September 1st, 2010
11:38 AM ET

Former military interrogator: Building NYC Islamic center would help fight al Qaeda

Building an Islamic community center near the site of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York will "deprive al Qaeda of its No. 1 recruiting tool," a former United States military interrogator in Iraq said Wednesday.

"The No. 1 reason foreign fighters came to Iraq was Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," said Matthew Alexander, the author of "How to Break a Terrorist," referring to the notorious U.S.-run prison in Iraq and the detention center for foreign fighters at the U.S. military base in Cuba.

"Symbols do matter," Alexander said, arguing: "What's going to end the conflict is defeating al Qaeda's ability to recruit."

Alexander was speaking to reporters on a conference call in defense of the controversial project that has been labeled the "ground zero mosque."

Liberal Christian and Jewish leaders also participated in the call, organized by a group called Faith in Public Life.

Opponents of the plan to build the community center say it is too close to the site of the 9/11 terror attacks, and is an affront to the memory of those who died in the al Qaeda strike.

But Lisa Sharon Harper, the head of New York Faith & Justice, said backing the project was a chance to put into action Jesus' commandment to love your neighbor.

And Simon Greer, the head of Jewish Funds for Justice, cited the first-century Jewish thinker Hillel, who demanded: "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am for myself only, what am I?"

He said Americans were doing a pretty good job on the first question - being for themselves - but he questioned whether they were doing as well by their Muslim neighbors.

"Are we for them? If not, what are we?" he asked.

Also on Wednesday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a series of commercials designed to fight what it called growing Islamophobia. One in the series features a Muslim firefighter who was among the first responders on 9/11.

Opponents of the New York Islamic center are "trying to tell the world and tell Americans that Muslims do not belong here. That Muslims are the others, when we are in fact, all Americans," said Nahad Awad, executive director of CAIR.

"They're trying to portray Muslims as foreigners. This is a dangerous repeat of history. If it's allowed, it's going to hurt all of us," he said.

Security expert Andrew Bacevich of Boston University insisted in the Faith in Public Life conference call that the United States was not fighting the Muslim world.

"We are not engaged in a war with Islam – and were we to be engaged in a war with Islam, we could not win," he warned.

But Pamela Geller, one of the earliest and most vocal opponents of the New York Islamic center, said that there were both religious leaders and security experts on both sides of the debate.

And, she said, the organizers of the project "have already shown that they don't care for their neighbors at the ground zero site. They have zero regard for the hurt feelings that this mosque has provoked. Why is it always incumbent upon non-Muslims to accommodate and show neighborliness to Muslims, but this impulse is never reciprocated?" she demanded.

"We are not calling for no mosques to be built anywhere. We're just asking Muslims to take account of non-Muslim feelings regarding ground zero. They have, in response, spit in our eye," said Geller, of the group Stop the Islamicization of America.

And she completely rejected the former interrogator's argument about undercutting al Qaeda.

"Actually, the mosque at ground zero would be a huge recruiting tool for Islamic jihadists and supremacists: there are thousands of triumphal mosques built on the sites of churches, synagogues and Hindu temples that were destroyed by jihadists, and absolutely no 'mosques of reconciliation' built on the sites of Islamic jihad attacks," she told CNN.

"Which, then, is more likely? That the mosque will be viewed as a monument to jihad victory, as so many others have been, or that it will be seen as the first-ever 'mosque of reconciliation?'" she asked.

The project in question, officially known as Park51, is slated to include a variety of facilities, including a prayer room, a performing arts center, gym, swimming pool and other public spaces. It is due to be located two blocks from the World Trade Center.

A source familiar with the project told CNN's Allan Chernoff Tuesday the structure is being planned as an 11-story building. It will cover 120,000 square feet - 10,000 feet of which would be designated for the Muslim prayer space. The developer is considering the possibility of an interfaith education/meditation/prayer space as well, the source said.

It will be built on property the center already owns, two blocks from where the World Trade Center was destroyed by Islamic extremists on September 11, 2001. The attacks killed more than 2,700 people.

- Newsdesk editor, The CNN Wire

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Islam • Military • Muslim

soundoff (315 Responses)
  1. Gulf Pastor

    there are plenty of mosques throughout America.

    September 5, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  2. Vaish

    Sad how politicians and activists on the left and right have turned this into "an issue" to suit their own narrow motives – it is clear to me that none of them seem give a damn about the feelings of 9/11 victims families and are the one's inciting all the rage and trampling all over the memories of the 2,948 people who died on that day...


    September 2, 2010 at 10:21 pm |
  3. Sam Zo C


    Christians doesn't want mosque to be built there...Muslims wants to built the mosque there. There is a very easy solution here if Muslims wants to be friendly with all kinds of religion and wants to share the harmony among them as well as others.

    Then no one will have any problem and everyone will be happy. IF Muslims are really serious of sharing happiness among all religion, this is the best opportunity for them.Nobody cares of the community center there, so why not built churches, mosque,temple in that area instead of making swimming pool and other thing.

    September 2, 2010 at 7:35 pm |

    Found this site that answers a lot of misconceptions on Islam.. Education is key ppl..


    September 2, 2010 at 2:39 pm |
  5. GSA

    Thank you Kate, you are awesome and your posts are as well. You keep a level-head and open mind and say what you feel without stepping on anyone else....except for those like Reality that deserved to get stepped on, then you burn em, haha I enjoy it.

    September 2, 2010 at 11:40 am |
  6. AGA



    September 2, 2010 at 3:34 am |
  7. AGA

    I would like to thank the media for giving so much attention to Islam. Converts to Islam have sky rocketed over the past few years due to the increasing advertising of Islam in media networks. Over 20,000 Americans each year convert to Islam.

    Praise be to God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.


    September 2, 2010 at 1:36 am |
  8. AGA

    I would like to thank the media for giving so much attention to Islam. Converts to Islam worldwide have sky rocketed ever since the media has been advertising Islam. Over 20,000 Americans eah year convert to Islam.

    Praise be to God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.


    September 2, 2010 at 1:30 am |
  9. Garrick Harris

    The fact that evil Islam even has extremests is proof that it only serves one purpose. To put an end to free Christianity in America. It is obvious that Wzrd1 has no idea what Islam is. There are 1 Billion evil muslims and we must stop them from entering our free Christian society. This is not the middle ages it is 2010 we dont do honor killings and cut heads off. Islam does! They are still in the dark ages! Islam bring nothing to the world except terror! These people are worse then Nazi Germany or Japan during WWII – we as free Christians must understand their full intent to end Christianity. Wake Up America before it is too late.

    September 1, 2010 at 10:53 pm |
  10. Garrick Harris

    Islam is the only true evil terror in the world today – People who dont fully understand that have no idea what true Islam is. We should close all Mosque' in America. They have no place in a free Christian society – no matter what you think you know. They only come here to spread terror.

    September 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm |
    • Kate

      @Garrick Harris

      We live in America, not Spain.

      Just sayin'

      September 1, 2010 at 11:04 pm |
  11. InsertPictureofMohammadHere

    If we don't hand over control of the country and submit to Sharia law, the terrorists will win. Taking these preventative steps and altering our way of life provides a symbol to Al Qaeda (a symbol that we're spineless and giving in).

    September 1, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
    • Kate


      You could always move to Lichtenstein.

      Just sayin'

      September 1, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  12. What a CROCK

    This guy had absolutely nothing to do with the downfall of Zarqawi. This dude is an a$$hat!

    September 1, 2010 at 6:58 pm |
  13. Freedom of Religion

    Unfortunately, all my impressions of ALL Religions are that they're the cause of most all our war, disagreements, and problems.

    Religions have become the twisted into so many factions, denominations, and sects that their followers can't even agree on what their holy books say. How can so many books intended to teach a way of life that preserves peace turn into tools of war? Well,...it's mankind who writes, re-writes, re-interprets the texts. Even to begin with they are all 'visions' that people who feel 'special' have received from God. If there's anything I know of man it's to never underestimate his willingness to act selfishly, and his Ego's ability to find ways of justifying it.

    Any God who created life would never ask you to destroy it.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
  14. Freedom of Religion

    Build a "Freedom of Religion" monument.

    The thing that differentiates Religions here vs the Middle East is that America doesn't approve of kill each other over our differences. This is the main thing the Terrorists hate about us, that we would tolerate our neighbors who we disagree with and not try to force them to believe as we do. Anyone who wants to worship here and appreciate Freedom of Religion is American. Anyone who secretly wants their Religion to take out another is a closet terrorist.

    September 1, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  15. Shawn

    There is a guy a ways down the street who is in favor of the mosque,... Everyone else is against it!?!

    September 1, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
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