Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday fretted that the "angry voices" protesting
against the Ground Zero mosque will hurt Barack Obama's attempts to
reach out to the Muslim world. Talking to American University Professor
Akbar Ahmed, the MSNBC host put the responsibility of tolerance on
Americans: "Some would say that it is, really, for Americans, for majority of Americans to be more sensitive to minority communities." [MP3 audio here .]
Defending Fiesal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the project, she lobbied, "It's not really the obligation for the imam to, you know, he talked to members of the Jewish community, the JCC, the Jewish Community Centers were a model... He talked to some members of the 9/11 families, not all clearly. Why is the burden on him?"
-Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center. Click here  to follow him on Twitter.
ANDREA MITCHELL: And that is Faisal Abdul Rauf, the imam behind the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan. He's in Qatar today, continuing a two-week tour for the State Department. He was in Bahrain yesterday. He's promoting religious tolerance. But it is the mosque controversy that is, some say, hurting America's efforts to win friends in the Muslim world. Former Pakistan ambassador to the UK, Akbar Ahmed is chair of Islamic studies at American University and is also author of Journey into America: the Challenge of Islam and he joins me here at the desk. Thank you so much.
AKBAR AHMED: Thank you.
MITCHELL: It's great to see you, Ambassador. Let's talk about this controversy and what the impact has been domestically and overseas. Because what many people are seeing in the Middle East is not the image of the imam going around the Middle East for the State Department. But, they are seeing protests, angry voices. They're hearing Newt Gingrich talking about Nazi comparisons. How damaging is this for our outreach for this administration's outreach to the Muslim world?
AKBAR AHMED: I think, Andrea, it's very damaging in terms of dividing opinion in homes and communities, houses of worship here in the United States and abroad. People abroad, especially in the Muslim world see it again as one of the red line issues. You either for the mosque or you're against it. And most Muslims would support the mosque, obviously. And the tragedy is, I think, Andrea, that the imam well meaning had started off wanting to bring people together not to divide them. And because I don't think he thought through the consequences of his action, he's ended up, in fact, by creating a further split widening the gap that already exists between Muslims and non-Muslims.
MITCHELL: But you spent a year for your book spending Muslim communities around the country. Some would say that it is really for Americans, for majority of Americans to be more sensitive to minority communities. It's not really the obligation for the imam to, you know, he talked to members of the Jewish community, the JCC, the Jewish Community Centers were a model. And there's a rabbi who has been helping. He talked to some members of the 9/11 families, not all clearly. Why is the burden on him?
AHMED: It isn't on him alone. I don't look at the mosque just as the mosque in New York, although it's a very special case. I look at the situation all over throughout the United States. And what we found in the field is that we were living through times of people living under siege, Muslims and non-Muslims, white and non-whites. Everyone is feeling under siege. And therefore you feel uncertain, you feel fearful, you feel anxious. And something like this mosque is simply a catalyst. It's happening in other parts of the United States, Other mosques are under pressure, some have been fire bombed. A priest now in Florida wants to actually burn the Koran. So when you add it all up, you really see a challenge, a debate about what American identities and both Muslims have to reach out to explain to Americans what they are. They are not a monolith. They are citizens of this country. And Americans also have to also to respond to the Muslim minority and welcome them, accept them as fellow citizens. And, as you said, honor them and give them dignity.
MITCHELL: And, in fact, the Time magazine recent polling, the Pew poll initially and then the Time magazine polling, which took place after the mosque controversy really exploded shows how negative the attitude is towards Muslims around the United States. 46 percent say that Islam is more likely to encourage violence. 25 percent say Muslims are not patriotic Americans. This in a case where we have Muslim soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, civilian employees as well as soldiers, troops fighting for the United States against Muslim opponents.
AHMED: Exactly. Not only congressmen, policemen, and some who are Muslims, but also the fact that someone like General David Petraeus who would very much want his entire political and military strategy [sic] rests on the fact that he wants to win hearts and minds in the Muslim world in Afghanistan, thereby marginalizing the Taliban. And it's going to be difficult for him if, constantly, in the Muslim world people are seeing images of mosques under attack, the Koran being burned, Muslims feeling very much under siege. So really, I think, all of us Muslims and non-Muslims have to step back and say what are the consequences of this for us here and for us over there in the Muslim world.
MITCHELL: Now, there are other mosques in the immediate area of Ground Zero, this is two and a half blocks away. Are you saying that Islamic center should not be built?
AHMED: I don't want to take such a clear position. What I'm saying is that any mosque, any house of worship is to be supported. I believe in people worshiping and being free to worship as guaranteed by the Constitution. At the same time, I really feel that most Muslims, including the people behind this mosque, have not fully understood that for the majority of Americans, this 9/11 episode, this tragedy is still a raw wound. And to build something so blatantly, visibly Islamic so near it is like pouring salt into that wound. That is what I believe after this travel throughout the United States. As an anthropologist, this was confirmed again and again. Although many Muslims told us this is the best place in the world to be a Muslim. So we see that the gap we thought had closed between Muslims and non-Muslims after 9/11 has not closed. It remains as wide as ever, and we have all of us to do everything to bring the temperature down.