Jihadists are excited about the inflammatory statement the proposed mosque and community center would make just two blocks from where the World Trade Center towers once stood, says terrorism expert Walid Phares.
In an exclusive Newsmax.TV interview, the best-selling author and Newsmax contributor says the Park51 site holds much symbolic importance for Islamic extremists.
"The jihadists, in general terms, they're very excited about the issue because they understand it has a political ramification," Phares says. "If you read their comments, they talk about the fact it has a name that was viewed in the past as the capital of the caliphate."
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Proponents of the mosque, formerly known as the Cordoba project, say "Cordoba" refers to an era of relative tolerance and prosperity during Muslim rule of Spain's Iberian peninsula around 1,000 A.D.
Opponents say Cordoba actually refers to a period of Muslim triumph over once-Christian lands. They point out the ancient Cordoba mosque was built on the site of a Christian church.
"Now it is going to be done, even though symbolically, in New York," Phares says. "They are excited about it because that is a leading phenomenon for mobilization, for indoctrination, and for an eventual clash."
However, moderate Muslims have a quite different view of the project, Phares says. They see the location as obviously provocative, he says.
"In the middle, you have moderates, who are saying, 'We need not basically to engage in this provocation. Why do we need to do it? There are so many other locations where we can establish any mosque that we want, because America is about religious freedom,'" Phares tells Newsmax.
Still other Muslims balk at the project because of its estimated cost of more than $100 million, he says.
"Putting that much petro dollars in one location when you have disasters around the region, while mosques have been destroyed in Pakistan and other places, it doesn’t make sense for many of these Muslims and Arabs," says Phares, a medical doctor and author of “The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad.”
Phares also tells Newsmax that President Obama would be wrong in his prime-time Oval Office speech on Iraq Tuesday to declare the end of hostilities in Iraq.
"That is not the case because al-Qaida is still around," says the Fox News contributor. "It is going to continue with this campaign. And the Iranian regime still has a lot of activities between Baghdad and Basra."
Other highlights from the Newsmax interview with Phares:
- Setting a deadline for the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is a mistake. "All the logic of having a deadline for us to withdrawal or to deploy doesn't work with Jihadists," Phares says.
- Perhaps because of political correctness, the Obama administration has "basically failed" to identify its jihadist enemies in the Middle East. "Unfortunately there were memos issued by high ranking officials of the administration last year in which it says, 'We are not fighting a global war on the terrorists. We are actually not even fighting the jihadists.'" Not properly identifying the threat makes it impossible to "recognize the ideology behind that threat," he says.
- The real war taking place against extremists is ideological. Phares urges the administration "to correct its strategies, to redefine who we are fighting, to engage in a war of ideas, to make sure we have partners in this region with whom we can fight this war of ideas. Otherwise, we could be fighting it militarily but the Taliban, the Khomeini, and others, are producing more and more, younger and younger generations of jihadists. That war of ideas we have not even begun to wage."
- Phares does not hold out hope that the upcoming talks between Israelis and Palestinians will bear much fruit. "As long as Iran is ordering Hamas and Hezbollah to bring down any peace process, any political process, I think no envoys, the senator [Mitchell] now or any envoys in the future, can really cut a deal," he says.
- Iran's nuclear threat also involves the development of long-range missiles and a powerful anti-aircraft system. These elements limit the time the Israelis have to decide whether to attack Iran.
- "They are on a clock," Phares says. "The Israelis are on a clock that is different from the United States and the rest of the international community."
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