In the 1960s, my parents left their despotic motherland of Syria for the promise of genuine liberty and religious freedom in America. In the decades since, we have led the construction of a number of mosques in the towns where we lived.
Some went up without challenge from the local community, but others met with palpable local discontent. In those cases, the law and the natural American affinity for religious freedom eventually paved the way to the ribbon cutting.
These were all humble mosques, funded locally by our congregations. It's plain the planned "Ground Zero mosque" is something very different. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, his wife, Daisy Khan, and an investor intend to build "Cordoba House," an ostentatious $100 million, 13-story Muslim community center including a gym, a swimming pool, a performance-arts facility and a mosque.
My first concern is whether the financing truly represents the local American Muslim community or comes with strings from foreign Islamists. But that is far from my last concern.
I am an American Muslim dedicated to defeating the ideology that fuels global Islamist terror -- political Islam. And I don't see such a "center" actually fighting terrorism or being a very "positive" addition near Ground Zero, no matter how well intentioned.
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.
Khan and Rauf avoid discourse on reform and political Islam. Instead, they simply give us the familiar, too vague condemnation of "extremism and violence." 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."
As controversy over the project has become heated, Rauf's Web site has scrubbed the term "mosque" in exchange for "center" -- again missing the boat of why so many Americans are offended. (Meanwhile, the plans of another local Islamic group to rebuild near Ground Zero only added to the quandary.)
This is not about the building of a mosque or a religious facility. It is not about religious freedom. This is about a deep, soulful understanding of what happened to our country on 9/11.
When Americans are attacked, they come together as one, under one flag, under one law against a common enemy that we are not afraid to identify. Religious freedom is central to our nation - and that is why the location of this project is so misguided. Ground Zero is purely about being American. It can never be about being Muslim.
The World Trade Center site represents Ground Zero in America's war against radical Islamists who seek to destroy the American way of life. It is not ground zero of a cultural exchange.
We American Muslims cannot merely passively avoid Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots. We need to ask ourselves: Are we Americans who happen to be Muslim or Muslims blindly demanding to be American?
American Muslims will be better served if this project is built further away from Ground Zero and focuses on leading a reform effort. If we help build anything at the WTC site itself, it should be timeless memorials to all those who lost their lives on 9/11 -- memorials blind to faith, race, creed or national origin.
On Sept. 12, 2001, I was first an American. When those planes hit the World Trade Center, they hit at the core of my being as an American. The attack on my faith by the terrorists was secondary to their attack on my homeland.
We need to focus our efforts more transparently on teaching Muslim youth that the American concepts of liberty and freedom are preferable to sharia and the Islamic state. American Muslims represent the best opportunity to fight Islamist radicalization not because we understand Islam but because we have experienced and understood what American liberty provides to the Muslim experience.
Americans must always remember the horrors of 9/11 and must be vigilant in not allowing political Islam to wear down the principles that built our country.
This center is trying to change the narrative of 9/11 -- to diminish what happened at Ground Zero. That can only weaken us against the very real threat of Islamist radicalization.