Heated Debate Over Place of Islam in the United States

Amanpour moderates town hall: 'Should Americans Fear Islam?'

October 3, 2010, 7:24 AM

October 3, 2010— -- On a special "This Week" town hall, Christiane Amanpour moderated a fiery debate over the place of Islam in America. The first question the "This Week" anchor put to her panelists on all sides of the issue was: should Americans fear Islam?

Peter Gadiel, who lost his son in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, said that he would like nothing more than to not be afraid of Islam, but to ignore the "history of Muslim terror attacks," he said, would be unwise. Gadiel, who is a board member of the 9/11 Families for a Secure America Foundation, said "to ignore that threat is to ignore the history of Islam."

Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her daughter in the 9/11 attacks, said that Americans should not live in fear of a whole group of people. "I think Americans should fear criminal behavior. I think we should do the best we can to control criminal behavior. But I can't raise my two remaining sons to fear the people who live next door to them. That is not what my grandparents came to America to escape," she said.

"We are a group of 9/11 family members. I know a lot of family members are here. We share the pain and, you know, I think the unfortunate piece of this is that we don't agree on this," O'Connor added.

Amanpour then turned to the Reverend Franklin Graham, who has called Islam "wicked" and "evil." Graham said he understood what Muslims in America were trying to do. "They want to build as many mosques and cultural centers as they possibly can so they can convert as many Americans as they can to Islam. I understand that," Graham said.

"That's your position?" Amanpour asked Graham.

"Sure," the Revered said. "And I understand what they're doing. ... But let me just say something about Islam. I love the Muslim people. But I have great difficulty with the religion, especially with Sharia law and what it does for women -- toward women, toward non-believers, the violence that is given in -- under Sharia law," Graham told the town hall audience.

Amanpour turned to Reza Aslan, a scholar and a contributing editor and The Daily Beast. "Reza, you have heard just right now several points raised. One is that Muslims in this country are trying to bring Sharia law. Is there a shred of evidence for that?" Amanpour asked.

"No, not a single shred whatsoever," Aslan said.

Amanpour asked Graham why he called Islam an "evil" religion.

"I think to take your daughter, because you think that -- and the religion gives you the authority -- Sharia gives you the authority for honor killing. And we saw the young girl in Ohio just a few --" Graham began to say, but was interrupted by Imam Ossama Bahloul, the leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

"It does not," Bahloul said. "Listen, we have some people, Christians, Muslims, Jewish and other, who misuse the holy books. It's understandable. I do not deny this," he said. "But it's something the extreme majority of the Muslims, they have a proper understanding about this religion."

Amanpour asked Daisy Khan, one of the main backers of the proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero, where all the moderate Muslim voices were.

"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.

"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."

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.

"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?"

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

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