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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. Victor

    There has been much evidence that these many of these 19 individuals did un-Islamic things like drink, fornicate, kill innocent people, and the one who didn't make it on the plane Zacharias Mousawi is considered mentally ill. Perhaps you should fact check before mouthing off.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Caspian

      Deceit is part of Islam.

      Bukhari:5.369 "Allah's Apostle said, 'Who is willing to kill Ka'b bin Ashraf who has hurt Allah and His Apostle?'
      Thereupon Muhammad bin Maslamah got up saying, 'O Allah's Apostle! Would you like me to kill him?'
      The Prophet said, 'Yes,'
      Maslamah said, 'Then allow me to say false things in order to deceive him.'
      The Prophet said, 'You may say such things.'"

      August 5, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
  2. 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, but I think it is too late. 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.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
  3. Jason B.

    The Muslim leadership could try speaking to the public all they want. Unfortunately, these "dear" Americans that wrap themselves up in flags and cry in their copy of the Constitution they love so dearly have already made up their minds and won't bother to listen.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  4. Abdul

    Im a muslim , and i feel if the majorty does not want Mosque near Ground zero, we muslim should respect it .. Peace

    August 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  5. CarefulObserver

    Although they probably have a right under the Constitution to erect a mosque where ever they want, to erect one so close to the WTC is in exceedingly bad taste. I can see how it can easily be construed as a statement of Islam rising above the ashes of the World Trade Center. I cannot believe that the symbolism is missed by the promoters of this mosque. I therefore have to conclude that it is their intent.

    I don't consider myself a bigot and don't see Islam as fundamentally better or worse than Judaism or Christianity. However, it is used presently to justify (whether rightly or wrongly) intolerance to other religions and other ideas. As examples, I would cite the recent destruction by the Taliban of the magnificent carving of Buddha, the persecution of Christians in the middle east, and, of course, the widespread terrorism by people claiming to be Muslim. To be fair, Christians have also had their moments with the Crusades, witch hunts, and Spanish Inquisitions, among other travesties in history. I was raised Christian, but I now consider myself somewhere between agnostic and atheist. Although religion can be a force for good, I think it is clear that mostly it is twisted by men for purposes that have nothing to do with divinity or God. By my observation, more evil in the world has been done in the name of God than any other cause including money.

    For what it's worth, I doubt I will get any death threats from Christians over these views, but I wouldn't be surprised if I received some from people who say their Muslim. Now, if I were promoting a woman's right to an abortion, I wouldn't be surprised to receive death threats from both groups.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
  6. skeetz1234

    Muslims have no clue that the area around the World Trade Center is akin to holy ground for Americans. How would muslims like it if terrorist that were trained in the US, flew a plane into what is Holy Ground on their soil, destroy whatever is on that site, and then as an act of acceptance allow the US to come in and build a Statue of Liberty replica to serve as a non denomination church a couple of blocks away from that and then have Americans go there and practice their religion how they see fit.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  7. seth

    Whom ever agreed to this should be strung up. The is a slap in the face to those who died that day. This has nothing to do with bigotry it a simply a mater of poor taste. Why have a mosque with a clear view of any of the sites that radicals from that community / faith to this day celebrate the destruction and the lives they helped to destroy that day. I am not saying dont build a mosque just not within walking distance / close proximity to ground zero. Why continue to add fuel / encouragement to those who clearly look upon the events of 9/11 as a victory.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  8. Big Kitchen

    It seems like the current government will only fight for freedom of religion for Muslims not Christians or Jews. Would Christians be able to build a church or Jews be able to build a synagogue in a Muslim country like Saudi Arabia or some other Muslim country? What about if it was at a similar sight or situation over there? Yes , we have freedom of religion, but would we let the Japanese build a temple next to the Pearl Harbor Memorial? We need to keep it real and keep Muslims accountable for who funds them and their practices. What did the government do to David Karesh? But we can't even call Islam evil for being the evil religion that it is. Oh, not all Muslims are extremists you say. You are right, not all are, but the majority in the world hold to the Koran literally which is a book filled with hate and evil. This is not a matter of opinion, it simply is a matter of reading the book. And don't compare so called Christian exstremists to Islamic extremists, you don't see a Christian MOVEMENT blowing up people and when someone does in the name of Christ, Christians overwhelmingly speak out against it. Few Muslims do the same and they still hold connections to terrorist groups even if they are not the ones murdering people face to face. Maybe America is not a Christian nation, but it was founded on Judeo/Christian principles and we certainly are not a MUSLIM nation.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  9. J man

    what a petter way to show the true values of a Christian country the to turn the other cheek and forgive and build a mosque in ground zero and show terrorists that they are wrong in their actions and their expectations of our reactions.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      Yes, turn the other cheek to personal insults, but we must speak out for those that need defending.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • Painfully Aware

      Turning the other cheek is what is gotten us into this problem and has gotten Europe into the problem they are in now as well. We have basically said that we turn the other cheek and you know what Muslims said? "Oh really?... SLAP! Oh and don't get mad. Not turning the other cheek and grabbing the wrist of the hand hitting you makes you a hypocrite and a racist." (Since Islam is a race now) I have tried desperately to accept Islam and those who promote it at their word, but after reading the Qur’an I just cannot see how one could be a devout Muslim and not believe the very troubling verses in the book. Of course most people come back with, "Well the Bible is violent too!" which it is, but most Christians admit to cherry picking and concede the Bible was written by man inspired by God. Where Muslims believe that the words of the Qur’an are the direct words of Allah(God) and to disobey any part of the book is basically going against Allah(God).

      Famous Muslim scholar in Europe Tariq Ramadan visited the Islamic Center in Bielefeld, Germany (May 21, 2008) and gave a speech. He often preaches peace and understanding between faiths when on TV and in mixed crowds of non-Muslims. This is a quote from his German speech, which he assumed was private. "My brothers and sisters, we must exploit the so-called democracy and freedom of speech here in the West to reach our goals. Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and the Qur’an teach us that we must use every conceivable means and opportunity to defeat the enemies of Allah. Tell the infidels in public, we respect your laws and your constitutions, which we Muslims believe that these are as worthless as the paper they are written on. The only law we must respect and apply is the Shari’s.”

      Ramadan added, “The Germans claim that they want to integrate you in their society. We tell them we are going to integrate them in our Umma (Muslim world) after converting them to Islam.”

      I must restate that I really want to believe that Islam is ultimately peaceful and well meaning, but I simply can't. I'm sure there are Muslims out there who are peaceful, but you cannot convince me that they are truly devout and be that way. They have to be ignoring verses of the Qur'an just like many Christians ignore verses of the Bible that are incompatible with Modern Society. There are increasingly large numbers of people in the West (whether they be immigrants or their indoctrinated children) who mean us harm. Saying that all Muslims are like this is blatantly wrong. Saying that Islam itself is like this is not all that inaccurate. Unfortunately while some wrongly claim all Muslims are a threat, others just as wrongly claim there is no threat at all. There is a threat being fostered within our borders and it is a threat that is growing rapidly.

      August 6, 2010 at 2:04 am |
  10. MAMD

    Well, if people don't stand up for the values of their countries, they will turn into the "Netherlands" where Muslims ruin everything they touch, including the welfare system. Just look up "Muslims in Europe" or Eurabia ... see the facts and outcome if leaders become weak. Look up Geert Wilders too.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:44 pm |
  11. Caspian

    Cordoba was the center of the Islamic Caliphate or Empire. Now the Islamo fascists seek to make NYC the center of their new Islamic Caliphate. The imam of the mosque is all for bringing the barbaric Sharia law into the US. With the NYC panel approving the building, he is one step closer to his dream of establishing the Islamic Caliphate.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:41 pm |
    • Steve G

      There hasn't been a caliphate in Islam at all since the 1920's when the Turks abolished the Ottoman version. The Caliphate you are trying to refer to (but know nothing about) was the Umayid caliphate, which was destroyed in 1492 when the Catholic Spanish royalty conquered Granada. There was an Abbasid caliphate centered in Baghdad and the Fatamid caliphate in Egypt, none of which exist anymore. Moslem extremists who carry on about restoring "the Caliphate" are profoundly ignorant about their own religion and history. The whole thing fell apart centuries ago because Islam became too diverse to have a single leadership.

      August 17, 2010 at 1:18 am |
  12. George

    Google "Muslims demonstrating in London" and see what New York has to look forward to, and not just New York, but anywhere that Muslims live. Once they gain a significant number of residents they will try to dominate the political scene, and eventually they will replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  13. Cascadoux

    I suspect most of those who are requesting that the "good Muslims" stand up, and take to the streets have never been the victims of bullies, as it is with the terrorists upon fellow Muslims. They have violently usurped power over their brethrens, and is dominating them in every aspect of Muslim life. To stand up would take a courage, to willingly risk loss of life and limbs of loved ones and themselves. Who among us have that kind of courage pray for those who don't; talk with, encourage and build support. Stand up and fight our own version of terrorism, and bullies, like many in the Christian Right, whose sole purpose is to destroy other religions and proclaim their's as the sole inheritors of the Kingdom of God. If we are to ask courage of others, then we must begin with finding it first in ourselves.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      You are right that Christians say, "No man comes to the Father but by me." It's what Jesus said. For us not to speak out against evil that seeks to murder would be evil in and of itself.

      August 5, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  14. anonymous

    I am ethnic Chinese. born and raised in Indonesia, who experienced being attacked by Muslim extremists in my own country back in 1998. Back then ethnic Chinese was blame for many things that we didn't do to the religion. We were the enemy of Islam because we were capitalistic and control the country's economy. And one day we were attacked. Sounds familiar??

    I wish Muslims had been outspoken about what their fellow Muslims who are terrorists and like to hurt non-Muslims have done. I have no doubts there are many good Muslims, but I need these good people to acknowledge their fellow Muslims' unforgivable deed and with me, condemn their acts as loud as possible and fight them until they are defeated and can never hurt other people again. Until these good Muslims do this, I will always feel that them wearing headscarves and proposing putting a mosque in the middle of the city in the context of defending their pride and religion is rubbing salt on my wounds.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
    • Victor

      This is similar to saying that your Chinese appearance is offensive unless you constantly spend your free time denouncing the Chinese that commit acts of violence in Tibet until they have been stopped. And of course, if you're unsuccessful then we must assume all Chinese people are offensive.

      August 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm |
  15. Da Kine

    Well, I guess it's perfectly legal to build this thing, but...wouldn't that be about as tactful as putting up a german cultural center a block or two from the gates to Auschwitz??

    August 5, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
    • Big Kitchen

      BINGO!

      August 5, 2010 at 11:21 pm |
  16. Rebecca

    Wow. I am a Muslim.

    I absolutely abhor terrorism, hatred, and how Islam is portrayed. I do not care if someone converts out of Islam, and I certainly will not kill them for what they did. I'm not an Arab. I was born and raised in America by my WHITE father and my SOUTH EAST ASIAN mother. I'm a college-educated woman. Most of my friends aren't Muslim. I wish Israelis and Palestinians worked together.

    If I screamed that on the streets, would anyone care? Or would they be attracted to a bearded fool burning a flag and pretending to be a representation of the true Islam?

    I cried on 9/11, too. I felt sickened, and every time I remember, it brings a shiver down my spine. To say that I danced and partied on that day insults me more than anything else in the world.

    For those who happen to know how every single Muslim thinks and believes, then maybe you should get off the message boards and make some friends.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:20 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 11:26 pm |
  17. tk

    These people were having a party in the streets in their countries when the Twin Towers went down. They clelebrated.
    They have been saying since 1776 " Kill the infidels". The insensitivity of our own Americans is nonsense. This Political Correctness will destroy our country. Hiltler was a great convincing speaker too. look how he mobilized the people. Look at the suffering of Europe now that Muslims came in. Make 1 cartoon about their God and You will die!!! Make fun of Christians it's okay!!!??? Hey we can take it keep doing it!

    August 5, 2010 at 10:19 pm |
  18. 1012162028410

    It is amusing watching you americans tear each other apart. Because you can't settle your internal differences, it will be all too easy to enslave you all someday. Don't you know the rest of the world hates you and wants to see your blood?

    August 5, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
    • NYer

      The world hates us because we kill them when they fight us. Take a look at history. WWI we won, WWII we won, Korea we won, Vetnam we did not win but will killed far more of them then they killed of ours, the two middle east wars we killed lots more of them then they killed of ours. So I see why you are upset. Think about this, the war in Iraq and Afg. has killed almost as many americans in 8 3/4 years as a half an hour of the civil war in a minor battle. Think that americans are fat and lazy all you want, but when we start to fight, watch out.

      September 6, 2010 at 1:28 am |
  19. Knack

    Maybe the Japanese will build an American Culture Center at Hiroshima, and the Jews can build a Nazi Understanding Center at the concentration camps. Lets see how much "tolerance" people are willing to tolerate.

    August 5, 2010 at 10:13 pm |
  20. Sashland

    oops, nevermind – there it is at 8:03pm...

    August 5, 2010 at 10:13 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.