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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. Pagozz

    Truly...Of all the places? If it is true – and surely it is – that the 3000 people killed were from several different cultures and creed, then you need a multicultural or multireligion center there or nothing at all. Again, this is the land of the FREE, fine, but why THERE? Can someone answer me please? I just want to know why that location is so important for the Moslem community...I am not from NY but that has to be prime real estate, costly as hell...So...Why was that place chosen for the mosque? thanks to those who will care to let me know.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:34 am |
  2. Just Truth

    Well at least this guy in the article actually seems to have a clue about other people's feelings and how this could be perceived as a not so great idea. Seen so many stories on this site from people that foolishly cant understand why there may be a problem with it.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:33 am |
  3. Wayne

    If I were to propose building something and the people displayed anger and a great dislike over the idea, wouldn't it make good sense to leave it alone and forget about it.... go some where else? If you or your ideas are not wanted... why push it?

    August 6, 2010 at 7:32 am |
  4. chris

    If they want to build a place to pray, go to Pakistan and build one! The ending comments of issues going beyond the borders sound like a threat. We need to have a serious DEPORTATION month and clear all the aliens out!!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 7:27 am |
  5. Pagozz

    1. To Roland: hey ! You are incorrect. I am from Italy (FIRENZE) and I can tell you that mosques in Italy are few and opening one is ALWAYS a big controversy with a lot of opposition. Muslim faith IS NOT seen friendly in my country, for obvious historical and cultural reasons.
    2. John Toradze, I agree 100% with you, Islam radicals praise the construction of place of their worship over the ruins of a defeated enemy (the infidel).
    3. This ground Zero mosque idea is salt on a wound that has not healed. I understand freedom of worship and not condemning at random...But the attack was yet perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists and yes the response of American Moslem was weak and full of "buts"...If what happened on 9/11 is embarassing to non-violent moslems, I understand, but does not make it right to choose that particular location
    4. Are we saying that in the whole NYC real estate market there's no other location for this wonderful "community center"?
    5. Why not build a laic or a "diversity community center" INSTEAD.
    Conclusion: bad bad bad idea to let this be done.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:20 am |
    • roland choo

      To Pagozz,

      I do not mean a lot, what I mean was simple which is the intolerance of Islam:

      O.K, let me correct my statement, there are some Musjids in Italy (R u satisfy now?) and in fact there are Musjids where minority Muslims reside in every part of the world, can u give me any exception? I would like to hear from u on this issue, feel free to correct me if I am wrong and cite example please if u can .........

      On the flip of a coin, there is no place of worship (ZERO) for ANY faith in numerous Arab countries like Saudi, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, oh I heard there is a Church in Dubai (very weird exception) possibly due to the large presence of foreigners. By the way, I was in Saudi for exactly 1 year, I know.

      I still love (Moslem – Islam) as a human being.

      Cheers.

      August 8, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  6. dublnirish

    "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."

    There is your problem right there. The response of the Muslim community worldwide is that if threatened, young muslims will strap a bomb to themselves and blow up a target., even American born muslims. Right there in plain English from the head of Muslims in the US. It is pervasive throughout the Muslim community and that is why there is such backlash. Muslims, listen carefully...change the way you approach conflict and maybe you will be able to progress within society, police your own people and let them know that bombing retaliation does not work and will only mean harder times for the rest of the muslim population. It's sad that this is the response that is automatically assumed. It is not something that most Americans would think of as retaliation and there is the difference.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:19 am |
    • NYer

      You know you have a point, why say such a thing. It would be like someone who wanted to open a store on a street and the town said they did not want the store on that block so the owner said that guys were going to kill themselves if the store was not allowed. There is zero reasons this building should be located there. Put if a few miles away and nobody would care.

      September 6, 2010 at 2:41 am |
  7. larvadog

    It's always interesting to see how some people can take ignorance, bigotry, and hate to the level of an art form. I certainly hope no one decides to take matters into his own hands and do something really stupid. That would not benefit anyone.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:17 am |
  8. DRKLotus

    I love how this Ibrahim Hooper declares that all these protestors against the Community Center/Mosque are nothing but bigots and anti-muslim. Some of these people lost loved ones in the 9/11 attacks, and many probably do not hate muslims as a whole, however, putting up a mosque just 2 blocks from ground zero with a mosque is completely rediculous and a slap in the face to those victims. It is like the muslims are saying we have conquered this territory and are raising a temple in worship to Ala for our glorious victory. I have seen a few posts that state the Muslim American leaders are criticizing the attacks and those radical muslims, I say BS. All they are doing in reality is denying it in the media while in worship they are praising Ala. I hope this doesn't sound anti-muslim because it isn't what I am aiming for but Muslim American's are Muslims first, American's second. Back to the Community center/Mosque, I hope this Hooper realizes that if this Community Center/Mosque is built then there will be violence, and blood will be on his hands for not listening to the protests, for many bigots do not solve problems with words....they solve it with violence and pain. These people who are planning on building this Center, whether they are Muslim; Catholic; Methodist; or Agnostic, need to rethink this and listen to the protestors. The majority of Americans don't want it there, so don't put it there. It is going to get defaced, destroyed, and defiled, causing more anger and hate...put it somewhere else. I have a suggestion on where to put it....however tall the towers were adding each tower together, place the center that far away, honoring the site and the people who died.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:14 am |
  9. Will

    There is just enough religion in the world to make men hate, but not enough to make them love.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:08 am |
  10. M. A. D.

    I am a native New Yorker!
    I am a vet and served my country.
    I am still ANGRY!
    I AM AN AMERICAN!!
    That being said, I see and feel the anger felt by New Yorkers, in the fact that a religion (which represents) is being placed near an area that is hollow grounds to all who shed a tear for all who were lost on that ugly day.
    We, as a nation, do not send out our people to kill innocents just to prove that there is no limit to our dedication to our Prophet.
    That is just an example that the Muslim leadership MUST come to term with. THIS is what America sees.
    To think that you can use our laws against its very own citizens and claim victory, shall be a hollow win with more negative effects than can be imagined.
    Even I still cry every time I remember the sights and sounds of that day.
    Now is the time for the Muslim leaders to show what the Prophet would really wish. I would say that HE would show the understanding and love that is what God wishes from all of us.
    Don't claim victory, use this as a chance to spread the healing and love!

    August 6, 2010 at 7:03 am |
  11. JJ

    All you Muslim, it will be easier if you just take your mosque to Afghanistan and Pakistan, where you still blow each others up. leave America alone.America lets walked up, read the last part of this article: in response some young Muslims blow something up or blow themselves up," he warned. "That is the worst-case scenario."... Can we see here this is the only thing they can do, that mean if we opposed to build this mosque their will try to blow us up. Deport them all back to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  12. wildman

    you cannot be a muslim and an american. they are mutually exclusive concepts. those who claim to be are fifth column liars. if the rags go ahead with this filthy construction, someone will stop it...why not do everyone a big favor and go live somewhere else...get out of the country...and don't tell me you were born here...who cares? you are the enemy, plain and simple and i hope to wake one morning and hear that you are all dead or gone.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:58 am |
  13. TriumphGuy

    This is Islam building her church on the graves of the people she murdered – this is how this will be seen by Americans. The Islamic fundamentalist will rejoice and praise Allah when this mosque if finished – this will further enrage Americans. There is nothing good that is going to come from this – just more trouble.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:55 am |
  14. Allen Bender

    Do not forget that entire communities of muslems all in Afganasan, Pakastan, and other muslem contries celebrated the tragedy. Do not give them more reason to celebrate this tragedy again.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:49 am |
  15. OutVoted

    I am an American christian white male. I only say that to show where my viewpoint is coming from. I understand the pain of what allowing that mosque to be built will mean to many people. But what hurts even more is to Know that nine years after the 9/11 attacks we are still giving the radical terrorists what they want. Do you people not get what they hate most about us. They hate that we stand for freedom. Freedom of speech, Freedom of religioun, The right to the pursuit of happiness. They hate that we offer an alternative or an escape from there terrifying rule over there people. By choosing to try and deny the building of this mosque you are giving terrorists what they want, and trampling our constitution for them. Congratulations, your doing there work for them, and you are allowing them to hurt this country 9 years after 1 major attack. What happens to our rights if we get hit again. Do we then give up the right to vote. How about the right to carry arms. When will you all stop doing radicals jobs?

    August 6, 2010 at 6:32 am |
  16. Dan

    There are many radical groups in the United States that openly display hate against mankind, and I don't believe those who are part of the Muslim community are one of them. Unfortunately there is a minority who use its teaching as an excuse to persecute anyone who doesn’t agree with their philosophy. It wasn’t the Muslim faith that created this unfortunate catastrophe; it was a small group of individuals who happened to be Muslim.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:19 am |
  17. Spoonless Eddie

    "There has been a mosque in that neighborhood for 27 years," Hooper asserted.
    .....................................................................

    Good. Then go there.

    This building will never be built. I cannot imagine that the families, friends and neighbors of the victims will allow it, no matter how many gov committees approve it. As they should not.

    August 6, 2010 at 6:05 am |
  18. Ahmed

    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 5:53 am |
  19. Tom

    If they want to build it, fine. However, the site should be a non denominational place of worship so anyone who is interested can use it...

    August 6, 2010 at 5:45 am |
  20. Moe

    To allow that Mosque to be built there might be the ultimate act of forgiveness but I don't know if in a real world people are capable of that kind of forgiveness. Isreal is a good indicator to me of what people will do. I say this is just a bad idea.

    August 6, 2010 at 5:43 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.