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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. Dale Wise

    THEY, the MUSLIMS attacked us, THEY declared WAR on US. To build a Mosque right next to the 911 site is nothing short of declaring a VICTORY. I say that we should NUKE every##@@!!^^%%$$### one of those MUSLIMS

    August 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm |
  2. Hillary

    Muslims traditionally build a mosque or some sort of memorial at a site where they feel they have achieve some sort of victory. Ground zero counts as a MAJOR victory. Are you going to tell me that there is no other available real estate in NYC?
    Islam forbids forming friendships or alliances with "infidels". They are not here to become American. They are here to make America islamic. Of course this site has been carefully chosen to commorate the astounding victory of 9/11! NYC officials are blind fools who are completely insensitive to the families of the victim of the muslim terrorist attack of 9/11. Shame on them for not standing up for what is right.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:05 pm |
  3. Sydney Australia

    I would like to be there when a gay couple show up at this Mosque demanding the right to be married.
    I would like to be there when the naked cowboy starts strumming his guitar on their door step.
    I would like to be there when the kids start making out, doing drugs, playing loud music in front of their door.
    I would like to be there and see just how loving and tolerant the Muslims will be then.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  4. World Traveler

    To say this Islamic Cultural Center will help people understand is very misleading. Will this center and worship area be open to the public (non-muslims) or will their worship be hidden so outsiders can not see what they are doing or hear what is being said? This is a major issue with the non-muslims understanding the muslim people. People are scared of what they don't understand and this secrecy is keeping people scared. Let all of their worship services be open to visitors and maybe people will become less scared. They might even get a few converts if their religon is what they say it is.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  5. SPQR

    We should build something that is a place for the 3 largest religions.
    Muslims, Christinas and Jews.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      This will be what the Antichrist will attempt to do to bring about a one world religion built on false love, false peace, false hope and a false faith. Jesus said, "I am the truth, the life and the way. No man comes to the Father but by me."

      August 5, 2010 at 11:30 pm |
  6. Jason

    This will be my first post on any subject presented here on CNN. I for one will always remember the NON-TERROIST Muslims cheering in the streets of their countries the day after 9/11. Would it be possible for CNN to link or repost those stories, covered at the time? For those that think that allowing a Islamic Center to be built so near Ground Zero will change the Hearts and Minds of those same cheering Muslims...Think again! This battle has been raging for centuries.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:56 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      The truth is revealed.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:31 pm |
    • Yvette

      I remember seeing college students, on visas, cheering too. What ever happened to that footage?

      August 6, 2010 at 5:23 am |
  7. usmcmv27

    how about this.... let them build their mosque, we will then hijack one of their planes and crash it into it...fair enough??

    August 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
    • Steve G

      1+1=0, the mathematics of revenge. Do you want to be a coward like the 9/11 murderers?

      August 17, 2010 at 1:03 am |
  8. bumble21

    I say we bury pigs in the soil.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:55 pm |
  9. growup

    so now u telling me people cant build a church in japan just because of hiroshima and nagazaki? grow up people stop the stupid racism because muslims supply you gas or else u would b walking from one place to another. Dont blame the whole 1.6 billion ok idio+$. seriosly this country will collapse on its own one day because the people stand for nothing and they will fall for anything. bunch of kids i swear

    August 5, 2010 at 9:53 pm |
  10. Sean

    Everybody Draw Muhammed Day on Facebook!! No mosque near the site.......Suck it up Muslims and show some damn respect, put it somewhere else. Can't you see that you're offending individuals by placing the "learning center" there. This is America, you can put it a few blocks further away.....that is, if your agenda is not what I think it is of course! G-d bless all the innocent Americans who perished in 9/11 and may Allah burn those who perpetrated the atrocity in hell.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  11. Suleiman

    One important point that people need to remember is that the purpose of human existence is to believe and worship the One True Lord of the universe who has no partners. This was the basic message of all the Prophets of God (from Adam, Nooh, ibrahim...Suleiman, Yousuf, Musa (Moses), Eesa (Jesus), Muhammad (peace be upon them) etc.). So in short if you die as a disbeliever in God, you are living pretty much for the sake of this world and you will be tortured in hot fire for eternity (sad but true) and if you die as a believer in the Oneness of God and do righteous deeds, you will be in peace and tranquility forever in Paradise. So why lie to yourself and to your own children about this life. Have you seen anyone live forever. Remember your death and stop this hate against the beautiful religion of Islam.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
    • usmcmv27

      our purpose an why we were created in life is to worship??? hahahahaha u ppl crack me up, thts so far from the truth its ridic, its u ppl tht cause wars, if there was no such thing as religion there would be ALMOST ZERO WAR on this earth, u dont even hav proof tht god is real, u dont even kno wht he looks like, oh yeah theres tht lil thing called SCIENCE tht proved we not created by god n tht we evolved from monkeys....pick up a science book 1 day

      August 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
    • usmcmv27

      so do animals worship a god?

      August 5, 2010 at 10:15 pm |
    • Yvette

      Right...72 virgins in paradise. The problem is that Islam got it backward...it's 72 year old virgins. What's it it for the women to die? Just curious.

      August 6, 2010 at 5:08 am |
  12. Onoku

    If a group of extremist Christians blew up a major building in Tehran, would it be acceptable for a church to be built in that neighborhood? Not just Irani, but Muslims outside of Iran would be furious. That church would be destroyed within a week of it being built (if they even let construction get that far)

    August 5, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
    • Bonesaw

      If Iran was a free country with freedom of expression and religion then yea it would be ok

      August 6, 2010 at 2:16 am |
  13. Joe D

    I recall Muslims at a restaurant in Houston celebrating on 9/11 after the bombing. And they did not care who saw them. America is full of people who hate this country.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
    • NYer

      JoeD I do not believe that happened or that if it did happen how the person ever got out of the place in one piece. Maybe it was because I was in NY that day, but I would jump anyone who was celebrating that day.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:15 am |
  14. Karima

    WE ARE STUPID..we let the enemy deceive us. We allowed this happen. Its like playing chess. We need to look a lot deeper than whats on the 'surface'. The devil has many faces and we have fallen for the trap. WE CAN NO LONGER BE NICE. We must make a stand IN OUR COUNTRY-start with praying and GOD will take care of the rest. We still love EVERYONE, but there are rules and regualtions and restrictions, in OUR COUNTRY...and this one my friend...- you will not win. Your flag of death is in MECCA not in the United States

    August 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  15. epona30

    So I have been reading lots of information about the religion and political mindset of Radical Muslims and so far I have to say I am a bit disturbed.
    Before you go bashing me for being a racist or bigot or what have you, I have to say that I am pretty liberal.
    I am Pro Choice, Pro Gay Rights, Pro Gun, Pro Freedom of Religion, I even voted for Obama.

    After reading and watching loads of information on Islam my liberal views have taken a hit. I guess I am ashamed to say it, but I am not Pro Islam. I wished I could be, but the volatility of the Muslim ideology is not something I want embedding itself in our country.

    I know I know. Who am I to say what is right for anyone else?

    Here is my take on it. I am a liberal American that is happy to be Pro Choice, Pro Gay Rights, Pro Freedom of Religion, and Pro Gun. I would also like to keep it that way by not abolishing those freedoms by allowing the insidious ideology of Sharia Law to spread.

    What's the difference between between a Islamic radical and an American that does horrific things in the name of some ideology? Well the difference is very simple. We hold them accountable and put them in jail or institution where they belong. Radical Muslims are not held accountable "mostly because they are dead" but because they are considered heroes. Just look at Europe! They are over run by Radicals and the only reason why they cannot hold them accountable is because they are too powerful and Europe has crippled it's self with political correctness. The Loophole Radical Islam is so eager to use against us in the U.S.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm |
  16. Jason

    Tolerance and respect is a two way street: Saudi Arabia should allow a church to be built in their country to show tolerance and respect for Christians.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
  17. bumble21

    Bad idea. This is clearly a trophy for Radical Islam. Even the organization involved in this "community center" is considered a terrorist organization by the state department. Do you think they want to come here and make nice? No, they want to take away our freedoms. I am sorry to you flower power liberals, but my freedom is nonnegotiable so stop giving it away as if Good Americans never died in the name of our freedom.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:47 pm |
  18. Jack

    Ahmed as an excellent grasp of the obvious – a trait clearly lacking within his community.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  19. Ryan

    I don't have a problem with a mosque being built two city blocks away from ground zero. Two blocks away is not ground zero. However, it sounded like Ahmed was issuing a veiled threat when he stated "Say non-Muslims go attack this mosque or attack the imam, and in response some young Muslims blow something up or blow themselves up." Anyway, If we want to make peace with the Muslim world, we need to start by making peace with the Muslims in our own country.

    August 5, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
  20. Isabelle

    Conqui: "the Muslims" didn't do any such thing. 19 individual Muslims with a radical, perverted concept of Muslim beliefs did that. Crazy, illogical thinking like yours ends up being intolerant of anything besides similar crazy beliefs, in a perpetual cycle of irrationality and ultimately destructiveness.

    Couldn't have said it better myself

    August 5, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      This is very naive.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:32 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.