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I cannot agree with the theory that such broad resistance represents Islamophobic sentiments, nor that it is a product of a "rightwing" smear campaign against one imam or another.
Americans are neither bigots nor gullible.
Deep sensitivity to the families of 9/11 victims was cited as yet another explanation, but this too does not answer the core question.
If one accepts that the 19 fanatics who flew planes into the Twin Towers were merely self-proclaimed Muslims who, by their very act, proved themselves incapable of acting in the name of "true Islam," then building a mosque at Ground Zero should evoke no emotion whatsoever; it should not be viewed differently than, say, building a church, a community center or a druid shrine.
A more realistic explanation is that most Americans do not buy the 19 fanatics story, but view the the 9/11 assault as a product of an anti- American ideology that, for good and bad reasons, has found a fertile breeding ground in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youngsters who see their Muslim identity inextricably tied with this anti-American ideology.
HIP HIP HOORAY!!!
THE GROUND Zero mosque is being equated with that ideology. Public objection to the mosque thus represents a vote of no confidence in mainstream American Muslim leadership which, on the one hand, refuses to acknowledge the alarming dimension that anti-Americanism has taken in their community and, paradoxically, blames America for its creation.
The American Muslim leadership has had nine years to build up trust by taking proactive steps against the spread of anti-American terror-breeding ideologies, here and abroad.
Evidently, however, a sizable segment of the American public is not convinced that this leadership is doing an effective job of confidence building.
In public, Muslim spokespersons praise America as the best country for Muslims to live and practice their faith. But in sermons, speeches, rallies, classrooms, conferences and books sold at those conferences, the narrative is often different. There, Noam Chomsky's conspiracy theory is the dominant paradigm, and America's foreign policy is one long chain of "crimes" against humanity, especially against Muslims.
Affirmation of these conspiratorial theories sends mixed messages to young Muslims, engendering anger and helplessness: America and Israel are the first to be blamed for Muslim failings, sufferings and violence.
Terrorist acts, whenever condemned, are immediately "contextually explicated" (to quote Tariq Ramadan); spiritual legitimizers of suicide bombings (e.g. Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi of Qatar) are revered beyond criticism; Hamas and Hizbullah are permanently shielded from the label of "terrorist."
Overall, the message that emerges from this discourse is implicit, but can hardly be missed: When Muslim grievance is at question, America is the culprit and violence is justified, if not obligatory.
True, we have not helped Muslims in the confidence-building process. Treating homegrown terror acts as isolated incidents of psychological disturbances while denying their ideological roots has given American Muslim leaders the illusion that they can achieve public acceptance without engaging in serious introspection and responsibility sharing for allowing victimhood, anger and entitlement to spawn such acts.
The construction of the Ground Zero mosque would further prolong this illusion.
If I were New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, I would reassert Muslims' right to build the Islamic center and the mosque, but I would expend the same energy, not one iota less, in trying to convince them to put it somewhere else, or replace it with a community-managed all-faiths center in honor of the 9/11 victims.
Fellow Muslim Americans will benefit more from co-ownership of consensual projects than sole ownership of confrontational ones.
The writer is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, named after his son. He is a coeditor of I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Light, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.