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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. mayva

    I am a Muslim and I hate hate hate people who use their religion as a way to justify their acts! The people who are responsible for 9/11 are a bunch of cowards who ruined the face of Islam and are burning in hell is we speak. A small minority of radicals do not represent the entire Muslim community. I just wish and hope that people stop having so much hate for ALL Muslims and try to separate the minority of idiots who ruined it for the rest of the Muslim community. I love this country and the people of this country so I don't want to be put in the same category as a person who takes the Muslim religion and twist the words around just so they can justify their heinous acts. I believe that instead of building this prayer center, they should just make it a place where the Muslim community can build bridges with the American people. A place where people come together. Please stop all the hate, there is enough hate and violence in this world we don’t want to add to it.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  2. YouDopes

    Moslems, please stop posting under Christian names. We know your duplicity.

    Shooting in DC where by two moslems.... Mohammed and Malvo.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:21 am |
  3. Kevin

    "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."

    The US is not a Muslim/Islamic nation, our leaders should not in any way be expected to reach out to "Muslim Americans". "Christian Americans", "Hindu Americans", "Buddhist Americans" do not require this, why do Muslims? So tired of Muslims thinking they deserve this and that. The US was built on Christian values, trends, beliefs....NOT MUSLIM.. IF you do not like it you are more than welcome to find a place that does welcome those ideals, we don't AND WE WILL NOT ACCEPT THEM!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  4. Kevin

    "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."

    The US is not a Muslim/Islamic nation, our leaders should not in any way be expected to reach out to "Muslim Americans". "Christian Americans", "Hindu Americans", "Buddhist Americans" do not require this, why do Muslims? So tired of Muslims thinking they deserve this and that. The US was built on Christian values, trends, beliefs....NOT MUSLIM.. IF you do not like it you are more than welcome to find a place that does welcome those ideals, we don't AND WE WILLNOT ACCEPT THEM!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:19 am |
  5. John

    Is it just me, or has anyone else noticed that in almost, if not all, of the "hot spots" in the world today, muslims are right in there insitagating and causing havoc. Plus it's always the same story. "we want to be peacefull and loving but the west holds us down." "we want our palestinian bros and sisters to be happy (of course not in our islamic countries because they are the filth of the arab world) but the Jews won't let them cause they keep geting pissed when we lob rockets into Israel" It goes on and on and on and on and on. islam isn't a religion in the sense we think of. It's a political/social system that has borrowed/stolen ideas from Jewish Torah and Christian bible. By the way averagejoe, you posted a site where you can read muslim "condemnation" of 9/11. i went and looked. What a joke. Syrai condemns the slaughter the same as they comdemn the slaughter of gazans. In none to the condemnations is there any admittance of islamic involvement or ideology as being behind it. there sure is alot of I hope nobdy blames muslims though.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:17 am |
  6. Matt Core

    Muslims feel discrimination in America? Well good, until they stand up to the violence and degredation in their religion and culture there will continue to be no place for them in America. The Nazi's started as a fringe movement and wound up engaging the entire world in war and executing 6 million Jews. I don't think a bunch of uneducated Muslims from X-stan will or could pull something like that off, however I do think they could infect "our friendly" Muslims here in America and cause the same kind of bombing we see in Iraq everyday. I am not a bigot, racist, sexist or whatever the bleeding hearts will call me. I am concerned for the welfare of my life and that of my family's and neighboors'. So let the entireity feel the pressure and when they stand up to this insanity within their world I will welcome them into mine

    August 6, 2010 at 8:16 am |
  7. Stormy

    Lets not forget what happened to thousands of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor. However, in this case, we seem to have learned from the past in even allowing the mosque to be built. I do think its now up to the Muslim community to step up and accept some responsibility for their religion and its fringe groups and what they do and to do the right thing and back down here and allow America to heal. If they fail to do that its not fair for them to asl America to accept with open arms something thats psychologically damaging m juch less accept a Muslim community thats at not willing to show acceptance of our pain.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  8. Matt Core

    Muslims feel discrimination in America? Well good, until they stand up to the violence and degredation in their religion and culture there will continue to be no place for them in America. The Nazi's started as a fringe movement and wound up engaging the entire world in war and executing 6 million Jews. I don't think a bunch of uneducated Muslims from X-stan will or could pull something like that off, however I do think they could infect "our friendly" Muslims here in America and cause the same kind of bombing we see in Iraq everyday. I am not a bigot, racist, sexist or whatever the bleeding hearts will call me. I am concerned for the welfare of my life and that of my family's and neighboors'. So let the entireity feel the pressure and when they stand up to this insanity within their world I will welcome them into mine.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:11 am |
  9. Richard McCarthy

    Many muslims have missed another important point – it's not just building the mosque that's offensive, it's also the insenstivity of even asking if they can build it! Even asking is offensive. Did they expect we would welcome a mosque near ground zero with open arms? If they want to live, and worship, in America, they need to learn more about Americans! America is a fairly open society, but we're not stupid.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:06 am |
  10. JG

    I am a neither a Muslim, Christen or a Jew. The thing about the Muslim faith that bothers me is that there are so many Muslim countries and if such an incident had happed on their soil how would they have reacted?

    Countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran in sense don’t even allow religious building of other faiths to be built anywhere and never has there be a group of people protesting that. As a non believer of Islam you are not even allowed into some of the holy places of Islam, no mention about that from any of these groups that are championing the Mosque. You have to abide by their religious laws and there is no Constitution or the simple laws of humanity protecting you.
    Whatever the Muslims may believe about 9/11 there not been a heartfelt effort on the part of the Muslim faith to make a change towards acceptance of others faiths. The American Muslims might preach in American where none of their preaching is needed as they have a few non Muslims also supporting them, they need to put more effort into trying to preach to the Muslims in Islamic countries.

    I say that the Muslims should be allowed to build a Mosque anywhere they please, but in kind they should allow places of worship belong to other faiths to be built in any Islamic county or land.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:05 am |
  11. benson

    people who keep bringing up christianity seriously need to grow a brain. christianity doesnt support violence against non-believers, islam does. there's a big difference retards.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  12. John

    Do I have the right to build a ten foot fence around my property? Yes. But if I did, what would be the reaction of my neighbors? I'm guessing that they would disapprove. So, in the interest of being a good neighbor do I build a 10 foot fence or do I look for an alternative that would please both me and my neighbors? Of course if I'm not interested in being a good neighbor...

    And to open on 9/11!? Shame.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:01 am |
  13. django

    ...let them build it..we will know where to find them when time comes

    August 6, 2010 at 7:59 am |
  14. Mohammed

    Mosque builders,
    Your attemp at trying to build the bridges will backfire. I am scared for me and my family too....but the more I try to apologize to these people, the worst it gets. Remember, these vocal opponents have considered themselves very superior to us and the fact that USA cannot bring primitive Afghans and Iraqis into submission with their massive weapons is increasing their frustrations. They will take it out on you. Please keep a low profile and don't be fooled by empty slogans of equal rights and freedom. Please read their history and be careful. I feel like a Jew living in Germany in early 1940's.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  15. John

    "...Muslims should not back down simply because a vocal minority was complaining"

    Spoken like a true Muslim hypocrite. Don't listen to any vocal minority unless it's the very vocal Muslim minority.

    You have every right to build this mosque, just like a KKK group has every right to march in Harlem or a radical Baptist church has the right to protest at Marine funerals. That doesn't mean you should actually do it, unless of course your goal is to piss people off an increase tensions.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:49 am |
  16. Josh

    In NYC, two blocks can be an entire world away.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:47 am |
    • Kevin

      It's 500 feet, two blocks is two blocks regardless of where it is.

      August 6, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  17. Jeffrey Allen Miller NY

    Muslims and gays have something in common here... they "want" equal rights/protection etc and the muslims in this case just want to congregate in this building whereas gays want the freedom to marry. Both "wants" are generally against popular opinion.

    What I ask of both groups is: What have you done for "me" lately? Me also equals any common taxpayer. Where are those groups rallying for the good of all? Where are they rebuilding our failed (westernized) public education system that benefits all citizens? Where are they innovating in the manufacturing segment to create professional jobs - again for all of us, not just their own special interest groups?

    Why should I support either cause here, when I see absolutely no benefit to me outside of their own "want"?

    August 6, 2010 at 7:40 am |
  18. Ali (Eddie)

    there are radicals in all religions.. it's sad.. then there are the ignorant who have no knowledge in the history of religion.. they just talk out of their butt.. remember how this country was made.. nobody has a right to critize anyone else's ideologies or customs.. respect is important – your religion is not better than mine, and vice-versa.. and the fact that we're all human beings, and we live and hurt the same.. wake up and be tolerant, and stop being ignorant, and educate yourselves.. thoroughly think what you're about to say, or write, before putting foot in mouth.. compensation for being a good human is inside of you, and it's not the judgement thrown at you by another human.. in the end, we're all brothers and sisters..

    August 6, 2010 at 7:36 am |
  19. J C

    This article should have read, "America Muslims assumed wrongly that the United States believes in Freedom of Religion"

    August 6, 2010 at 7:36 am |
  20. Robert

    Rightly or wrongly, the onus is on the Muslim community to build bridges in America.

    If their leaders are not proactive about this, the community should take stock of what it is that their leaders and organisations are doing, and make changes where necessary.

    As the Muslim community appears (from the outside) to be impenetrable and unfathomable, they really need to work on their image (much like the Mormons have done in the last 50 years).

    You can never totally erase ignorance and prejudice but you can reduce it a lot if you work at it hard enough and long enough.

    August 6, 2010 at 7:35 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.