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. SJtR

    wow, those muslims sure are quick to comprehend this. maybe they might get the idea building that mosque and other things they do is deemed as antagonizing and why we hate them so much.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:48 am |
  2. Pianki

    I think they should build several Mosques with minarets and all.They have a right to.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:39 am |
  3. JR

    America is lucky in some ways in having the benefit of historical data of Islam's behavior. But that is true only if America does not turn its eyes away from it lest Muslims get "offended".

    America is only the latest confused victim of this incredibly political "religion" which has obliterated peaceful societies and/or continues to wage jihad against the remnants of the original religion/culture who were equally clueless in their first encounters. These were Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or what have you..

    Letting Islam into a society is exactly like letting a camel into your tent (no pun intended) – soon you will be out and left wondering what the f happened?? Consider this – 100% minorities in 100% Muslim dominated countries live like slaves or simply vanish in a few generations. While a Muslim minority in 100% non-Muslim dominated states, is the fastest growing section of the population. Co-incidence?

    Islam thrives like a virus on the victim mentality of its followers. And that is built into Koran which teaches – playing a victim when in small numbers and Islamic supremacy when in majority. Now that's the genius of its prophet!! I respect the guy as the biggest conman in history!!!!

    Look at the number of territorial conflicts in the world, how many of those involve Muslims?? Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, North Africa...probably 90% if not 100. Co-incidence? Did all that start to "victimize" Muslims?? Nah, it has been going on since 7th century..the phenomenon only changes its location, the conflicts stay the same – Islam vs infidel.

    Here is a note for apologists:
    Ideological battles are always fought by the influential few who set the agenda for the rest. In Germany it was Hitler and his kin, in Russia it was the Bolshevik party, in Islam's case it is the jihadis. So the argument of the "vast peaceful majority" is totally BS. Besides in the case of Islam, 10-15% Muslims are estimated to be violent extremists. At least 30-40% you can imagine support their brethren ideologically and morally even if they don't participate in the physical struggle. so are you really calling the remaining 50% "a vast majority"?!?!?

    While fascism and communism were fought un-equivocally, Islam gets deference because of its "religion" status. Even though Islam explicitly divides the world into two parts – "the blessed world of Islam" and the "cursed world of war". But given that the "prophet" of this religion was a warlord – owner of land and slaves and a harem full of "wives", how surprising is it really that he would invent a "religion" that has political bifurcation as the core of its philosophy?!?!

    But Apologists never tire of apologizing and imaging tolerance where none exists.

    Fact is, Islam will never tolerate the unbeliever. And it will never undergo a Reformation because if you take politics out of Islam, there is nothing left. The solution out of this mess will be messy. But like the prelude to WW II, America is slowly but surely realizing that the more you concede to the enemy, the bolder it will get..

    August 6, 2010 at 1:38 am |
    • Pianki

      One can say the same about christainity.

      August 6, 2010 at 1:43 am |
  4. Major

    Ronnie from New Orleans, LA is black , a bigot and needs to purchase a dictionary.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  5. JenniBurger

    Though there is already a mosque nearby, and the proposed new center will be 2 blocks from the actual wtc site, we Americans are fearful and ignorant as whole. This won't go over well no matter how innocent the intent is. There are plenty of us who aren't offended, but there are plenty more who view this as an attack of some sort. I hear about it from my own family members – "this is a slap in the face", "they're laughing at our pain", etc. There's no point in arguing when fear is involved – even if it is senseless. The point is, why push it when there's so much controversy? Make peace with the public about this. I know you're trying, but you've seriously got to try harder. It sucks, but this is the climate in America we've all got to deal with.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:30 am |
  6. Justin

    The fact that they want to build a (community center) "house of worship" does not trouble me, but the fact that it's so close to a memorial of an attack by a radical sect! thats absolutely horrible, let them build in another area!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:24 am |
    • 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. We should not be judging all one billion of muslims because of one radical sect's activities. This is the USA right? First amendment? Freedom of religion?

      August 6, 2010 at 2:09 am |
    • Faraz

      Agree with Colin. I don't think that is a good idea to build one near the memorial. Scar is still too fresh. But as for Justin, you're mentality of thinking and hatred towards a whole religion is just shows how close you are too on being on the other side of the WWII. And btw I do agree Muslims got bad publicity because of the terrorist attack because these people decided to use religion as a scape goat. But honestly, from all crimes being committed in the U.S, how do you find it so easy to hate all Muslims in U.S who almost all you don't even know and few you probably work with and have talked with and don't even know they are Muslim?

      August 6, 2010 at 11:55 am |
  7. John Toradze

    Excuse me?!! This article quotes CAIR?!! Ibrahim Hooper?!!! Excuse me?!
    CAIR is a front for Islamist radicalism! It's all laid out in "Muslim Mafia" in detail! CAIR is an un-indicted conspirator, and believed to have been involved in the 9-11 attacks!!
    Dear god!! Who are these "reporters" who write for CNN? CAIR isn't American muslims! CAIR is linked to Al Qaeda!! Seriously!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:24 am |
  8. Tom

    Islam is not just a religion but a culture that does not fit into American Society. Some how a feel that having 12 million illegal Mexicans here really isn't so bad, image if they were Muslims? Then the only way to get rid of them is to kill them. I had hated many nationalities before but after 9/11 , I now only hate one!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  9. Raj

    Liberal Muslims all over the world do the same thing...come to TV, denounce the violence and do nothing at all. Hiding under the shade of American freedom and getting offended when we call "stoning and honor killing" as barbaric. They all have a double face, America needs to watch out.Deep down, they really do not care about anything as long as their people are not being killed. Just like France, America needs to step up and make newer laws. When their population explode, they will bring nothing but misery to this nation. There should not be a Mosque, period.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:22 am |
  10. ronald malaney

    if it is built I will pray someone blows it up after it is filled with cowards, period

    August 6, 2010 at 1:21 am |
    • Faraz

      what have you done to help differently from others to denounce terrorism and help Americans? You sound like maybe U.S should take the Hitler approach.

      August 6, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  11. katiepea

    i'm as opened minded as it gets, i want national health care, i think gays should marry, i'm ok with high taxes, and i say the muslims inside this country should gtfo.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:21 am |
    • Faraz

      whats your justification to point at all muslims? if a individual or a group of your religion commits a crime (which happens everyday), should you get the boot? And I agree with your nick name, Katie does have a brain the size of a pea to make such a statement. Ignorant you are.

      August 6, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  12. ronald malaney

    if it is built I will pray some one blows it up when it is full, period.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:17 am |
    • Stop the Hate

      That is a pretty sick thing to say. I hope the FBI is monitoring this. You really should be locked up or get treatment or something.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:06 am |
  13. Neeneko

    Americans should not bow to the demands of terrorists.
    That includes American Muslims not bowing to these Christian ones.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:12 am |
  14. Sara Johnson

    Since the first Muslim conquest in the seventh century, Muslims have destroyed religious buildings and upon the ruins built mosque. This is easily veriable historical fact. Isn't this what is happening now? The goal of this religion is to errase all vestiage of every other religion. While the 'Towers' were not religious institutions, they were icons to a basically Christian/Jewish nation. This is purely a religious atrocity of the Muslims against all other organized religions. They should not be allowed to proceed. No other solution is viable.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:11 am |
  15. Scottie V

    Hmm. Destruction of our citizens and sense of security. Death threats over simple effing cartoon drawings(Draw Muhammed day, South Park episode 200/201). A constant air of death, vengeance, and hatred emanating from their religion, in general. Can't imagine why we don't trust 'em!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:09 am |
  16. Kevin

    I have and always will continue to fight the enemies of secularism and freedom.

    Just so happens that the foremost enemies of secularism and freedom are Islamic.

    I doubt that anyone without serious religious convictions would have committed those crimes.

    To the bleeding hearts: Capitulation is not an option.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:09 am |
  17. Claire C.

    Fundamentalists are fundamentalists, irrespective of whether they are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or other. And Christianity has had a lot longer to work through its dark ages than Islam. So Islam is still an all-encompassing governmental structure, and not just a religion–much like Christianity was earlier, while the Muslim religion is similar to the Christian one in indoctrinating people based on some ancient writings written by slick cultural engineers like St. Paul and Mohammed. There is good and bad in all of them, and the way to keep the religion from becoming an oppressive dictatorship is to keep the government secular and not support creeping theocracy through programs like faith-based funding, where tax dollars are used by theocrats to indoctrinate more people in the hope of eventually creating a theocracy based on their ancient doctrine. Fortunately, that's considered tyranny in the U.S., so at least the people have a shot at stopping it.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  18. Jenni Simpson

    Oh, for the love of whichever god you choose to worship! Let these people build their mosque! Facing hate with hate never has and never will solve anything!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  19. MA by way of AL

    I've been thinking a lot about this recently, and it seems to me that it is indeed an insult to build any sort of structure dedicated to the promotion of islam this close to the site of the 9/11 attacks. However, If this group refuses to back down I say we let me them build it, and NO ONE SHOULD TOUCH IT. Why? Because in America, while we may certainly find certain things to be offensive, we realize that we are srong as a nation. We do not break into the homes of Muslims who draw cartoons of Jesus and try to kill them. We do not target civilians regardless of circumstances or affiliation. We don't need to do those things to try to justify our existences here - we see the value of life, love and understanding. And so we should let this muslim church stand as proof that we are greater than the radical muslims who attacked us in the first place. We should use this opportunity to parade our social freedoms by allowing this building to be constructed. And while we may not like it, we should let it stand untouched as a symbol of our maturity and wisdom as a people.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  20. Pnshr

    Any religion can be like a hammer in a handymans box, in the right hands it can build beautiful inspirations to mans creativity while providing useful things like warmth, shelter, or places to enjoy friendship and brotherhood.
    But put in the wrong hands, it can be used to simply crush another persons skull.
    Someday people will realize most religions were created in a time of necessity when attitudes like "live and let live" did not exist, it was out of savage era's of kill or be killed, conquer or be annihilated, eliminate your enemies before they eliminate you.
    Its not surprising then to find tenants in religions that propose the destruction of any "not like minded" individuals to preserve their own tenous existince.
    Moreover, religions were created, with good reason, to control populations, create a peaceful and controlled society where mankind could live and prosper and keep the evil thoughts in mens heads from becoming a physical act of cruelty by creating the fear of being "smote" by an invisible, but all knowing god.
    This was necessary in times where resouces and technology did not exist to enforce rules or laws, but in today's more law abiding culture, people still pour over pages of text and commands written thousands of years ago to find their place in the world. Is it any mystery then how their unwavering obedience to mens words who have been dead and gone for so long would lead them down a path that doesn't coincide with that of any mainstream society today???
    As for the NYC Mosque, they state in the article that it is their legal right to have a mosque there, but is it a morally correct decision if they know full well the pain and violence it will bring in an already strained situation between muslims and non muslims in america?
    As a dedicated member of the Law enforcement community, who understands and believes in the letter of the law, I also have learned through the years to pay attention to the spirit of the law, which is to provide the peaceful and controlled society where individuals have the ability to exercise their freedoms free of fear or reprisal.
    So simplify the question, A police officer knows an individual is wanted, armed and dangerous, but surrounded by innocent bystanders including men, women, and children. The officer has the determination and letter of the law on his side to approach and apprehend, but knows he cannot control every outcome, much like any religion cannot control every member.
    If he follows simply the letter of the law and charges in, there is a good chance he will cost some of those innocent bystanders their right to ever experience anything again, let alone the feeling of freedom in a peaceful and controlled society.
    However, if the officer understands the spirit of the law is to provide those innocent bystanders this freedom and peace in a controlled society, he will monitor the subject and exercise his right to apprehend at a time when it is less dangerous.
    So ask yourself this, if you have the right to build a building that is supposed to create understanding and peace, but know it will cause hate and violence, why would you build it? Ignorance? I doubt it. It is the stubborn narrow mindedness of a person clinging to the "letter of their law" as they understand it, and possibly, the small fraction of the religion that knows the hate and violence of the opposing view will only strenghten their position and control over their followers.
    I apologize in advance for any grammatical errors, and of course the length, but not the content.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:05 am |
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