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. Gary

    911 was victory not just for radical islam but also Obama and the Liberal media

    August 6, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  2. Gary

    Its not just radical Islam who glorifies the death of 3k Americans its the entire liberal media who celebrates it.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:09 am |
  3. William

    Muslims are missing the point. the answer is quite easy and clear. Yes, we as Americans and non-muslims are mad as hell. We are prejudiced and we are blood thirsty. That is who we are. Your renegade factions have created this and we are at war and we will destroy. Simply put. Sad, but true. One thing to be very, very afraid of. That is an American mad as hell, and hell-bent on accomplishing something and removing a problem source. Don't push. Because we are like mad dogs when pushed, and we will never, ever stop until we have destroyed the threat and accomplished our goal.

    August 6, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  4. much2say

    Let's wake up! The organizers will not back down form building this mosque, just by looking at the name meaning, the building's purpose is to establish a domain. They will not be sensitive to 9/11. This is about establishing a lasting symbol of domain. They will only be sensitive to getting the right people in power and influence to support their effort. Establish a monument to the people who have suffered and endured great loss and not a domain of islam.

    "City (pop., 2001: 308,072), capital of Córdoba province, southern Spain. On the banks of the Guadalquivir River, it probably had Carthaginian origins. Occupied by the Romans in 152 BC, it became, under Augustus, the capital of the Roman province of Baetica. It declined under the Visigoths (6th – 8th centuries AD), and it was captured by the Muslims in 711. Abd al-Rahman I, of the Umayyad family, made it his capital in 756 and founded the Great Mosque of Córdoba, which still stands. By the 10th century it was the largest city in Europe, filled with palaces and mosques. It fell to the Castilian king Ferdinand III in 1236 and became part of Christian Spain. Modern Córdoba's streets and buildings evoke its Moorish heritage."

    August 6, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  5. I slam

    Islam promotes violence towards women and infidels. ban religon

    August 6, 2010 at 10:55 am |
  6. Jenny

    Just move the proposed mosque several streets away. If it's going to hurt people who were directly affected by 9/11, why build it on the World Trade site? We can still all join together and fight this fight against terrorism together. A few city blocks will make no difference in that. It seems like it's just a battle of pride now.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  7. Ralph

    Gee, if Muslims are this kind and considerate of others, I can't wait 'til I have some as neighbors, co-workers, etc.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:33 am |
  8. David Stone

    Only in islam is there and ORGANIZED WORLD WIDE effort to wage holy war against the enemies of their GOD, a JIHAD. Trying to draw analogies between this and one lone abortion clinic bomber, with no base of support in his faith, is silly, and shows the sickening lack of understanding of just what is going on in islam.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  9. William

    Will there ever come a time when the world's population fesses up to its disastrous flailings with this mytholigical and superstitious thing called "religion?" Please, can you finally admit that what you believe in is poppy-cock – fictional, irrational, non-existent and merely wishful thinking anf false-hero worship?? The only true path to life and enlightenment is to give up the muslim mess, forgo the christian fantastical tale, and move towards real, true and honest, non-violent life embracing nature, our Earth, our universe, our children, and he beauty of our ability to love.

    Religion is false hope and simply leads no where but to unhappiness and intoleance and violence. Intelligence requires living for the moment in reality, not in foolish long-dead myths and mytholigical creatures.

    The mosque is dangerous in that location because the intelligent reasonable world is rightfully suspicious of the entire muslim culture. Sorry, but the cards have been delt, and the reasonable will defend their right to safety and freedom from this evilily painted culture ferociously and to the end. The culture has allowed renegade leaders to paint this canvas of perception. Inaction by the masses is akin to direct and accepting action. It's time to put an end to all of this hocus pocus thinking. Faith cannot save you, for you know in your hearts that your faith and thoughts are wrong. You know it, and you become angry and violent because you know it and you are afraid to change. Really, the truth is the way and the light.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:30 am |
  10. SaintPetersburg

    the mosque has nothing to do with 9/11. It's as simple as that. If anything it is a tribute to those who died and a symbol of overcoming something so tragic...by allowing a Muslim place of worship to stand in that very same place, we spit in the face of ignorance and hatred that the terrorists' intended to breed.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:29 am |
  11. David Stone

    Islam unlike all other religions, has failed to evolve with the centuries. Only in islamic cultures do we STILL see public beheadings, stonings, and dismemberment in front of cheering crowds. Only islam still embraces a "convert or die" philosophy among many of it's followers. Only in islam does the "good majority" stand by as the "misguided few" commit some of the most horrific acts of terrorism in modern history. Islam stands alone as the evil death cult that it is, apart from all legitimate religions. I would rather see my child become a wiccan than a muslim. I would rather see them get into drugs than become a muslim. It is a dead end cult of oppression towards women, those of different faiths, and it is a religion that tolerates evil as no other does.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:28 am |
  12. concerned

    I do understand it is private property and a private building. I do agree it is throwing salt into a open bloody wound for Americans, but we must look at both sides. Not EVERY muslim is a terrorist, Not every Black Person speaks poor english, not ever hispanic works on farm, Every Jew does not own a store and has no debt, every white person does not have money to go to Harvard, Every Asian does have a degree in mathmatics, Every Native American does not have a drinking problem, Every Alaska Native does not live in a Igloo and eat Whale Blubber. Am I still hurt by 9/11, HELL YES, can I blame this group for what happened, YES but does it mean we should be intollerant?

    August 6, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  13. David Stone

    When 911 the world wide muslim leadership was largely silent. When yet another muslim psycho is found ready to blow up a plane, when suicide attacks happen, on and on...the muslim world stands by silent. It's funny, since the "good muslims" outnumber the "bad muslims" a thousand to one, that there they don't rise up and snuff out the bad one, to discourage it sufficiently that it never happens to begin with. There is a silent / tacit support there that allows it all. In every other major religion, when a nutcase does something evil in the name of the religion, he is denounced strongly, and it quickly becomes obvious that he had no wide-ranging support. NOT so in islam.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:21 am |
  14. stephen douglas

    Ibrahim Hooper says those who oppose the mosque at ground zero are bigots. I resent the characterization and am deeply offended that I would be called a bigot. The fact is that a mosque is exactly what Akbar Ahmed said it was, "salt in the wound". Furthermore, Hooper refers to those opposed to the mosque as a minority. Let's do this, Hooper: put the construction of the mosque near ground zero to a vote. Winner takes all. If the majority of people vote in favor of it, go for it. But, if the majority are against it, then it moves at least one mile from the ground zero site. Are you willing to do it the American way, Mr. Hooper? Will you live by the majority vote? Your want to live in America and take advantage of the laws and our way of life here, so do it the American way. I dare you.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:20 am |
  15. Jimmy

    For those of you wanting muslims to publicly denonce terriorism, they do, but you dont really care. You want it at an indiviual level. I guss you introduce yourself by first saying that you condem the kkk to everyone? thats right there use to be a group of murdering terriorist right here in america.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:07 am |
    • Sarah

      Excellent point Jimmy!!

      August 6, 2010 at 6:00 pm |
  16. Sarah

    I was raised in the Antiochian Orthodox Church. My grandparents came from Damascus. I find it interesting that CAIR is complaining about discrimination against Muslims in this country. What they experience here is nothing compared to what happens to Christians in some (not all) Muslim countries, including Syria. I guess they can dish it out, but they can't take it.

    August 6, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  17. Jack W

    You know without a doubt that if that Mosque gets built, some yahoo will be bombing it within 6 months of its completion.

    But having a religious center there, nearby, or better right at Ground-Zero may not be a bad idea.

    Instead of having a single religion represented, have a series of chapels grouped together representing all religions and sects having members that were lost on 9/11. Dedicate each chapel to those members lost, listing them outside of each chapel. Inside of each chapel each religion would post what their religion is about, including the similarities and differences to each of the other religions. And they could post what their religion is NOT about; publicly dismissing those extremists who might otherwise hijack their religion for their own agenda.

    Someone visiting this site would be able to quickly get a basic understanding of each religion and its similarities to their own.

    Personally I have no grievances with the Islam religion; however I do with our enemies behind 9/11 and similar attaches who claim to do this in the name of Islam. As a result, having a dedicated site in the name of our enemy’s religion could be perceived by some as giving them a “win”, and unfortunately cannot be tolerated.

    Instead let us expose our enemies for who they really are!

    August 6, 2010 at 10:01 am |
  18. Stephanie Anderson

    How about, if you want to 'build bridges' so bad, start condemning, with Islamic theology, directed at other Muslims, the concept of Jihad and Islamic supremacism? Because you cant? You wont? You like the Jihadists doing your dirty work for you by making people afraid? Then you can USE that fear to silence others into not criticisng Islam?
    Well, people around the world have had enough! It's been almost ten years since 9/11, and all over the globe, Muslims are carrying out terror attacks, behaving in supremcist ways everywher they are able to do so. Look at Indonesia lately? If Muslims are able to act in this way, they generally do! Actions speak louder than words!

    August 6, 2010 at 9:59 am |
  19. Tengu

    I'm still waiting for some one to explain to me why were these "American citizens" celebrating and dancing in the streets of New Jersey on the day of the attacks. And now they claim that islam is an American religion and they are Americans.
    AMERICANS DO NOT celebrate the deaths of thousands of their countrymen and women.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:54 am |
  20. Sarah

    I was excited to hear what Dr Ahmed had to say on the daily show but now not so much. Muslims don't think 9/11 really had an impact? Are you kidding me?? And tensions get worse as you get closer to NY?? That is completely untrue; the major protests against mosques and other controversies have centered in the south and central parts of America. New York is a diverse city that has always had a large Muslim presence and that's why it rebounded so resiliently after 9/11; most New Yorkers know that most Muslims are not terrorists.

    For all those who ask why Muslims don't condemn terrorism, I continue to tell them that we do. You just don't hear about it on the news, unfortunately.

    August 6, 2010 at 9:52 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.