The controversy over plans to build a mosque two blocks from the site where the World Trade Center once stood reveals a deeper problem within the Muslim community.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is behind the project, says he wants to build bridges with fellow Americans and condemns terrorism. Yet he has refused to call Hamas a terrorist group, even though the State Department has designated it as such, and he is tone deaf to what should be obvious: Building a mosque so close to ground zero is wounding to many of those who lost their loved ones at the hands of Islamic extremists.
This lack of understanding is consistent with what the FBI has found in trying to cultivate the Muslim community. To be sure, leads from some Muslims have led to FBI cases in such cities as Lackawanna, N.Y.; Lodi, Calif.; and Atlanta. But in general, the FBI has met resistance to its requests for help from Muslim leaders in developing sources and leads in the war on terror. In fact, as many as 10 percent of the imams at the 2,000 mosques in the United States preach jihad and hatred of America, according to top FBI counterterrorism officials.
The FBI has found that Muslims often are in denial about the fact that the terrorists who threaten the U.S. are Muslims.
“I had this discussion with the director of a very prominent Muslim organization here in D.C.,” a counterterrorism agent told me for my book “The Terrorist Watch: Inside the Desperate Race to Stop the Next Attack.” “And he said, ‘Why are you guys always looking at the Muslim community?’”
The agent began laughing.
“Okay, you know what I’ll do?” the agent said. “I’ll start an Irish squad, or how about a Japanese squad? You want me to waste my time and your taxpayer’s dollars going to look at the Irish? They’re not killing Americans. Right now, I’m going to put my money and my people in a place where the threat is.”
Then the agent tells them to take a look at the cells that the FBI has rolled up in the United States.
“I can name the home-grown cells, all of whom are Muslim, all of whom were seeking to murder Americans,” the agent tells them. “It’s not the Irish, it’s not the French, it’s not the Catholics, it’s not the Protestants; it’s the Muslims.”
In response, Muslim groups have told him he is rough around the edges.
“I’m not rough around the edges,” he tells them. “You’re just not used to straight talk.”
They respond by getting angry at him.
Although Muslims occasionally will condemn al-Qaida, “Rarely do we have them coming to us and saying, ‘There are three guys in the community that we’re very concerned about,’” one agent says. “They want to fix it inside the community. They’re a closed group, a very, very closed group. It’s part of their culture that they want to settle the problem within their own communities. They’ve actually said that to us, which I then go crazy over.”
At one meeting, a Muslim group suggested having a photo taken of its members with FBI Director Bob Mueller to show their community isn’t a bunch of terrorists and that they are partners in the war on terror.
An agent replied, “Let me make a suggestion: When you bring to my attention real extremists who are here to plan and do something, who are here supporting terrorism, and I work that based on your information, then I promise you, I will have the director stand up on the stage with you.”
To the agent’s amazement, the answer was: “That could never happen. We would lose our constituency. We could never admit to bringing someone to the FBI.”
“Well, we’ve just defined the problem, haven’t we?” the agent told them.
While there is “a lot of talk about engagement,” the agent said, “realistically, we’ve got a long, long way to go.”
The overwhelming majority of Muslims do not deserve to be tarnished by the terrorist acts of those who have hijacked their religion. For the most part, they are peace-loving people, some of whom are my friends.
But by refusing to condemn terrorists, and by showing insensitivity to New Yorkers devastated by the 9/11 attack, Rauf has made himself a poster boy for attitudes that need to change within the Muslim community.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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