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. jabeen

    Only if they don't pick up the check 😉 Scoto!!

    August 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  2. JamesAtif

    How ignorant to group all Muslims together. So, its ok for me to group Nazi's, KKK members, Christian Crusaders, the Spanish (Spanish iquistion), neo-Nazi's in America, northern Ireland, anti-abortionist blowing up clinics, and the people in Jesus Camp claiming they are preparing for war as a representation of all of Christianity? No, of course not. If you actually sat down and read the Qur'an and knew the true history about Islam I think most peoples opinion would change. I feel most people just quote things online they see and so on. They have no true idea what the Qur'an actually says.

    People need to stop taking things out of context from the Qur'an. As a former Catholic I can tell you one can do the same with the bible. How about the Gospel of Matthew, "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword." That is just one of a thousand you could do. Did I take it out of context? Yes, but someone who doesn't know the background of the quote or history could take that as Christianity is terrible. All of us need to listen to each other and try to understand one another. I think Imams should actually go teach Christians about the bible and priest or pastures give a lecture at the bible so we can foster understanding. I can dream hahah

    August 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      Not all who claim to be Muslims are terrorists, however the vast 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. Try reading the whole of the Koran in context and rightly dividing it according to it's foundational teachings. 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." Did you see all of the so called peace loving Muslims around the world on the news the very day, 9/11 of the attack who were cheering and celebrating. Yes, Christians need to reach out in love on a personal level, but we must also speak out against evil to protect the innocent on a public level.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  3. Dan

    You can judge a tree by its fruit and the fruit of Islam appears to be intolerance, violence, degradation of woman and extremely crappy countries, oh and arrogance.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  4. history major

    It may be time to take a serious look at whether we can consider Islam a religion that is consistent with the protections under the Constitution when so many of its practices, not necessarily its principles, but its practices are inconsistent with the civil rights of individuals under the Constitution. The same is also true of many radical "Christian" sects. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". This does not define religion, but organizations whose practitioners disregard other provisions of the Constitution, such as civil rights, may have to be defined as a non-religions and denied their free exercise or at least taxed as political organizations, not religions.

    More people have died in the name of religion than any other cause in the history of the world. Get along or go away. We don't need religion; we need civility.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:49 pm |
  5. mary

    There are some things you don't do....some places you don't go.....this is one. Given the severity of the crimes against humanity that took place on 9/11, the mere notion of a mosque near or at that holy site is unfathomable. And I don't want to hear about "equality" and the like....BS. It's time somebody with a spine stood up and said "NO" to something in this country before we lose the base fabric...."one nation, under God"......not Mohamed.....if it's spelled wrong, sue me.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  6. geoff

    Muslims, Christians and Jews...this is one hell of a party.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  7. Bob

    Here's a hint: the worshipers of the 7th century turbaned pedophile aren't welcome in our country any more, especially after their numerous crimes.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  8. Jason

    Not allowing a religious group, Muslim, Mormon, Catholic or whatever else it may be, to build a place of worship goes against the very reason our soldiers fight and die. This is freedom of religion not a “Victory Mosque”. Do we remember that the attacker on 9/11 where terrorists, not a peaceful mosque. Helping to build this mosque would be a great insult to the very people who planned, financed, and carried out 9/11. It would show that we as Americans look past the religion, color or differences of others and can carry on living life. Remember that we are the home of the brave and land of the free.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • Yvette

      Jason, if you knew the funding for this mosque came from a terrorist group or two would your opinion differ? If so, guess what??

      August 6, 2010 at 5:14 am |
  9. geoff

    I don't know who makes me want to puke more...you freakin' liberals or you other folks...the freakin' conservatives. Honestly, it is both of you that have dragged our country into the pit it currently finds itself.

    And you religous folks...shame on you for arguing and killing over the merits of your fairy tale beliefs.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
  10. Sue in Charleston, S.C.

    I don't care what anyone says about the negative reactions people have to this Mosque. They ARE justified. You don't see Catholics scrambling to build a church there. Jews are hyped to build a Synogogue... Baptists aren't jumping on the pulpit to collect a building fund... Why are these Muslims adamant to have this Mosque but more importantly why THERE... of all places. I've read that Muslims build mosques at the site of victories... Maybe that is heresay. Maybe it is a lie. But none of them will tell where that money is coming from and no one has a good enough answer, and never will, why the mosque HAS to be built there... instead of a location further away from where radical muslim terrorists killed 3000+ people... and those of you who defend this should stop because you don't have enough answers to assure and insure that this is not a snake in the grass.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:43 pm |
    • Ahmed

      Terrorists want us to hate each other. Their aim is not to build a mosque but to do exactly what is happening here. Turn us against each other. Besides, there was always a Mosque in that location. There are Mosques all over Manhattan. There were also Muslims who worked, prayed and died in those buildings. If anything we should build a Mosque, a Church and a Synagogue on the top of the Freedom tower. That is what America is about. Apparently I do need to state the obvious. There are 1.4 billion Muslims in the world. There is going to be bad apples. You can’t expect it to be 100% no crazies. Otherwise we can say similar things about Catholic persist or Christians who bomb abortion clinics.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:18 am |
  11. observer

    The list of Muslims is very short compared to the rest that lost their lives that day. To build a mosque so close to ground zero is insulting, but then Muslims are an insult to the rest of the inhabitants on this planet. Remember what they have done in Darfur. The Islam religion turns my stomach. A religion stolen from the Jews and the Christians. All in the name of Allah. I spit on Allah.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
  12. S Miller

    When our towers fell down I did not hear one muslim group denounce the attack. These "american muslims" will always support islam over western culture and are simply here to bring us down, maybe not today or twenty years from now but perhaps my great, great grandchildren will be oppressed by a majority muslim nation. I have tolerance but most muslims do not. The Koran is beautiful and the muslim faith is sound and just but the people are not. If the muslims would just for once just say hey, this ground zero adjacent thing might cause some pain so let's be tolerant it would show ONE single gesture of goodwill that would demonstrat that we could live side by side. I'm sick of bending over backwards for everyone but myself, is this my country anymore? This is a western culture take your rugs and mosque's somewhere else.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  13. Donna

    I confess I would not want a mosque built near where I live. I wouldn't want a church built near me either. Let me correct that I don't want to hear church bells or calls to prayer 5 times a day but they can build it if they want to. I would go nuts if I had to listen to either one of them all the time. I don't believe in God so to me it's just noise pollution and infringes on my rights to a quiet day.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
  14. enricorosan

    we must never celebrate the life of a pedophile who raped a 9 year old girl, assassin, highway robber, torturer, illiterate liar, plagiarist, mass murderer of an entire Jewish tribe. We must never let his brainwashed fear driven worshipers use our democracy to manipulate us. Multiple question: Who am I referring to #1 Jesus Christ #2 The Buddha #3 Mohammad (may something be upon him). If your answer is #3 then I would say that your knowledge of theology is quite impressive.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  15. JON

    How can you say you're an AMERICAN and hate AMERICA so much, I'm a 55 year old white male married for 25 years and have 2 kids 1 in collage and 1 that just got out. Saying that I'm not a Muslim but I do believe in the Constitution and if you say you're a American then you have to believe that not only do they have a right to build but that we should support that right. To say you're AMERICAN that means that it's your duty to support the Constitution and to fight for those rights. Don't give those rights away to hate and fear. The RIGHT WING TALKING MACHINE is asking you to do that. Think of all the AMERICANS that have died and will die to support those rights that you want to take away from other AMERICANS ...shame on you.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:32 pm |
  16. The Choobs

    @Doug: You need to chill out, take some meds, and learn about how ignorant and full of misguided hatred you are. You sound quite irraqtional and hysterical. There may be good reasons to debate this, but you are clearly not rational ernough to represent your own point of view.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:30 pm |
  17. asdf

    You know though I have to say I hate everything about Islam, think the middle east is the biggest hell hole on earth. Think Arab culture (broken because women don't hold their sons accountable) is exactly why I am glad we actually went through the Renaissance. Still I think people are blowing this out of proportion. Whats next we consider all muslims the fifth column and put them in Internment camps (ala Japanese during WW2)? Americans always tend to overreact and underestimate just how much and powerful being American means to the lucky people in this country.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  18. joe

    pop quize: How many churches and/or synagogues have been built in all of Saudi Arabia?? zero zero zero!!!

    August 5, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
    • Sashland

      Medina was a city with a large number of Jews, before Islam.

      What happened to the Jews and their Temples in Medina?

      August 5, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • roland choo

      To Joe and Sasha,

      I agree with you all. The Moslems can have their 3 holy sites recognized by UN.

      1. MECCA.
      2. MEDINA
      3. DOME OF ROCK – Jerusalem

      But the Jews could not even have one? (I am no Jew but I pity them), how unfair it is despite the fact that

      "THE DOME OF ROCK IS SITTING DIRECTLY ON THE JEWISH 1st TEMPLE BUILT BY KING SOLOMON and the rebuilt of TEMPLE by Nehemiah". Jews do not give up your rights, it is disheartening to hear even some Jews cave in to UN pressure by even willing to let go of East Jerusalem for the sake of so called "PEACE SETTLEMENT".

      Based on historical fact, this JEWISH TEMPLE should belong to the Jews and the Moslems can claimed on MECCA and MEDINA.

      August 6, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  19. Conqui

    My comments above are in response to DOUG. This forum isn't posting replies in the right place.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  20. The Choobs

    Get the facts right people – (1) this is not AT Ground Zero, it's a few blocks away; (2) this is America, and the 1st Amendment prohibits us prevnting any religeous group from open worship – remember "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Since when did that sentance get amended withg "except for people we don't like or trust"?! And (3) anyone who says the entire global community of 1.5 billion Muslims are all terrorist, America-hating, freedom-bashing haters is quite plainly showing us their blatent bigorty, and we must denounce this. In fact, the stuff I hear about how evil ALL Islam is from "good Christians" is the most intolerant, god-ignorant spittle I can imagine. Look up "facism" people – that's you, and it's ugly.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:25 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.