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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. kendra

    if you have not read the koran, you dont get it. if you do not know about sharia law you dont get it. "moderate" muslims live in a catch 22,they cannot speak out against the more radical elements. the religion and law are intertwined, and to not accept this is punishable. read "cruel and usual punishment" by nonie darwish and then see just where it all stands.....and reassess the "peaceful" description of Islam.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:33 am |
    • Ahmed

      Kendra, this is actually not accurate. Muslims have to speak out against terrorism and we do. In Sharia and Quran it is a major sin to harm any innocent human being. Of course we all know that killing one’s self in Islam is one of the only sins that can never be forgiven. It’s very clear in Quran and Sunna. There is no heaven for someone who kills themself no matter what the reason. The problem is it does not grab headlines. Only terrorists seem to be put on the front page.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:50 am |
  2. ej

    wasn't it yamamoto who said after the pearl harbor attack of 12/7/1941,,,"I fear that all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve"-beware !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 5:19 am |
  3. GodIsForImbeciles

    The very notion that a mosque should be built at or near Ground Zero is the apotheosis of arrogance. Why not name it the "9/11 Victory Mosque," because THAT'S JUST WHAT IT IS!

    The stupidity of NY for allowing this is unimaginable.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:06 am |
  4. Name Here

    Long story short, Mohammed married an old woman to assume power over her small caravan, he went to Yathrib and raised an army (through some unsavory means), declared his intentions of taking Mecca (who had wronged him because he tried to convert them and they kicked him out), called God's angels to the battlefield to murder his enemies, then sacced a tribal outpost(Mecca) which was the gathering for many tribes of worship throughout the region. The Nation of Islam was manufactured from the killing of those who felt it was their right to worship as they saw fit and defended it to the death.

    Does that at all sound familiar? The twin towers were a monument to domestic and international trade, a gathering place in a country that believes all people have the choice to decide who and what they will pray to. A country that, to many, is a Christian nation, where Christianity views Jesus as the son of God, yet another blight in the eye of Allah, for Mohammed was his only prophet.

    The Nation of Islam is not of peace with non-muslims, it is only of peace within itself. Christianity tells it's followers to pray for the non-believers and their salvation. Hinduism says that it doesn't matter what they believe, just that there actions will speak for themselves. Buddhism just smiles and all is okay. That is peace, that is understanding, that is progress. The Quran gives us the option to kill or convert, not to forgive, not to forget, not to let be. There is no room in a progressive world for such backward thinking. There is a reason that the Muslim world has been caught up in wars and bloodshed since the beginning. They cannot co-exist because it was never accounted for. Power is the only word that it knows. Peace comes after all have been converted or killed, when we are all one people under Allah.

    By the way, it should be noted that NO CHRISTIAN CHURCHES ARE ALLOWED IN MECCA OR MEDINA. So you say you want to turn your gathering center into a victory mosque in NYC? (repetition throughout Muslim history is what calls it a victory mosque, not me) So get the Saudis to put a giant cathedral in Mecca and maybe we can talk! Or hell, show some compassion and give the Jews back their, once, most precious monument which you stole! It is a give-take world after all...

    August 6, 2010 at 5:00 am |
  5. rockemsockemrobots

    Mmmm, pretty much a bunch of Right retards here. Without question this group of American Muslims are entitled to build this mosque 2 blocks from ground zero or even on ground zero. These individuals did no harm to anyone. Leave your anger for truly dangerous people like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and Glenn Mellon Head Beck.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:59 am |
  6. Stop the Hate

    There are over 1.4 Billion Muslims in the world. So what some people are saying is that there can never be a crock or a nut job who calls himself Muslim? Muslim jails must somehow not exist? What about Timothy McVeigh or David Koresh or people who bomb abortion clinics? Why aren’t Christians going out and “killing all of them” as someone posted. Terrorism is against every fiber of Islam and I’m part of a political group that makes a strong effort to send that message but the news and media are a lot of times working against us. As far as the location of the Mosque, there were many Muslims who use to work there who also died in the attacks. They frequently use to pray in makeshift Mosques inside the buildings. If any religious centers should be built, it should be a Mosque, a Church and a Synagogue in top of the Freedom tower itself. That is what America is about. Giving in to Bigotry is exactly what the Terrorists want us to do.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:53 am |
  7. Becky

    This just seems like a slap in the face to our country. Thousands of Americans died at the hands of Muslims who based this terrible act upon their faith. And to honor their faith at the site of 9/11 is plain and simple disrespect.
    I know that it may seem discriminatory and unfair, and yes, they DO have the right to build on their private property. And yes there are many american muslims who are not extremists. But it does not change the fact that many precious American lives were lost at the hands of a religion that breeds extremists.
    I agree with this article, and for the record I'm an atheist.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:50 am |
  8. Yvette

    BTW, we have a Memorial site at Pearl Harbor! I would expect the same at ground zero. If the Muslim Americans are truly peaceful they would stand against the mosque being built and join your fellow American citizen against this eye sore. You would unite with the majority of N.Y. and simply build elsewhere. If this mosque is built, you can count on more racism against your culture! If you stand with us, that would surely help mend the wounds that remain wide open. Show us how peaceful you are and stop talking about it!! The insensitivity of it all is mind blowing not to mention morally disgusting!

    August 6, 2010 at 4:42 am |
  9. sf-cali

    islam can never be trusted... it is the devil's religion... wolf in sheep's clothing...
    from its core.... christians and muslims are like oil and water
    always has always will...

    August 6, 2010 at 4:31 am |
  10. Yvette

    I'm willling to be at least one terrorist group is funding this...when you find the paper trail then, peaceful Muslims, will you stand with the majority in N.Y.??

    August 6, 2010 at 4:23 am |
    • Shantal

      Comments like this make me lose faith in the readers of CNN.

      August 6, 2010 at 4:43 am |
    • Yvette

      Research it. Then get back to me.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:41 am |
  11. Yvette

    One question? Who the Hell is funding this?

    August 6, 2010 at 4:20 am |
  12. CitizenOne

    Hmmm......so we want to deny the rights of American Muslims, but give all sorts of rights to people who are in this country illegally? It amazes me how diverse we can be with our opinions. It is absolutely crazy that so many people are worried about profiling an ethnic group when it comes to illegal citizens, then they turn around and profile another ethnic group that is here legally and want to prevent their rights. Got to LOVE freedom. It is GREAT. It does have its drawbacks, but what can you do about it? It is strange that anyone would EXPECT to be able to excercise religious freedom in another country other than United States. We kinda forged our national identity on Religous Freedom, but now we want to persecute a group of people for their Relligious Beliefs. Amazing how we contradict ourselves to suit our own beliefs.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:19 am |
    • CitizenOne

      I am a bit suspicious about the additional space being utilized by the Mosque, but that doesn't prevent me from knowing that it is their right. Realistically, if the area they want to build is zoned for that particular development, then the City can't deny them building it. If they did deny it, they would eventually lose a costly lawsuit and the building would be built there. You can't deny an entity the right to development on Religious Affiliation anywhere in this country.

      August 6, 2010 at 4:27 am |
  13. FleeceMe

    Noble 9 – "if we let them build the sand castle with us they will become more invested in our community"? Sure they will – they will send their kids to law school, and begin to infiltrate our legal and political system, change the laws, until we won't be able to say the Pledge of Allegiance anymore in schools, or enjoy Christmas. Yes, I do think they will become more invested in our communities with negative outcomes for Christians, Jews, and everyone else in between except them. No other culture has immigrated into this country with a belief system that centers around destroying infidels.

    August 6, 2010 at 4:16 am |
  14. Thomas

    The American Muslims can say //whatever// they want, and I as an American could care less what the world or foreign Muslims think about this issue. The very fact they wanted to have the grand opening on September 11, 2011, just shows how absolutely insensitive and inflammatory they are with regards to an AMERICAN tragedy. This is like the Israelis who do things to inflame others and then cry about antisemitism. I'm glad this is not being allowed to be built, it has nothing to do with rights. They should declare the entire area a historic/memorial site and therefore //any// building has to be approved as to aesthetics and appropriateness to the site. That will end this incredible nonsense!

    August 6, 2010 at 4:01 am |
  15. joel gibson

    You build it and it will be torn down, How Dare you ! You like blowing things up and we like blowing you up ! I am surprised we don't get along better ? lol

    August 6, 2010 at 3:54 am |
  16. FleeceMe

    Islam is the fastest growing religion (cult) in the world. They out birth us 5-1. Stop throwing out Mexicans for illegal immigration – at least they birth Christian children. Mormons and Mexicans are our only hope of keeping America from being taken over by Islam. Muslims leave their third world countries, to come the best country on the planet, to birth Mohammeds to the 10th power, and worship God 1.0. And those insufferable Burka's! Just what is under those things. It's like living with Ringwraiths.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:45 am |
  17. Mike

    Well, I'm pretty much a non-believer in religion. I hate all religion equally. I could care less on any religion, but I do believe that putting a new mosque or expanding an older one near Ground Zero is disrespectful. Maybe 50 to 100 years from now, ok. Not a big deal. Muslims, you would have to understand the deep wound that your brethrens have put upon us. It will take a very long time before it can be forgiven. Think about it this way, it would be like if the "Crusaders" were here today and devastated per say the Mecca in Saudi Arabia and then 10 yrs down the road, the Christians in the area wanted to expand their church which happens to be only couple blocks away from their "Ground Zero". That is definitely looks and feels like it is to salt the wound and give an insult to the people that have lost families and friends there. I know that it is quite unfair and what not but that is how us humans are. And if y'all think about it, Christianity, Judiasm, and Islam are from the same origins. They just split to different ideas along the way. Watch, God, Allah, Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed are probably playing a game of Risk and laughing at our stupid a.s.s.e.s for the all the quarrels we are having over this.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:36 am |
  18. davidh

    The above was for Americano

    August 6, 2010 at 3:22 am |
  19. Noble9

    If you let other kids help you build your sand castle, they make it better and want to protect it. If you exclude them, they just want to smash your castle.

    Wouldn't another mosque in NYC just make the Muslim community more invested in the welfare of the city?

    August 6, 2010 at 3:19 am |
  20. FleeceMe

    I want you to think about the beautiful, smart, well educated, hard working couple, who woke up on the morning of 911, had a cup of coffee, went to work, and then had to make a decision whether to burn to death or jump from the Twin Tower – holding hands? What do you think they would want? Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims, and many are being trained within the Mosques. They out birth us 5 to 1 and will take this country from within. Islam is not a religion, it is a cult.

    August 6, 2010 at 3:15 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.