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. P20009s

    You must be kidding me. And you want to open this up when, September 11th of next year? While we are at it why don't we just build a Neo-Nazi museum across from the Auschwitz Museum, or a statue commemorating KKK next to where Dr. King was shot, if we are going there why not open up an abortion clinic at the Vatican or maybe even a gay sex shop next to Mecca. You are just looking for trouble if this comes to fruition.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:15 am |
  2. Surthurfurd

    It seems all groups tend to underestimate the effect of the harm members of their group cause on each others perception of the whole.

    Note how many times Westerners have dismissed any notion that "our side" might be responsible for great suffering. Each culture judges itself as individuals and incidents. Each culture judges other cultures as a whole and as if any event is perpetual.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:46 am |
  3. Muhammad

    Muslims should apologize ? FOR WHAT ? The problem with these idiots is in their own head. Muslims aren't out there to kill anyone. The work was done by extremists, much thanks to the U.S who supported / promoted them and still support wahabi countries like Saudi. It's like saying the whole of U.S resemble ku klux klan burning people in cross etc. Why don't they educate themselves and understand ?

    August 6, 2010 at 2:46 am |
  4. smh

    This guy in You tube is not even American Citizen. Who cares about him? How is he even getting here with a video opportunity. CNN. I love you for your reporting. Please do not allow these type of lunatics to ruin your reputation.CNN is much better of than these so called one dimensional pundits.My cousin was also a victim of 9/11 and he was a great Muslim.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:45 am |
  5. RefugeeFromCommunists

    I am an American citizen since 1990, came to the US on a refugee status from former USSR in 1980's. During 9/11 I worked on the team with 6 men from Iran. When the horrifying news broke up I remember their reaction that truly shocked me. There was no emotion of horror or disapprove in their comments. On the contrary, on the day of 9/11 they were chalking that it was the US Government conspiracy with Israel. They were either on Green Card or had US citizenship, working here and sending money back home. Yet when the tragedy happened, not one of them expressed disproval or condemned the terrorists. I'm not a vengeful person. I know that there are many peaceful muslims. Yet my then colleagues' reaction to 9/11 on that day and the days that followed will stay with me forever. Politics aside, I feel that building mosque by WTC site is a consecration and mockery. I understand that the peaceful muslims do not want violence but how about some consideration for the rest of the nation and not rubbing your faith into everyone's wounds? And yes, I agree with some of the posts, I am yet to hear outright condemnation of the 9/11 attack by the muslim community, without any flowery background on how peaceful Islam is. I am yet to hear that I and my muslim community condemn these terrorists and their actions without any excuses or trying to educate us about your religion.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:41 am |
  6. shayne

    this mosque is just nonsense. why is it necessary to build it at all if there is one in the area? ive heard that muslims build mosques on land or areas that they have conquered, allowing this is just showing the world how cowardly our goverment really is. it becoming a safe haven for people who dont even live here legally, a breeding ground for injustice, and now were letting these muslims build a mosque at ground zero? haha lets let the japanese build a smilee face over pearl harbor next while were at it. WELCOME TO THE U.S.S.A! the united states of socialist america! where we let the rest of the world walk all over us.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:37 am |
  7. Joyce

    I don't think the Muslims have gotten over the crusades, so why should they think we would be over 9/11? Yes, they have a legal right to build a mosque there. But that does NOT make it wise to do so. Christians are generally absolutely forbidden in Muslim ruled countries to even OWN a BIBLE, so it is obvious that they are not at all tolerant and accepting toward others way of thinking or believing. Yet, they scream that we must be tolerant of them.

    I firmly believe that the purpose of a mosque being built in THAT spot is meant to inflame Americans. It might be "legal" for a group to open a political office for the Aryan Nation next door to the site of a burned and bombed black church where thousands of children and adults died as a result of the bombing and burning too, but I do NOT think it would have been in any way SENSITIVE or a show of caring either.

    Sure this is a country where a person has a right to free speech but even though we have the right to speak freely, sometimes it is NOT wise to do so. I doubt that I am going to go into a Biker Bar and scream "I hate bikers" and I am not going to go to a Jewish house of worship and wear my Nazi uniform replica. Those things might be legal but they are not WISE or SENSITIVE, they are meant to inflame, they are meant to offend. For any one who pretends they are not meant to offend is just trying to "gaslight" listeners. It is about like that guy on this mornings news who married and put his photos up on facebook and his previous wife found out she was not legally married to him because of some glitch in the paper work, so he said he had a right to get married because he wasn't "really married to her" (she had just had their second child) DUH? Does anyone, ANYONE believe he is "innocent" of any wrong doing? Does anyone believe the Muslims who want to build that mosque there have good intentions? Not all Muslims are terrorists or insensitive, but some definitely are both terrorists and/or insensitive. Legally okay does not mean right or good.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  8. tellme

    This world will be a much better place to live in without islam. Religion does shape people who believe it in. See how islam shapes these crazy muslims around the world. Not all Muslims are terrorists but almost all terrorists are muslims. Go figure.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:32 am |
  9. jeffallan

    People forget today is the day when atomic bomb in japan were detonated specifically chosen to kill as many people. Yet we have churches, US army bases in Japan. Hell we have churches in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:26 am |
  10. jumpincats

    Please read this : http://www.foxnews.com/us/2010/08/05/judge-reunion-ohio-convert-parents-impossible-deportation-best/

    August 6, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  11. Kling

    I am one of the "white americans" you all point out. I condemn the attacks. I think the mosque is a bad idea but I do not condemn it. Sadly, a few radicals have ruined what is a peaceful religion. I know many Muslims, and many of them in my field (Medicine) are good people. They pray, they heal, they fear terrorism, they want to raise their children in a society free of bigotry. We want to fix this? Maybe get our country's nose out of the middle east. We cant get back the lives of 9/11, but our country learned nothing about it. We meet violence with violence, yet we have BROUGHT violence to the middle east for decades. Ignorance in this country is a disease, and though I'm a gun owning, slightly-to-the-right, Libertarian voting, Unitarian, White male of Italian descent, I hope I do not get lumped into the pile of ignorant white america... because a few bigots are not MY voice. Muslim extremists are striking back against what they believe is oppression of their lifestyle and faith. I say, let them live their lives on their terms, and agree to suffer our differences. Sadly, we have brought this on ourselves through our foreign policy. Maybe we should look within and REALLY ask ourselves what can WE do to come to terms with our loss and learn from it. The Japanese have forgiven us for dropping TWO atomic bombs on them, we have forgiven Italy for siding with the Nazis, we trade with Korea and Vietnam, and I am drinking Russian vodka. We need to really remember that vengance, ignorance, and hate have gotten us nowhere.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  12. Chuck

    "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."

    This is why I have always maintained that the Islam people coming to Canada, USA, and EU countries is a bad idea. Since when do we have to answer to foreign Muslim countries? They sure as heck don't care about non-Muslim ways. They come here and try to change our police uniforms (turbans in the RCMP), change voting laws so they don't have to show their faces through veils and burkhas, where our flags are flown since it offends them, in Canada their was a group that was trying to have our anthem changed to include Arabic, a Air India plane crashed and the crash was caused by Muslims and the people of Canada paid damages, a Syrian guy gets sent to Syria and is tortured...obviously Syria thought he was a bad guy and he got a million or so dollars for his pain and suffering, they are allowed to carry ceremonial daggers to school because it is a 'religion' thing and it is not, in fact the turban is not even a religious thing just like the veil. The dagger if unsheathed must have blood on it to be re-sheathed.

    They campaign all over Canada, USA and the EU to have Christmas eliminated and public symbols of Christmas removed...come on....these people had nothing to do with founding Canada or the states...I don't want to here abot Native Americans being here first, because since the dawn of time there has been wars for territories and the natives were nomadic and were not a sovereign nation. Until they were given reserves they roamed without a state, so if anything they are a conquered nation that gained land, money and free education...not bad for a conquered people, but I digress. The Muslim people did not help build either nation initially, they didn't show up in WWI and D-Day was a no show....and if their were any they wore the regular uniform (no turbans) and were proud to wear a flg of a country that accepted them from their troubled country.

    They come here now looking to change us and bring their problems here. Post 9/11 a mall in Texas closes it's doors to remember the hero that flew a plane into a tower...this is insane, but we say anything about it and we are racist. This is out of control and it's time we said NO!!!

    Welcome to Canada and the USA...we have 2 great countries here built om Christian ways...I do not believe in religion, but I do believe in a God...religion causes wars not happiness. Bust I like Christmas for the family, love89 ...not the religion stuff.

    Muslim people...you made a choice to come here...we never asked you to come, we never asked for you religion, but we see your countries are falling apart and your religion has damaged it enough you come here...we do not want your wars, your problems and if you are running from it then it can't be that great. If you must have it...then go back where you came from...4 planes were brought down in the name of Allah....good or bad it happened...this is a real fear amongst many not a small group of bigots as was mentioned in the article. There are so many things that infuriate me about Muslim immigration and this is but one...many people from many backgrounds come here and are thankful...why can't you?

    August 6, 2010 at 2:14 am |
  13. 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

    August 6, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  14. Tim

    May I go to mecca and put up a cross,Should we let the japanese put up a monument to the kamikazes at the site of the USS arizona?Or how about an oven at a Jewish center.How tolerable Will others let me be?I'll just say it's for the good will of all humanity,I will convince everyone that it's not a victory marker,like the mosque by the temple mount...On the other hand...I know all construction has to be with union hands in New york.When it comes to being built...I'm sure Vinny and All his New York union Brothers will get right on it.(insert sarcasm here).The reason it won't get built is because the union construction worker are a little busy rebuilding at the 911 site.So good luck with all that!

    August 6, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  15. Amanda


    You also said "Why don't American muslims stand with American brothers and sisters to and condem 911 attack"? What exactly must they say for oyu to acknowledge that thye have indeed condem 911 attack? Must they say that 911 attack is is a product of Islam? if so, you're basically telling them to confess to a crime they didn't commit. Muslims are not coward to confess to somehting neither they not their religion is responsible for. It's as simple as that. Do you get it man? Most people seem to be lacking Logic 101.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:10 am |
  16. 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 activities. This is the USA right? First amendment? Freedom of religion?

    August 6, 2010 at 2:05 am |
    • NYer

      colin, how many times are you going to talk about the branch dividians. Yes if the Branch Dividians came out and said they wanted to build a monument in OK city, I think people would have a problem with that.

      September 6, 2010 at 2:22 am |
  17. Steve in St. Louis

    An early commenter chided Americans for not "reaching out" to the Muslims and starting a healing process. I don't think for a minute that it's up to us go to them. I'm sick of their overbearing fear tactics as they attempt to make people live their lives to suit them. If there's a bridge to built, let them lay the foundation. And let's hear the moderate Muslims condemn the 911 terrorists in public and on the airwaves. That would be a good start.

    As for building the Mosque, I'm fine with it being built, but at a GOOD distance from the Twin Tower site. I can't believe the congregation didn't have sense enough to think of that themselves.

    August 6, 2010 at 2:01 am |
  18. SJtR

    I want to build a pork bbq eatery next door to the mosque. because its my right to do so and its no more offensive or antagonizing then building a mosque at ground zero. any one who objects is a hater =0

    August 6, 2010 at 1:50 am |
    • Yvette

      LOL! I like the way you think

      August 6, 2010 at 4:27 am |
    • NYer

      I got a better one, I want to open a mohammad cartoon drawing school next to the cultural center. My building will be all glass so everyone will see free speech all day long. This is only fair if you use their own argument and it will premote discussion.

      September 6, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  19. FrankinNJ

    I am so sick of hearing about how intolerant Americans are because they oppose this mosque. You see the key to that sentance is THIS mosque. Build your mosque a few miles away. No one is saying you can not build a mosque, we are saying be as sensative as you wish other people were and build it elsewhere.
    The fact Muslims don't see the hurt of building a mosque so close to where muslim terrorists murdered 3000 people in cold blood speaks volumes about the selfish an uncaring world view of muslims. Really, hearing 'moderate' Muslims whine about people being uncaring about thgeir ethnic groups because they do not want a mosque near the site is the ultimate hypocracy, when they do not care about the grief of those unjustly murdered by followers of their religion.

    August 6, 2010 at 1:50 am |
  20. SB

    So...after reading these posts...I learned that all Muslims are Terrorists. I guess that means that all Priests are Pedophiles too. That's the greatest thing about stereotyping...it makes everything so simple...you don't have to actually think about things. Heaven forbid we actually accept that some priests are bad, but many are good...just like Muslims. Oh...but if that's the case, its not black and white and it means you actually have to get to know something about people who aren't like you to learn if which ones are good and which are bad. Yeah, stereotyping is easier...Terrorists and Pedophiles...lets just lock them all up!

    August 6, 2010 at 1:48 am |
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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.