Heated Debate Over Place of Islam in the United States


"Well, the moderates are speaking out. I happen to be one of them," Khan, the executive director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement, said. "I was devastated by the events of 9/11 and I had to quit my corporate career -- a lucrative corporate career … to ensure that we would create a counter-momentum against extremism so that another 9/11 does not ever happen again," she said.

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"This particular center will create a counter-momentum against extremism, because it will amplify the voices of moderate Muslims, which have gotten drowned out over the years by the extremists, because the extremists did not only hijack the planes, they hijacked an entire religion," Khan added.

Later in the town hall, Peter Gaidel spoke again. "I do not say that Islam is evil. I say there is a lot of evil connected with it," he said. "That is a problem for Muslims themselves. They have to cure the problem. We're supposed to believe Ms. Khan here, that she can cure the problems of Islam at the fringes. The problem goes to the core…" he said.

The conversation turned to the controversy over the Islamic center and Mosque at Ground Zero. Gary Bauer, former Republican presidential hopeful and current president of the group American Values, said "I'm saying that it is incredibly insensitive for her or anyone else to suggest building a mosque near a place where 3,000 people died, killed by men operating in the name of Islam."

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Amanpour asked him why he felt that way.

"Because that is ground that was the first chapter in a war with radical Islam. At this very moment, Christiane, the reality that we all face is that there are evil men that worship death that want to bring us a day much worse than the morning of 9/11," Bauer said.

Later, Donna Marsh O'Connor spoke on the issue. "You know, I don't know why on earth you would think that there is an address in America where, you know, Muslim people can't practice their religion," she said. The 9/11 attacks "broke the hearts of everybody in this nation from the East Coast to the West Coast. And let me tell you, once you started spewing the hate, you know, people were attacked across the nation for building or practicing their faith in this country," she said.

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"I am not a religious expert. I only know when I was promised when I was born here and that this is a land where all people -- regardless of how difficult it is to have this democracy -- all people are allowed to practice their faith," she said.

While Graham acknowledged "they absolutely have the right to build a mosque or cultural center in this country," he still wasn't convinced it should be built. "Just because they have the right, doesn't necessarily make it right. They ought to be maybe a little more sensitive to the feelings of many people," he said.

Amanpour took those concerns back to Khan, asking, "Do you think that you should move the center?"

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"No," Khan said, "I think American values have to prevail."
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