islam.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:24 am |
  20. JB

    Vocal minority? Give me 100 people to get petitions signed against the idea and I'll have them signed by tomorrow at 9:15am.

    August 6, 2010 at 12:19 am |
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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.