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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. In America

    I will have no complaints with the Muslims building the Mosque at ground zero when Russia allows them to build one next to the Monastery of Sergiev Posad.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  2. In America

    If this country has less and less to offer its citizens, why are so many Muslims flooding our gates and coming to our country? What is wrong with other Nations? I would like to see Muslims flooding into Russia... maybe build a mosque next to the St. Sophia cathedral in Novgorod .

    August 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  3. Cromarte

    Everyone talks about Muslims and their rights. How about Americans and NYers rights and being sensitive to them. Explain to me how putting the mosque farther away from this sacred site hurts Muslims? Stop being so inconsiderate and just build somewhere else.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  4. AGeek

    The real criminal here is organized religion. My god can beat up your god. Here's a news flash; if there is a god, he's quite likely to be downright disgusted with how you hypocrites are acting in his name. Get over yourselves and stop justifying your atrocities on a religion. Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, ...you're all the same. A long history of vile atrocities committed in the name of a god who's supposedly all-loving. You make me ill.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:42 am |
  5. AGeek

    The real criminal here is organized religion. My god can beat up your god. Here's a news flash; if there is a god, he's downright disgusted with how all you hypocrites are acting in his name. Get over yourselves and stop justifying your atrocities on a religion. Muslim, Catholic, Jewish, ...you're all the same. A long history of vile atrocities committed in the name of a god who's supposedly just and loving. You all make me ill.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  6. In America

    Islam is the religion that will bring about World Wars.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:38 am |
  7. Interesting

    "Vocal minority" Ok Americans they are basically telling you to shut the hell up and take it. It is TIME for the American people to shut NY down until this is abandoned. But this will never happen because Americans are a bunch of sissy ass losers. They will complain and cry...but they will never do anything to change anything.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:30 am |
  8. In America

    Repost: The Muslim community just doesn't get it. The majority of Americans could probably care less that they are building a mosque.. but to build a 'shrine' two blocks from the WTC Site where 3000 innocents lost their lives in the name of Islam is dangerous. The American people are at a breaking point. Don't provoke us! Build it much further away and they won't have as much of an issue.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:28 am |
  9. In America

    The Muslim community just doesn't get it. The majority of Americans could probably care less that they are building a mosque.. but to build a 'shrine' two blocks from the WTC Site where 3000 innocents lost their lives in the name of Islam is dangerous. The American people are at a breaking point. Don't provoke us! Build it much further away and they won't have as much of an issue.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:26 am |
  10. tony

    New Yorkers (Americans) this continent was not founded by muslims it was built by Christians, for Christian families.....if ya gotta problem with that...then join your brothers on the other side of the globe. Dont allow your heritage and values to be dillluted by those who wear the same banner as those that committed the 911 crimes.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  11. Lauren

    "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."

    Perfectly said. In NO way to do I support any legislation opposing this Mosque. That would totally contradict the freedom of religion we so enjoy and SO take for granted in this country.

    However, this will in no way help anyone heal. In fact, it makes me question what kind of selfish and backward group of people think it's a good idea to demand that people somehow open their minds and hearts to something that was a driving factor in one of the most murderous and tragic events in our country's history by building an enormous structure that will only fuel the bitterness.

    So Mr. Hooper, I think the real question here is who is the *real* bigot?? The person in whose wounds you are smearing salt, or the person who's crass and callous attitude insists that we just move on and accept something that was used as justification to kill thousands of our husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and friends.

    If you want to bring heeling and make peace with the American people, forcing this is a sure path to failure. Maybe it's time to stop being delusional, get off your high horse, and wake up.

    This really makes me loose respect for the Muslim faith.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  12. EvanO

    Forgive and forget 9/11?? That's not something you forgive. It's something you remember with pain.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:21 am |
  13. Tom S

    The Muslim community should show respect for the US and build elsewhere.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  14. Bushpig61

    Some of you people need to look up the word "taqiyya". "Let us smile to the face of some people while our hearts curse them." It's the practice of lying to your enemy while plotting their destruction. So how do you know when you're talking to a "good Muslim" or a "bad Muslim"? You want to take that chance? I sure don't.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:14 am |
  15. Bryan

    What happens when you see a guy with a turbin on his head boarding your plane? Everyone thinks of 9/11 and what if's start being thought. The samething happens with this mosque. How are you 100% sure that no one visiting the mosque is a terrorist? The speculations start, as they should. It's a faceless enemy, so for many people, all Muslims are suspects.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:08 am |
  16. Angie

    I do not agree with Muslims and I believe that Islam is wrong and that some who practice Islam are dangerous (as with the 9/11 terrorists).....HOWEVER, all that being said, I believe that anyone should be free to build a place of worship anywhere they want, as long as they lawfully own the land and follow the building laws. I may not agree and it may even offend me, but I would want the same opportunity afforded to myself if MY place of worship were to offend some else!

    August 6, 2010 at 9:07 am |
  17. Bobington

    Wow americans are stupid. You want your freedom and you always complain about the seperation of church and state and now, when due to this same seperation of church and state the city can not stop the building of a mosque at this location, you still complain. They have the freedom to build this mosque here if they want and we have to right to stop them. How would stopping them prove anything, other than showing that we want to control who we give freedom to and who we don't. This country was based partially on religious freedom and now in the name of patriotism you want to go against that.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  18. Cathy

    Freedom of religion is one of the things the terrorists most fear about our country. I wonder how people in ,say, Saudi Arabia react to the building of Churches in their cities- oh, wait– Churches AREN'T built in their cities. Well, let's think about how they react to Bibles – oh wait, Bibles AREN'T allowed to be distributed in their country. Hmmm. Hypocritical much?

    August 6, 2010 at 9:00 am |
  19. James

    Sounds to me like we all have our bones to pick with eachother. Instead of using our opinions to battle each other ideologically, why don't we all pick up a copy of eachother's religious books. I'm pretty sure God doesn't mind us expanding our horizons for the sake of understanding one another. Muslims want to step out of the shadow of 9/11, but you have to understand that we know what Islam is capable of. We don't hold that shadow of doubt over you, the Islamic Radicals do. They are willing to hide themselves among you as sleepers, truly they will hide anywhere. We as Americans have to understand that the radicals aren't every Muslim, think (loosley) the odds of meeting a serial killer. (bad example but it's just for the sake of being easy to identify with). We all need to take a breathe and realize that at some point we are going to have to move forward from the tragedy. Muslims, you need to know that 98% of americans have absolutley no say in who Hollywood casts as terrorists, sorry, I know it sucks and I apologize for them. Americans, one of our country's founding principles was religious freedom, that being said, we take the good with the bad, and just hope we can catch the bad. And don't forget, every sect of religion has their problems. Muslims have Islamic radicals who like to blow stuff up, christians have roman catholic priests who touch up on little kids. Please, stop talkin trash on eachother, none of us is "holier than thou"

    August 6, 2010 at 8:58 am |
  20. buckbundy

    Arab terrorists clear an area, and you want to build a mosque there...
    Lets same some Christian terrorist blows up few buildings in an Arab country, and than Christian decide to build a Church there ... and everyone's invited to come, not just Christians – so it's a center?

    People are objecting building a place of worship for same people who blew up the whole thing. It's not that all Muslims are terrorists, it's those that are terrorists will use the mosque to point out their success, and will than blow up buildings in LA, Washington, etc. to build more mosques.

    August 6, 2010 at 8:54 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.