While the White House’s top counter-terrorism adviser, John Brennan, has said that he’s seen no evidence that the controversy over the Park51 project has fueled extremism abroad, Jonathan Weisman of the Wall Street Journal begs to differ.

Islamic radicals are seizing on protests against a planned Islamic community center near Manhattan’s Ground Zero and anti-Muslim rhetoric elsewhere as a propaganda opportunity and are stepping up anti-U.S. chatter and threats on their websites.

One jihadist site vowed to conduct suicide bombings in Florida to avenge a threatened Koran burning, while others predicted an increase in terrorist recruits as a result of such actions.

“By Allah, the wars are heated and you Americans are the ones who…enflamed it,” says one such posting. “By Allah you will be the first to taste its flames.”

Even US officials have become alarmed by the increase in chatter.

When you see spectacles like the one in the video at right, where a Puerto Rican contractor who has worked at Ground Zero nearly gets assaulted because he “looks Muslim,” you can see the insane froth that some have worked themselves into over this issue. And it’s beyond obvious that extremists would use this anti-Islamic sentiment as a recruiting opportunity and a propaganda victory. In many respects, the counter-productive bigotry over Park51 and other mosque projects is bin Laden’s biggest ally.

We need more statesman like Jeff Merkley to reflect better on this country and the tenets of religious freedom.

Muslim Americans are our fellow citizens, not our enemies. Muslim Americans were among the victims who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks. Muslim American first responders risked their lives to save their fellow citizens that day. Many of our Muslim neighbors, including thousands of Oregon citizens, serve our country in war zones abroad and our communities at home with dedication and distinction.

Some have also argued that the construction of the mosque would hand a propaganda victory to Osama bin Laden. I think the opposite is true. Al-Qaida justifies its murder by painting America as a nation at war with Islam. Celebrating our freedom of religion and Muslim Americans’ place in our communities is a blow to al-Qaida’s ideology of hate and division. We strengthen America by distinguishing, clearly and unequivocally, between our al-Qaida enemy and our Muslim neighbors.

Needless to say, such sanity is not reigning supreme in our discourse.