Ali Soufan: The National Security Mosque
August 18, 2010
By Ali Soufan
The furor over the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero makes me think back to one of the most important lessons I learned from al Qaeda terrorists I interrogated–that they have a warped view of America. To them–and this they get from Osama Bin Laden’s rhetoric–the U.S. is a country at war with Islam and Muslims, and so they had a duty to fight us.
While I was serving on the frontlines I found that this distorted view of America was common among ordinary Muslims too, and it was only by correcting this image did we encourage locals to help our investigations and turn against al Qaeda. Our efforts were helped by public statements, like from President Bush in the days after 9/11, declaring that America was at war with al Qaeda and not with Islam. I was in Sana, Yemen, on that day, and I remember our military and law enforcement group feeling encouraged that our leadership understood how to frame our battle.
But while we started off on the right note in dealing with the Muslim world, our leadership soon demonstrated that they failed to understand that our war against al Qaeda was not just a military fight, but an asymmetrical battle for the proverbial hearts and minds of Muslims across the world too. We should have been highlighting that al Qaeda has killed thousands of Muslims and blown up dozens of mosques around the world. But instead we failed to appreciate the importance of rebutting al Qaeda’s propaganda and of turning ordinary Muslims against the terror network.
When we eventually did this, we had great successes. As commander in Iraq Gen. Petraeus reached out to local Sunni groups and convinced them that al Qaeda was their enemy and America their friend. That led to a remarkable turnaround in our fortunes in Iraq. He is now trying to do the same in Afghanistan. Just this weekend Meet the Press reported that when Gen. Petraeus learned that the Taliban attacked a mosque near the border with Pakistan, he ordered it to be publicized among the local population.
There are many reasons for supporting the Muslim community’s right to build a cultural center and mosque on private property, not least of all the First Amendment of the Constitution guaranteeing freedom of religion. But from a national security perspective, our leaders need to understand that no one is likely to be happier with the opposition to building a mosque than Osama Bin Laden. His next video script has just written itself.
The potential damage to our national security is not only to our work abroad, but at home too. Today in America we are facing an increased threat of homegrown terrorism. While Bin Laden couldn’t find a single American-Muslim to be part of the 9/11 plot, today, thanks to mixture of poor (and even harmful) leadership within the American-Muslim community and failed strategies from our government in dealing with the threat, some young Muslims are finding themselves increasingly isolated and marginalized–and are becoming easy prey for radicals.
When demagogues appear to be equating Islam with terrorism, it’s making young Muslims unsure about their place in the country. It bolsters the message that radicalizers are selling: That the war is against Islam, and Muslims are not welcome in America. As a Muslim-American, I know that isn’t true. Whatever some rabble-raising politicians say about one mosque doesn’t trump what America really stands for–the values enshrined by our constitution that guarantee equality and freedom for all, whatever your race, religion or creed.
Young American-Muslims need to focus on comments by leaders like Mayor Bloomberg, whose stand on the issue exemplifies the very best in American leadership: educating people and standing up for the values of our Constitution, rather than playing on fear and ignorance.
It is because of the principles enshrined in our constitution that thousands of American-Muslims, like Americans from all races and religions, volunteer to serve our country in the military, intelligence and law enforcement communities. The Pledge of Allegiance, ending “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” is a constant reminder that America is worth fighting for.
To those politicians now saying a mosque can’t be built near Ground Zero, I would like them to take a walk through Arlington Cemetery and learn the names and stories of American-Muslims who have died in service to our country. They should also learn a bit more about the victims of 9/11, such as Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a Muslim-American who was a New York City Police cadet and paramedic. When he saw smoke coming from the Twin Towers he ran to assist, where he died helping victims.
Another Muslim who died in the World Trade Center was Mohammad Chowdhury who was working at Windows on the World to support his pregnant wife and daughter. He never made it home that day, and his son born 48 hours later never knew his father. Al Qaeda didn’t differentiate between Muslims and other Americans when it hit the Twin Towers–and neither should we.
To read the full article please click on the link below:http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/18/ground-zero-mosque-controversy-opinions-contributors-ali-soufan.html
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