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. James Bond

    If the planning committee concerned had any common sense, they would realize how insensitive their act is and build their mosk elsewhere. It would go a long way to admit that their had not considered their effect on the majority of the US population and they voluntarily move their plans elsewhere. If they don't, you have to wonder if their real intent is to glorify 9/11. Also, one should look closely into who bankrolled the plan and building costs.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  2. Henry Miller

    Why is it that everyone is shrieking about even the remote, undemonstrated, possibility of "racial profiling" in Arizona, but a lot of people seem to be cool with the real religious profiling of Muslims?

    August 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • scoto

      I dont think this article is about the religious profiling of Muslims. Its about building a mosque near gound zero where 3,000 people were killed in the name of the same religion of those that want to build said mosque.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:39 pm |
  3. asdf

    Jesus was a peaceful carpenter/rabi that dared preach to non jews. Muhammed was a caravan raider who craved political power via the sword and married a 9yo girl. Not saying Christianity any better but it seems if you go to the true roots of most religions you will find more intolerance and hate in Islam than most due to its very flawed many would argue evil founder.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
  4. jabeen

    I consider myself to be a moderate muslim and my children and I have friends of all faiths,those of you who think that we are all intolerant and bigots,please don't. My faith is important to me,but the faith of my friends is sacred to me.May God bless and take care of our country, the United States of America.

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

      And do you refer to those freinds as "infidels".

      August 5, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      Not all who claim to be Muslims are terrorists, however the majority of Muslims in the world hold to the terrorists view points that are very clear in the Koran when you read the whole book in context. American Muslims are few compared to Muslims around the world. They are more likely not to hold to tightly to the Koran's teachings just as liberal Christians do not hold to the Holy Bible as the absolute word of God. They make up a religion to justify their lifestyles and desires. The difference is in Christ who said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me."

      August 5, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      I apologize. I don't mean to be insulting. I am glad that you value your friends and nation, but you have been deceived by Islam and the teachings of the Koran.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:57 pm |
  5. Tony

    go Doug!!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  6. Sith

    It's funny.. the people railing against this mosque being built... Do they also believe then that no Christian establishments, monuments or worship centers should be built anywhere near areas in which people were killed under the banner of Christianity? It's far too easy to point the finger and forget one's own crimes.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • scoto

      Well.... give me some examples and I'll tell you my opinion. I'm looking for a parallel where 3,000 muslims were killed in the name of Christianity in recent years (thats important) and where there is a church being built against a vociferous local objection to such.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      This is naive and ignorant. Don't make the exception the rule. Learn your world history, current and past.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
  7. Conqui

    Crazy talk! Crazy talk! Thinking that what some Muslims did describes the desires of all Muslims is not justifiable by any system of logic whatsoever. It's like saying that because some nutcake anti-abortionists kill doctors who perform abortions, all anti-abortionists support what the murderers did. I would really like political/moral/cultural leadership to learn logic themselves, and insist that the irrationality be ignored.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  8. Steve

    They all new it was coming except Americans. A co-worker and I working in the WTC2 went to the same two shops in the underground mall every single day for 4 years for a coffee and paper. Those shops were never ever closed and were run by muslims. Guess what. on 9/11 both shops were closed and we didn't figure out why until later.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • SR

      Steve: that is an amazing factoid. Would any other person care to corroborate or disprove this? Any muslims?

      August 5, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  9. asdf

    Hmm I guess the occupation of your messiah doesn't matter. Islam's messiah was a land pirate whose favorite bride was 9 yo. But still an very peaceful religion.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  10. S Miller

    The Koran (Qur'an) is actually a great document and muslim principles are sound...the Muslim idea is beautiful but the muslim people are not, that is the problem. Islam will never be widely accepted by western society and justly so we have toloerance, they have little, as evident by this house (victory building) of worship. Do you allow an infection to spread so that in 100 years this is a majority muslim nation or do you take a stand now. The spread of islam in america will do nothing to improve our society, it will only divide it. We need to end muslim immigration and the special treatment for muslims inside this country. Do the people of this country have a say anymore, do "real american's" get to decide the fate of their country. For the people by the people, yeah right!

    August 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
  11. MountDana

    The extremists that carried out 9/11 no more represent the peaceable majority of Muslims than the hate-mongering sewage-spewing minister Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church represents the peaceable majority of Christians in the U.S. (I am agnostic). Clothing the moderates in the bloody garments of the extremists (on any side) is evil in itself. And evil only begets more evil. It is in the best interest of our country to commend those of any religion who live in and promote studious, industrious, and moral families and communities.

    I have nothing but “I’m-willing-to-press-the-electri- chair-button” hatred of these monsters that killed so many on 9/11. But holding on to blind rage and turning it against innocent, law-abiding, peaceful Muslims in the US is wrong and destructive to our country and its people.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Sashland

      only problem with that claim of 'isolated radicals' is the words in that green book that call for such killings, and the edicts of the religious leaders that condone it.

      "kill the Jews and Christians" doesn't sound very "peaceful" to me...

      August 5, 2010 at 9:18 pm |
  12. K

    This is 2010 not 100's of yrs ago when most of Chrisitanity behaved like radicals, killing everyone who did not believe. Because this leadership fails to condemn the radicals they in a sense show support. Actually you would think they would be on the hunt for them considering the damage that they are causing for Muslims. This Mosque will probably be built and I can bet you any money there will be more bloodshed.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:07 pm |
  13. asdf

    It seems it is upper middle class 2nd generation muslims causing the problem as they go by what others tell them and never had to live in these crap hole muslim countries and don't know how lucky they are. Glad 99.999 of American muslims are peaceful Americans. Still its sad that a 7th century caravan raider who had a 9 yo bride and was full of hate for others has so much influence 14 centuries later.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  14. Karen Saucedo

    Lots of nasty, petty, and personal arguing here. But I would like to weigh in with my opinion. I don't think Ground Zero is the right place for this Mosque. Post-911 feelings are still very raw and understandably so. It was a horrible, painful event and the victims' survivors don't need this to deal with. Does that mean I feel all Muslims are responsible for 911? Not at all. That's ridiculous. But, the reality is it would still be painful and, therefore, to build it there would be unfeeling, cruel, and selfish.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
  15. Luke

    I bet when this mosque is completed, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will come to bless it, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will stop by to lecture the Americans of how to treat a women when she commits the adultery. Maybe Osama bin Laden from his hideout will send an audio or video tape to the mosque to train the followers of how to hijack an airplane and slam it into the Empire State building.

    Don't you see these possibilities, Mr. Bloomberg?

    August 5, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • roland choo

      Good foresight, with that happen, you have spelled the downfall of Bloomberg.

      I bet he will reverse his decision somehow, one way or another.

      August 6, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  16. John

    Watching – Does "watching" stand for watching your rights and freedoms collapse with your hands in your pockets? Wake up and get your head out of your %$^!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • Sashland

      per "watching"

      as they speak they reveal themselves...

      do you also "masterb" to the human sacrifice videos of muslims yelling praise to their idol while they hack off the heads of infidels?

      oops, "your" idol.

      would that make you a "hack-off jack-off"?

      August 5, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
  17. John

    Code – The middle east?? They were cheering in Patterson, NJ. Hard to believe we welcome these peopel to our country.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
    • watching

      what's it's Middle East...how many countries? can you name them?

      August 5, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • code

      John – I'm very glad I didn't see that on 9/11. I'm surprised they had the balls to cheer in NJ.

      watching – John was refering to my post, in which I did list specific countries where I saw crowds cheering in the streets. And yes, I can name, draw and place every country in the world on a map.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:10 pm |
    • Ken

      They were cheering in Atlanta too. most of the polls i read show that the vast majority of people voting on this topic online, over 80%+, do not agree with the mosque being built. I thought elected officials were supposed to represent the will of the people they represent. This whole thing is a joke. Islam sucks.

      August 5, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  18. Robert

    1. They will not build a statue of Hitler at Auschwitz
    2. They will not build Yasukuni Shrine in Nanjing
    3. They will not build a Mosque at Ground Zero

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

      4. They will not build a statute for Truman Hiroshima and Nagasaki

      August 5, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
    • NYer

      I agree with watching, they will not build a statue of Truman in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Should an american buy land there and force them to build on there? I think anyone with half a brain would say that is in bad taste.

      September 6, 2010 at 12:42 am |
  19. Pierre Alexes

    First of all, mosques are not houses of "worship"! They are places of "submission". They are places where imans believe only they can interpret the koran's message thereby forbidding any muslim questionning its meaning. Many claim it can only be understood in its original arabic. How many so-called converts to islam read arabic? They have been brain-washed into a cult without knowing very little about it. I am in possession of two French translations of the koran, one by Mohammed Hamidullah and the other by Kasimirski. Any one who wants to understand islam's message should read it. I warn you it is the most boring read you will encounter. It is disconnected, repetitive and, if you are familiar with the christian bible, the jewish torah and ancient greek writings, you will conclude that most of the koran is a work of plagiarism and ancient bedouin cults.
    Now, what do you think of this comment: "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."
    I'm wodering, is this a message of recruit?

    August 5, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  20. Octojustice

    I will say this, Muslim communities seem less than open. I know, "would you be if you were treated as they are?". But generally they try in no way to assimilate. They create enclaves that bear no representation of the country the inhabit. . Not one Muslim country affords their people the freedoms we do, yet they use those freedoms against us. Enjoying freedom but not understanding that with this freedom comes some pretty ridiculous behavior, which they view, our customs that is, as backwards and barbaric, looking down their veils at us as a sick country, depraved and diluted. Are men spineless our women hoers. FACT! finally more subjectively....and this may seem stupid to some of you but, we in this country find one thing pretty generally universal....drinking. now personally i don't trust a man who won't drink. it says to me" i'm not putting my guard down", "i won't open up", and finally "while you are i'm going to be sober and take notes on you weaknesses" . So put that in Huka and smoke it.

    August 5, 2010 at 7:59 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.