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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. Abel Arce

    The muslims insistence on building this 911 victory monument, borders on fanaticism in itself. If they, as americans, can not reconciliate what was done to all of us on 911, then its a waste of time to keep talking about this. They can built their victory monument, but I will never consider those who build it my fellow americans.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  2. Tony

    Religion never killed anyone??? Religion is the cause of death, its grown men fighting and killing eachother over who has the better imaginary friend

    August 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
    • watching

      Yeah Tony...all religions full of extremists and Spanish inquisition

      August 5, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
    • Adrian

      And what athiests are totally innocent?

      August 5, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
    • Tony

      im not saying anyones innocent, im sayin religion kills and my honest opinion is u have to be slightly retarded to actually believe in it, it was created as one of the first forms of goverment to control people and it still works today

      August 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
    • Adrian

      Only fanatics kill i read the news a little while back about Maoists who attacked a train station in India and the were very athiests. And belief in a higher power doesnt make you dumb Newton was christian, Hassan Ibn Al Haitham was muslim, Einstien was jewish, the founder of physics, founder of optics and the most popular scientists were al religious. While communisim (which down right tries to kill religion) has killed more people in 50 years then all the religious wars combined have in over 2000.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • Tony

      A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death-- Albert Einstien, 95% of scientists are athiest so every thing u just said was false

      August 5, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
    • dave

      in the name of religion, millions of people have been killed and murdered. sihk extremists blow up planes, christian extremists kill doctors who perform abortions, muslims mutilate girls with circumcision, the list goes on and on into infinity. religions are full of thier own kinds of extremists but the true measuring stick is where they are tolerant of those with a different view, idea or belief system. muslim ideology is the least tolerant.

      August 5, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
    • Adrian

      I said most popular not modern maybe i was wrong about Einstein but look up these names Isaac Newton, Louis Pasteur, Charles Darwin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler, James Clerk Maxwell, Claude Bernard, Erwin Schrödinger, Alexander Flemming, Max Planck and others. With out them and scientists of other faiths we wouldnt have modern science at all. So no i didnt lie.

      August 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  3. wakeywakey

    The issue that Americans are slowly grasping is that Muslims are not like other immigrants – Islamists will demand every right from you......but give you nothing in return – because they view themselves as believers of the true religion..learn this and then you understand that they think nothing of putting a mosque beside the towers that were destroyed in the very name of that religion – but if you put up a cartoon or draw Mohammed they demand death – ask Rushdie......its completely and absolutely one-sided. So give then the right to put up the mosque when you can investigate and critique islam openly and without fear.....there is no doubt much to talk abou Islam...some good, some bad, and some downright ugly........ and yes Muslims know exactly what I am talking about...RIGHT......

    August 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  4. John

    The 9/11 effect is like the Bush effect. The Americans will not forget them.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  5. T. L. Dixon

    A mosque 2 blocks from the site where brain washed muslim whack-jobs killed several hundred innocent Americans? That is just extremely pood taste but human spiritual arrogance never surprises me anymore. This is America, even muslims are free to be ignorant, short sighted and rude. Let them build the mosque and let the chips fall where they may. If bad things happen they asked for it by insulting too many people.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Nimrod

      That should be thousands, not several hundred.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  6. Coach Lew

    To build a mosque over the same site the trade center occupied is like a spit in the face to most all of those who lost loved ones. How Islam can even think of doing something like this is so demeaning. Don't be shocked that after it is built that it isn't destroyed by something or someone. 9-11 whether you Islamics know it, was a direct attack on the United States. You can add anything you want to justify what you want to do but it still was a blatant attack on American Soil. So you be prepared to pay the price without a word from your mouths after it happens. You will have brought it on yourselves.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • Southerners bl0w

      It's not the same site you gaddamn idiot

      August 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
  7. agreen

    I find it amazing that the point turns on this. It's not that a Mosque is being built – As an atheist, I spend all my time being tolerent of religion and support it's freedom across America (and preferably the world) because it's important to those who follow it. BUT, as someone who stood a block from Ground Zero and smelled the burning rubble, a surprising amount of anger and pain races through me at the thought of such a thoughtless and careless act being approved. The idea of people in prayer to a faith that would allow such a horror in it's name, being a stones throw from the Hole is unconscionable.

    Build your Mosques, be free in America, just do it a good distance from this place. Give us our grief and place to mourne without you looking over our shoulder. It's not you – I cannot blame a faith or people for the acts of a few, so please give us this peace and don't force us any further pain. It's basic human decency.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  8. Kelly

    that is what i am worried about.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  9. Slarty Bartfast

    Should this mosque be attacked by some 'fringe-element' New Yorkers, it will be very interesting to see how forgiving Islam is willing to be towards them. Seems to me it's pretty much what Islam expects of the world – 'Don't condemn all of us for the actions of a radical few'. I suspect they will find what Americans (and others) have found, that the perspective changes when it's your own people's blood being spilled.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  10. trolleydodger

    I just came back from the middle east. When the people I worked with learned I was Christian, they explained to me that they believe Christians to be enemies of God. Fortunately, I was able to change their opinion, not by reading from the Bible, but just by being a caring Christian. I didn't believe that people on the street level thought that way, but apparently they do.

    Does any foolish American believe for one minute that Saudi Arabia or Pakistan or any other Muslim dominated country would welcome Christian, Jewish or worshipers any faith? Does anyone think they would allow a Christian church to to be build in Mecca or Medina and be able to speak freely about their faith? Not a chance! In fact, the pattern of squeezing out anyone who is not Muslim has been practiced in most Muslim dominated governments throughout history.

    Does anyone really believe they wouldn't do the same thing here? Let's closely watch what they do once they dominate a city or state. I'm not paranoid, just a follower of history and a witness to the present.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
    • Adrian

      You are right to worry just look at Britain.

      August 5, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
    • dave

      you are right, but try and get the do good feel rights to see it that way. when they experience here what you are talking about, it will be too late.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:09 pm |
    • AZI

      There are churches in Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Kuwait, Jordan ...... and so on
      btw, many muslim countries were colonized by foreign countries which were manly christian nations, they built churches and they are still there

      Makkah is a holy city for muslims, that's why you don't find a church in there the same thing with the Vatican, there are no mosques in there

      August 5, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
    • Amrullah Yousafzai, Margalla Hills

      I live in Pakistan, and there are plenty of churches here, and all businesses in the country are closed for christmas.

      Please don't speak about a country you know nothing about.

      August 6, 2010 at 3:57 am |
  11. family guy

    muslims love to blow up mosques happens all the time , maybe we should let them build their mosque and watch as a muslim blows it up >?
    even if the muslims win the right to build a mosque , maybe they should do the right thing ? then again muslims are not known to be the brightest bulb on the xmas tree

    August 5, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  12. mosque bomber

    Tick Tock

    August 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
  13. Kelly

    When can we build a church, or a synagouge in Mecca? that is the question. these people are attempting to "De-construct this country" "give me your hungry, you'r huddled masses; but not your extremist!"

    August 5, 2010 at 7:36 pm |
    • watching

      Do they have a Mosque in the Vatican..

      August 5, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
    • roland choo

      Watching – I noted your argument is flawed in the beginning.

      1. They do not have enough space in Vatican, and the COMPOUND is owned by Vatican and not private.
      2. There are lots of MOSQUES IN Italy.

      Still want to argue? If yes, please use some logic.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • Q

      it doesn't matter how much space the vatican has. the vatican can be as large as the united states and it'll never hold a mosque because the vatican is a recognized sovereign state in and of itself. a catholic one at that. saudi arabia is an islamic country with islamic laws that won't permit other religious temples to be built. i find it funny when people pull the "well when we can build a church in mecca..." argument because you can't compare any other countries to theocratic ones.

      watching is perfectly sound in making the comparison.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:03 am |
    • roland choo

      Q – It is not true.

      Does this mean so called Islamic states have no churches? of course this is no true, there are churches in those states but the authorities just make it difficult or forbid Christians to built new ones (with lots of excuses) – countries like Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan and etc are good example. I am a Christian in a so called Islamic State (not truly an Islamic states because we have substantial % of other ethnic in the country), even then we are frustrated by their dirty tactics in stopping us to built Churches there. We couldn't use our on land and money to build churches but the ruling group (Moslem) could use tax payer's money (contributed by mostly wealthy hard working Chinese tax payers) to built grand Musjids, see how unfair it is?

      Saudi is an Islamic state with some private ownership of land, if u own a piece of land, there should be no reason why u cannot build a church there except that the Saudi Authorities forbid it (it is a known fact they do not tolerate other religions). I was working in Saudi Arabia from December 2008 – December 2009 (exactly 1 year) – I know.

      Vatican is a state and if you own a piece of land in it, no body can stop u from building a Musjid there (except that u do not own a piece of land in Vatican) which is why the Moslem can't built a Musjid in Vatican.

      It is a very obvious fact that Islam is an intolerant religion ( I cannot go against my conscience), one would have to be blind to deny this fact.

      August 6, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  14. Roz

    If Muslims cared anything about the feelings of non Muslims; this mosque would not be built. I saw ibrahim Hooper discussing this on CNN and he displayed not one iota of sensitivity towards the people opposed to the mosque. This is not about a bunch of bigots who don't want to see a mosque built because they don't like Muslims....it is all about 9/ll and if they choose to disregard that; then there is no hope for a peaceful/friendly resolution here. Why doesn't anyone ever point out that Muslims are Muslims first and foremost.....not Americans, not Canadians, not Britons.....it doesn't matter where they live or what passport they hold; their first concern is Islam to the exclusion of all else. I also find it interesting that they are touting this mosque as a community centre and place of healing. Too bad the majority of moderate Muslims haven't spent the last nine years spreading the word that they don't support terrorists.....that might have gone a long way to promote healing.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  15. Really?

    Religion did not kill people. People brought up in a screwed up environment killed people period. Let them build it and move on..

    August 5, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  16. W

    Am I the only person who is pissed that this is being made a huge deal, yet the anniversary service for the Oklahoma City Bombing is held in a Methodist Church? McVeigh was a fundamentalist Christian and we remember those who died in a CHURCH?

    August 5, 2010 at 7:33 pm |
  17. Matt

    Is it true that they are naming this Islamic center after a mosque that was erected in part of Spain that was a conquest mosque, and in fact that they are planning on opening this on 9/11? It may be email spin, but that would be insane if they want to promote tolerance.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
  18. mnsoldier

    The fact that the whole muslim world is up in arms over the fact that the USA has a presence in their lands and they are willing to kill us because we are there is equal to muslims wanting to but a cultural center near the 9/11 event and want us to accept it in order to understand them and accept that we were to fault for them attacking the trade center.
    i am so tired of religious idiots on all sides. I hope you gods come get you all and leave the rest of us alone. Or why dont you all just kill yourselfs and save everyone the headache

    August 5, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
    • Adrian

      How about you do the world a favor and kill yourself.

      August 5, 2010 at 7:43 pm |
  19. Tony

    Drtom your post is stupid as well

    August 5, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
  20. Will

    What about Islamic anti-semitism? Even among so called tolerant Muslims, this idea of a Jewish conspiracy endemic. As a Jew, I don't judge all Muslims. I hope for the best. I try to behave in a diplomatic fashion and to see both sides. Yet, again and again and again, because I don't 'look' Jewish, I am confided in that Jews are the 'natural' enemies of Islam, that they control American foreign policy, that they are out to get all good Muslim men and women.

    Islam is not a 'hate based' religion, any more than old testament-loving Christianity. But I am beginning to believe that it is generally anti-semetic and popularly not willing to face the nightmarish reality of problems such as child suicide attacks, stoning, and other hellish medievalism. Do I think they should be forbidden the construction of a mosque? No! Do I think there aren't bigots in America? No. Do I think this is an innocent, non provocative gesture and avenue toward cross cultural understanding and healing? Absolutely not.

    Bring on the Jew bating.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
    • Nimrod

      Hear!! Hear!!

      August 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
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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.