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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. Steven Durham

    Let me tell you something right now: there will be no mosque or islamic community center going up near Ground Zero. I don't care what permit and permission this group of muslims were given from the City of New York. The American people will fight it all the way. I can't believe the audacity of these muslims to think they'd be able to build this center for terrorism recruitment without a huge fight from those of us who believe the area around "Ground Zero" should be held in sacred memory to those who were murdered on September 11, 2001 by foreign muslim's.

    Islam is a threat to western civilization and we must stop muslims from spreading sharia law in the United States and elsewhere. They've already invaded much of Europe and Canada. It's time for America to stop walking on egg shells, being too politically correct and not speaking out against islam for fear of hurting someones feelings.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:50 am |
    • Angie

      Steve, I agree with your passion, but I think it is misguided. True freedom allows any law abiding citizen to do whatever they want to do (within the law) EVEN IF it offends someone else. What if we had to stop worshiping at our own churches because it offends someone? That would not be the free country that America strives to be!!

      August 6, 2010 at 9:13 am |
  2. Jimmy

    I find it sad that when it comes to the consitution you are willing to bend and make exceptions for this matter and yet proudly parade it in your convience in others. As for the remark about the mall closing to honor 9/11 I was shocked to hear it...so i researched and found that it is not true...surprise surpise!! heres the link: http://www.snopes.com/rumors/photos/martyr.asp
    Just another example of a person acting before they think.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:49 am |
  3. Slight Correction

    To daniel: John Allen Muhammed, the D.C. Sniper, was in fact a Muslim. He joined the Nation of Islam in 1987.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:47 am |
  4. Derek

    Jesus is Lord of all!!
    You all shall soon see.
    Be careful of the words you speak!
    Judgement will be upon you.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:46 am |
  5. lisa

    They have us doing exactly what they intended us to do..fight among ourselves and eventually they will take over...

    August 6, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  6. CityJailer

    They will have that built before the Americans have the first brick layed for the New World Trade Center. The Americans should have had that Tower built ASAP, in the shape of a giant bullseye with a saying...GO AHEAD AND TRY AGAIN.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:40 am |
  7. Trisha

    This is ridiculous that people in these days still divide one another and make assumptions about one's religion. I am a Muslim, a close friend of mine was nearly killed in 9/11 so many of you are telling me that it's muslims that agree with this behavior? Racism is still practiced in many areas in the south many whom are Christians will we profile every Christian to be a racist? many Muslims were killed on 9/11 not only Christians, Jews or Catholics, so why focus on Muslims? I am shocked to know that many people are still ignorant about the entire situation there are radicals from mostly every religion no need to blame the true followers of a religion every religion in this world has a foundation of peace. Not one word in the Quran says one must kill neither does in the Bible or any other Holy book of that matter. Building a Mosque within proximity of the incident does seem a bit confusing to me because there are mosques in the city and to think that it would be untouchable to terrorists, they don't care they kill their own people what justice will this do?

    August 6, 2010 at 8:38 am |
  8. Chip

    Blaming an entire community is not ridiculous. Practically the entire Muslim world, even in some of our so-called ally countries, was shown dancing in the streets after the towers fell in case anybody needed a reminder.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  9. digital

    I wonder what the outcry would be if Christians started building huge churches across the street from abortion clinics?

    I understand that they have the right to be able to put one there, but I have to agree that this is just putting salt in the wounds.

    What a show of compassion and understanding it would be if the Muslim leadership announced that 'Although we do believe that we have the right to worship just as anyone else does, we have come to believe that a time of healing should be observed before placing a Mosque so close to a tragic site indelibly linked to extremists'

    That being said, it is definately a Muslim practice to put Mosques at the site of victories. This has been happening for years and while this may or may not be the case here, choosing a different location would definately send a message.

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

    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..

    ###############################################################################################
    Well said JR. Well said !!!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  11. Jerry

    For those touting America as land of the "free"... if you buy into that and think you're actually free your problems are only just beginning.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:36 am |
  12. sacdaddy

    This is unbelievable. Obviously everyone practicing the Muslim religion is not at fault for 9/11 but what a slap in the face to the residents of NYC and the families who lost loved ones on that day. Put the GD mosque somewhere else, that location is WAY too close for comfort, have some respect.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:33 am |
  13. AM

    This comment section is a cesspool of ignorance and hatred. The same ignorance that bred so many heinous acts throughout history is displayed here and it should be sickening to anyone who calls themselves a true American. How can anyone stand by the constitution and what it means and be so limiting of freedom? Telling other people that they can't build something where they like because of their ethnicity is bigotry through and through. Condemning any group for the actions of a few is ridiculous and you should know better.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:30 am |
  14. Tom

    The 'community center' is said to have a swimming pool. Will the rules of the pool be the ones common in America or imported from Saudi Arabia? Will women have to be veiled to be in the pool?

    August 6, 2010 at 8:29 am |
  15. Reality

    As per the following, Homeland Security should close all US mosques:

    Muslim convert journalist Stephen Schwartz, American Jewish Committee terrorism expert Yehudit Barsky, and U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer have all separately testified to a growing radical Islamist Wahhabi influence in U.S. mosques, financed by extremist groups. According to Barsky, 80% of U.S. mosques are so radicalized.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:28 am |
    • Pagozz

      And...Please people, also get informed on what has been discovered in Minneapolis, MN about the Somali community and their mosque, how it was actually a rally-point for young Somalis with refugee status and benefits (plenty of benefits paid by our taxes as payback support to the troops in Somalia) getting recruited for "training camps" of fundamentalist islamic terrorist group. You can also check out the OFAC (government) database...There is a company called BAKARAAT INTERNATIONAL right on Riverside (in the middle of the Somali community) in Minneapolis that OFAC has repeatedly marked as affiliated to Taliban, Al-Quaeda, terrorism funding. They are probably keeping an eye on them...I hope so, because I cannot believe that name has been there for no less than 3 years and nothing is done...Just do it, go to the Office for control of foreign assets (OFAC) government website, put the name and check it out. So, another very matter of factual evidence that Mosques are often used by CERTAIN LEADERS of the radical Islam society to recruit and educate...But about what exactly? Fine, not all moslem are radicals? I believe it and I know many of them who criticize their own clerics. I do and I pay my respects to them...But please no Victory-Cordoba-Mosque over there...Show the mercy you say you are capable of. get together with other religious and/or cultural groups and build a TRUE COMMUNITY CENTRE FOR EVERYONE TO ENJOY. Peace out.

      August 6, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  16. YouDopes

    Snowdog74 When white people bomb abortion clinics do we get to ban churches from being built here?
    ------------------------------------------
    When white people commit crimes they are treated as crimes and the perpetrator is send to prison and punished to the maximum.

    When moslems commit crimes, you hear "llahu akbaar", their victory cry at every radical mosque.

    Thats the difference!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:27 am |
  17. Peanut

    I can say as one who is married to a Muslim-American (American-Muslim- however you want it) that the religion itself is indeed flawed. Armed with clauses instructing its followers to kill infidels and to never change the text- the scripts are quite frankly outdated and that is what makes them dangerous. Especially when you have narrow minded idiots like these guys following them.
    I must say that I find most non-violent Muslims to be cowards- end of discussion. For the ones here, there is no excuse for them to stand by while the soldiers who protect them, are out in the battle field dyeing to their brothers in religion. Islam NEEDS to be revised- this isn’t the world of the Persian empire anymore!
    As for the ground-zero project this is an insult and a symbol of the corruptive influence of Islam. Nothing good will come of this- even if it is two blocks away. For all those who say that only the bigots are speaking out against it, I dare you to take your energies and try to build a church near a mosque in the Middle East. Good luck with that- might I suggest you run after proposing the idea? This is not a level playing field and we really shouldn't be playing fair- that goes for this issue and the war...

    August 6, 2010 at 8:24 am |
    • AM

      To those saying that we shouldn't build a mosque in NY because if we were in a muslim country they wouldn't let us build a church...

      Is this really what you want America to be? I agree that a church built there would not be allowed however is that the same level of hatred that you want to exist in America? I don't know about you but I'm hoping that we progress to a slightly less hateful world, not a more hateful one. America has fallen behind in many things, but don't make it loose its vision of a free country... our taxes are taking enough of that freedom already.

      August 6, 2010 at 8:37 am |
  18. FromNJ

    Here are a group of people that issue Fatwas of death against cartoonists and cartoon TV producers for depicting something that THEY believe should not be depicted. Yet, they are totally insensitive to the emotions and pleading of so many people hurt, directly or indirectly, by 9/11. 9/11 no matter how you look at it (radical fundementalists or not) is inexorably linked with Islam.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:23 am |
  19. LoopsFroot

    I think this whole thing is going to keep the division line firmly between pro- and anti-Mosque people. Personally, I think that a 20 mile radius surrounding Ground Zero, should be considered a non-religious zone. No Churches, Mosques or any House of Worship. I truly believe that this Mosque will be subjected to vandalism on a regular basis.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:22 am |
  20. Chris

    We are NOT a "vocal minority".. if you put it to a real democratic vote the American people would OVERWHELMINGLY oppose this thing.

    JUST BUILD IT IN A DIFFERENT PLACE! THAT'S ALL PEOPLE WANT!!!!!

    August 6, 2010 at 8:21 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.