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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. afromsd

    I torn between two sides about this one. On one side, they are constitutionally allowed to build the mosque where they are. But on the other side, why there, why now, and why so grand? Whether American Muslims intended to or not, this is like salt in the would for many Americans, and on top of that, it's tantamount to a victory flag.

    Islam is at war with the world. There are attacks in the U.S., U.K., France and many other countries throughout Europe, Eastern Europe, Israel, the Middle East, Africa, West Asia, and the Philippines. Against my own reasoning, I have to go with my gut, and see it for what it is: Just one more notch in the belt of Islams' attempt to kill or convert the world.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  2. madarain

    Here are the LIES...#1, "We take hundreds and hundreds of cases each year of anti-Muslim bias and hate crimes...Some are true, most are made up becasue its part of the strategy to sue non muslims . #2,"I am not going to base my actions and my principles and my future on the ability of bigots to manufacture a controversy..This guys Group, CAIR Supports Terrorists Worldwide...Many of his co-leaders were just convicted and sent to prison, he manufactures controversy ....#3, "Every time Muslims raise their head in America, these groups are going to come against Muslims," BULL CRAP...American center for Law and Justice has offices in MUSLIM countries, they are NOT ANTI MUSLIM it is anti-Terrorist and that is who is building this mosK...Taro-wrists.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm |
  3. dcl

    All this controversy proves the terrorists were right in one way: they've succeeded in making the American unwashed masses believe that terrorism is about religion. Terrorism is perpetrated by homicidal maniacs who simply use their "religion" as an excuse (kind of like similar Christian megalomaniacs in the U.S.). Terrorism has nothing to do with real religious tenants, and the fact they've convinced the bigoted center of U.S. culture it is about Islam is a huge win for them.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      You are naive. Modern day terrorism is about religion, the Muslim faith from the so called holy book the Koran.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
  4. dan

    id be happy if somebody flew a plane into their mosque

    August 5, 2010 at 9:28 pm |
  5. jamesdunpohy85

    Forget the religious tolerance nonsense. The symbolism is too obvious. Putting anything that purports to make Islam look like a gentle, tolerant religion nanywhere near Ground Zero is an insult to every non-Muslim in America. Do the decent thing and move your site about ten miles away from Ground Zero, as a gesture of apology and realization that you understand our feelings about suicide murders.
    Once, in a local mosque, I was given a Koran to read at my liesure, just tolearn about it. At the next meeting one of the senior members asked me if I had decided to embrace Islam. I said I doubted the validity of the Koran. Immediatly one of the younger members, a college student from a Muslim country, saiid, "We've got to kill him !" The Imam interrupted quickly and and informed that student, "No,no, you can't do that here. They have religios freedom" It seems really keep themselves as outsiders. They come here for a fine education. That's ok, but don't bring that kind of intolerance here. You are free to be Muslims,; we are free to be not Muslims. If you can't handle that, go back to wherever you came from.
    James Dunphy

    August 5, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  6. gsnlou

    Would not happen unless someone from Muslim community hand over Bin Laden. Until then, sorry.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  7. geoff

    Never follow a religion that views women as 2nd class. Hello Islam and hello Catholosism. Actually, just don't follow reliogion. They only want your money.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  8. nomoregbldgk

    hmmm the Quran as Hitler, anyone care to try that?
    the
    754th electronic systems group is interested in it as a cookbook
    Read the secret of min at apageinthe life blogspot com
    It's not religion that is the problem but whatever highjacked your ability to read and think for yourselves also highjacked your planes and your moral compass and all your money; the majority of comments at this site reflect the same kind of laziness that propels a diseased state of mind to pervade society because it is so much easier to repeat what is being shouted from the pulpits or by the talking heads on tv or the neighborhood soapbox. Is "Tick Tock Mosque bomber" any better than 911 Quaeda and who ever proposed a "Hitler statue at Aushwitz", I can't spell very well but for the most part it is better than being afflict with the inability to think very well and be so easilty manipulated.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:21 pm |
  9. john

    Anyone who thinks that building a Mosque at ground zero isn't and insult to what happened there is brain dead...
    Not only do they want a Mosque but an Islamic Center to foster the acceptance of Shiria law on everyone .. Muslim or not.
    They want a central place to house their Islamic law here in the United States from where all Islamic law in the USA will dominate from... This is not about Freedom of Religion but freedom of Shiria law having control here in the United States..
    The Emperor Constantine was accurate in his statement about Mohammad and Islam .. See what happens when this center is built... and no one ever saw it coming due to Political and Religious correctness .. we only reap what we sow and GOD
    (The Trinity) will NOT be Mocked!

    August 5, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
  10. geoff

    Muslims, Christians and Jews...this is one crazy party we've got here

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

    We are always asked to respect the rights of other cultures or religions and to have respect for their way of life or their beliefs.

    Have a small bit of respect for what is now and will be – a sacred site for the United States and build your Mosque elsewhere.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:13 pm |
  12. Samm

    It is true that the Muslim religion in the US needs a really, really good public relations overhaul. However, anyone who believed that this would not be viewed as an affront to the American people is crazy. You don't pour salt onto an open wound. I have little doubt that the construction of the Muslim center, if it were to go through, would be met with violence by those people who believe being Muslim means being a terrorist. If not during construction, to the people who use the center. It's not right, but it's bound to happen.
    A majority of Muslims are peaceful, there is no doubt of that. A number, however, aren't. We in the US should understand that, but we don't. And have no doubt that the radicals love this, their goal is to put fear in the American people, and if they can do so using the millions of innocent Muslims in the US, they will. The people behind this center need to realize that they can send a message back – saying – we recognize that the people of this country are still hurting, we sympathize, and we will not provoke them, we will bear this burden. If not they will only make matters worse. Someone in pain, as this country is, will usually not see logic, they will know only their pain.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      Samm, The majority of Muslims do not live in America and they hold sympathy to the terrorist's faith. The Koran is a manual for terrorism. For all that take the Koran literally it demands murder for those that don't submit to it's teachings or HARSH submission to it's laws with few rights. This is not a debatable issue it is what the Koran teaches IN CONTEXT. Did you see all of the so called peaceful and loving Muslims around the world cheering on the news the very day of the attacks on 9/11. Maybe you are peaceful and call yourself a Muslim, but you can not call your faith peaceful or loving.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • Steve G

      "He that fights for the cause of God fights for himself. God does not need the help of his creations." Quran 29:2. Big Kitchen, I doubt if you have ever read the Quran at all.

      August 17, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  13. cnnpress

    I bet you anything that people who oppose the building of this religious place are not New Yorkers, probably they are a minority that consists of ignorant, close-minded, and uneducated people from the South and Midwest. I lived in New York and I know how tolerant and opened-minded true New Yorkers are, and I lived in the South and Midwest and I know how close-minded, ignorant, and intolerant people there can be. Thank god for the East Cost and West Cost .

    August 5, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      You are mistaken on every point. Do a little better research and talk to a few more New Yorkers.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
    • NYer

      I lived in NYS for 33 years and I can tell you NYS people do not want this and think it is the worst idea ever.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:06 am |
  14. River

    Anyone who can read these comments and not realize that there will be
    added hatred and resentment, and possibly deaths, if this masque is built
    is self delusional. It won't help by calling american protesters "bigots" and
    "idiots" either. The resentment and hate will go away as that generation dies
    off, no other way.....

    August 5, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  15. TERRY

    Would Germany allow a monument to the German Nationalism on the sites of the concentration camps? Would Laos/Cambodia have a "learning center" near the locations of Khmer Rouge's killing fields? Would China allow a shring to Japanese cultural awareness in Nanjing? NO WAY...it'd be an insult upon the people killed at those sites. No on WTC Mosque! Leave those poor people alone and have some dignity and love for the city of New York and why rub salt in a raw wound?!

    August 5, 2010 at 9:08 pm |
  16. mary

    It's 2010, moron!! And 3000 people just died 9 years ago, from people basing their crimes on the Quran's word. Read it carefully......

    August 5, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  17. cnnpress

    I bet you anything that people who oppose the building of this religious place are not New Yorkers, probably they are a minority that consists of ignorant, closed-minded, and uneducated people from the South and Midwest. I lived in New York and I know how tolerant and opened-minded true New Yorkers are, and I lived in the South and Midwest and I know how closed-minded, ignorant, and intolerant people there can be. Thank god for the East Cost and West Cost .

    August 5, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      You are mistaken on every point. Do a little better research and talk to a few more New Yorkers.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
  18. mary

    Even if it gets started, it won't ever be completed.....it'll be destroyed before it ever gets done. Mark it down.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  19. mary

    Doug, you seem to be outnumbered.....here on CNN, the bleeding heart liberal capital of media!! Trust me.....the vast majority of Americans HATE this idea and think it's a total disgrace. Look at the overall poll numbers nationwide.....it's not even CLOSE. This is a joke.......but a bad one.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  20. mary

    This isn't about "fear"....it's about "right vs. wrong"..,..this is just plain WRONG to allow this to be constructed.

    August 5, 2010 at 8:52 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.