Americans still associate Islam with violence

NEW YORK Fri Aug 20, 2010 2:37pm EDT

The front of a lower Manhattan building that will possibly house the Cordoba Initiative Mosque and Cultural Center in New York August 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

The front of a lower Manhattan building that will possibly house the Cordoba Initiative Mosque and Cultural Center in New York August 17, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The furor over plans to build a Muslim cultural center near the World Trade Center site shows nine years of efforts to separate Islam from association with terrorism have largely failed, experts say.

"I'd take it one step further. I'd say that it's far, far worse today than it was in the immediate aftermath of 9/11," said Reza Aslan, a writer and scholar on religion, using the shorthand for the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Public opinion polls show more than 60 percent of Americans oppose building the proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque two blocks from the site known as "Ground Zero."

Former U.S. President George W. Bush repeatedly sought to separate Islam from the al Qaeda hijackers who carried out the attacks there and on the Pentagon, and all major American Muslim organizations have issued repeated statements condemning violence in the name of Islam.

But that message has been overpowered by news coverage of the seemingly endless attacks on civilians often claimed by al Qaeda, the Taliban and other Islamist extremists in the Muslim world, in addition to images of U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Then there are cases closer to home.

In February, an Afghan immigrant pleaded guilty to plotting a suicide bomb attack on New York City subways after al Qaeda training.

In June a Pakistani-born American citizen pleaded guilty to attempting to set off a car bomb in Times Square, saying Islamist extremists would continue to attack the United States.


Receiving far less attention are regular statements from the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations strongly condemning any violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.

"The Fiqh Council of North America wishes to reaffirm Islam's condemnation of terrorism and religious extremism," the council said in a 2008 fatwa, or religious ruling.

"Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism."

Both Muslim and non-Muslim religious scholars generally support that view of the faith's mainstream, but for many Americans extremist actions have had more resonance than the moderate majority's words and practices.

The Times Square bomb case played out just as the Cordoba Initiative was seeking permission from local authorities to build its 13-story, $100 million Muslim center and mosque near the World Trade Center site where 2,750 people were killed on September 11, 2001.

Republicans have seized on the controversy over the plan ahead of midterm elections where Democrats are fighting to retain control of Congress amid difficult economic conditions.

Newt Gingrich, a leading Republican and possible presidential candidate, has called the proposal an "assertion of Islamist triumphalism."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani said it was "creating more division, more anger, more hatred." Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin called it "a stab in the heart of ... Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11."

"Republicans are reading the American population on this better than the Democrats in the sense that the American population is fearful," said William Swatos of the Association for the Sociology of Religion in Galva, Illinois, agreeing that efforts to separate Islam from terrorism in the public mind have failed.


Religious scholar Aslan blames "Islamophobia" that he said was being whipped by the Republican Party establishment.

"They are making religious bigotry -- just as they made anti-immigrant sentiment -- part of their political platform," Aslan said. "Democrats in the most cowardly fashion have completely caved in to this challenge."

While some Democrats have joined Obama in defending the plan for the New York Muslim center, others, like some Republican critics, have suggested it be built at a location more distant from Ground Zero.

The politician offering the most forceful defense of the mosque is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a political independent not seeking re-election.

Opponents of the mosque site contend allegations of bigotry are unfair, saying the plan's supporters ignore the pain of 9/11 survivors.

"If one victim doesn't like it, we don't need the mosque," said Thane Rosenbaum, director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society at New York's Fordham University.

"We're being told religious tolerance goes one way" and that "Americans must tolerate that the mosque needs to be there."

(Editing by Mark Egan and Jerry Norton)

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Comments (60)
Havoc29 wrote:
Gee, I wonder why so many Americans still associate violence with Islam? Could it be that their supreme law states that all non-Muslims shall convert or be put to the sword? Could it be that so many Muslim countries still practice brutal and backwards methods of treating women
(stoning, beheadings and genital mutilations)? Could it be that they still practice slavery (Sudan and Chad)? Could it be that a terrorist organization rules over Gaza (Hamas, coupled with Hezbollah state in their founding charters that Israel needs to wiped off the map)? Or could it be that just nine short years ago, 19 thugs flew jetliners into our buildings and butchered 3,000 Americans?
Now, Mr. Trotta, based on those examples, where on earth would you get the notion that Americans still assoicate violence with Islam?

Aug 20, 2010 3:09pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
cashman57 wrote:
C.A.I.R. is a supporter of terrorism and its members and leaders are closely linked with hamas and other murderers.
The daily violence visited upon people from the followers of islam has to stop before people will look at islam and not think about violence.
To be sure every follower of islam is not violent, but enough of them are to keep newpapers and other media reporting it.A recent report from saudi Arabia tells us that the victims of an attack want the government to cripple the attacker. If the followers of islam don’t want to be seen as violent then they have to stop the violence being perpetrated in the name of islam

Aug 20, 2010 3:13pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Skydancer wrote:
I don’t think its fair what people are doing to the people that attend this Mosque. Hasn’t that Mosque been there for a very long time? Would people try to pressure them to leave if they weren’t wanting to expand/upgrade their Mosque? This is America! Get a grip!

I also don’t think its right to expect American Muslims to have to constantly denounce terrorism, that is ridiculous.
… but at the same time – there is so much oppression and bigotry and hateful behavior against women, gays, HIV patients etc et, that very few seem to speak out against.

I love muslims and have many cousins who are muslim, and I get this view from them! But I just know its really hard for a lot of people to understand why they don’t seem to speak out against the abuse of women, murder of gays, and cruel and unusual punishments.

Unfortunately this and the extremists have caused some very ignorant views to crop up.

Please just think about what I have said before you judge. I love everyone, and without Muslims our world would be no where near as civilized as it is, if you can call it that. Pick up a history book and you’ll see what a beautiful and enduring culture the Muslim/Arab world has been. As far as I know about history, the cultures that spawned Islam *were* the only civilized cultures at the time.

But I think its time to get aggressive against the oppression of others. You can’t just march for the freedom of Palestine, you need to march for the freedom of everyone, including the people who are unfairly persecuted and oppressed just because of their gender or sexual orientation.

Mohamed and Jesus were the first feminists.

Aug 20, 2010 3:24pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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