Zuhdi Jasser

During the past few months, a brouhaha grew over the construction of a Muslim Cultural Center, known as the “Cordoba House,” near ground zero. The center was dubbed a “mosque” by its detractors; the supporters, however, proclaimed that it was a Cultural Center, which would serve as a response to the perpetrators who conducted the atrocious attacks against America on 9/11 as well as serve as a memorial. Indeed, within the Cordoba House, there is also a project underway to construct a prayer space for Muslims. Of course, it is this particular project that is galvanizing some individuals to take to the streets and protest against it. One individual, who spoke out against the mosque and is celebrated by the media and the right-wing as the true, unapologetic moderate Muslim, was Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, a former U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander and the president and founder of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy.

Dr. Jasser has appeared on many media outlets expressing his sordid views of the organizers and founders of the Cordoba House, as well as the project itself. He has also written extensively on it as well. In his article, “Mosque Unbecoming,” which was published in the New York Post, he puts forward his fears about the Cordoba House’s funders and organizers, and even challenges the whole prospect and its worth at Ground Zero. He writes, “To put it bluntly, Ground Zero is the one place in America where Muslims should think less about teaching Islam and ‘our good side’ and more about being American and fulfilling our responsibilities to confront the ideology of our enemies.” He continues, reiterating his point again, but in a more simplified and concise manner: “Ground Zero is purely about being American. It can never be about being Muslim.”

After reviewing these points, numerous questions come to mind: What is Dr. Jasser attempting to explain here? Muslims need to be more American (how?) and less Muslim? Is being an American and Muslim mutually exclusive? Where does that leave Dr. Jasser, who calls himself an “American Muslim” within that same article? Should Muslims not show their “good side” (whatever that means)? Is Dr. Jasser showing his “good side”? Dr. Jasser does not provide us any answers for the aforementioned questions, or the implications that can be derived from it. Instead, he proceeds to berate the founders of the Cordoba House, Imam Abdul Rauf and Daisy Khan, by criticizing their stance on Islam, extremism and terrorism: “They seem to conveniently view 9/11, al Qaeda and every manifestation of militant Islamism as simply a public-relations problem for ‘Muslims in the West.’ Imam Rauf has even gone so far as to bizarrely say that the 9/11 terrorists were “‘not Muslims.'” So what if that’s what their trying to achieve? Indeed, many Muslims would agree that the 9/11 terrorists weren’t Muslims because of their actions–although, the terrorists would of course disagree. But imagine if both Imam Rauf and Ms. Khan agreed that they were Muslims, this would imply that they were truly following the tenets of Islam; if so, how would Dr. Jasser feel?

Dr. Jasser, at the very conclusion of his article, introduces another idea which he did not touch upon nor expand earlier in his article. He wrote, “This center is trying to change the narrative of 9/11 — to diminish what happened at Ground Zero.” Of course, the organizers and founders would disagree. The center’s symbolism is what Dr. Jasser doesn’t seem to grasp. It is a direct challenge to the extremists who wanted to turn American Muslims against non-Muslim Americans. The center is in fact preserving the 9/11 narrative, since Muslims from all professions, backgrounds, and countries will most likely visit it, and will be reminded of their commitment to fighting extremism and the ideological currents that promotes it. Dr. Jasser, unfortunately does not, or refuses, to see it this way.