Mark Hay has an illuminating interview on Capital New York this morning with former Pakistani ambassador to the U.K. Akbar Ahmed.
The main thrust: The often ugly controversy surrounding the plans by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf and developer Sharif El-Gamal (whom I profiled in this week’s Observer) to build an Islamic community center two blocks from Ground Zero is likely harming America’s reputation among Muslims abroad.
Some key excerpts:
“In order to defeat the Taliban, you need to marginalize them,” said Ahmed, echoing U.S. military policy. “To marginalize them, you need to earn their [locals’] respect and treat them with dignity. It’s as simple as that.” But the mosque debacle hinders the growth of that trust, providing the doubt and suspicion that fuels discontent and war.
“I think the genie is out of the bottle,” said Ahmed when asked if he thought the damage done to the Muslim world’s perceptions of America could be walked back. “Because it is not just about one mosque, and it is not just now.”
Yet, Mr. Ahmed does not let the center’s developers off the hook, either. In fact, he calls their efforts ham-handed and suggests that, rather than build a mosque, they donate whatever money they’ve raised and will raise to help flood victims in Pakistan:
“I think that the Muslim leadership is responsible—indirectly perhaps, innocently perhaps, naively perhaps, directly or indirectly, partly responsible, for precipitating this crisis in America,” he said.
“In one instant, he will turn it around. In one instant Jews and Christians will praise what he has done. And Muslims will approve because they are the ones who are suffering,” said Ahmed.
Read the whole fascinating interview here.