At ABC’s “What’s Up with Islam?” Town Hall

10/01/2010 12:14 PM |


Even though I grew up watching political talk shows on MSNBC and Fox News (mocking Bill O’Reilly was a favorite pastime in my family), I’m still amazed and somewhat disgusted by the nutty things people try to say on national TV.

On Wednesday night, I had an opportunity to experience this circus firsthand when I sat in the audience for an ABC “town hall” meeting on the (intentionally?) inflammatory topic: “Holy War: Should Americans Fear Islam?”

The emotion and chaos that ensued from this question seemed to surprise even seasoned broadcast journalist and tight-fisted moderator Christiane Amanpour. But amidst the bigotry and shouting of madmen on both sides, a few voices of reason emerged, and I’d like to think they carried the debate (two of them, Daisy Khan and Donna Marsh O’Connor, were L Mag heroes).

You can see and judge for yourself on Sunday morning . For now, I’ll let the panelists speak for themselves through a few of their more memorable comments:

Daisy Khan, Executive Director of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA) and co-founder (with her husband Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf) of the Park51 multi-faith cultural center in lower Manhattan, known by some as the “Ground Zero Mosque” :

On whether we should fear Muslims:

Let me assure all Americans that the vast majority of Muslims around the world and in the United States…are living a peaceful life. We are law-abiding citizens, we have people in the armed forces—my own niece, in her early twenties, went to Iraq for two years—we have a thousand police officers just in the NYPD.

In response to a question from Christiane Amanpour about why more moderate Muslims aren’t speaking out to ‘reclaim their religion’:

Well, the moderates are speaking out, and I happen to be one of them… ordinary Muslims are working day and night, double shifts, volunteering, to ensure that we keep America safe and retain its values…this particular center (Park51) will help to combat extremism because it will amplify the voices of moderate Muslims, which have gotten drowned out over the years by the extremists.

In response to the ravings of Anjen Choudary (see below):

Islam is a religion of pluralism that embraces all religions and also embraces different interpretations; this is why we have so many schools of thought.

Reverend Franklin Graham, evangelical Protestant minister: “True Islam cannot be practiced in this country because of our constitution.” (Huh?)

I don’t believe in Islam, I don’t believe a word of it, but I do respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe…And I want them to know that God loves them, I want them to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins.

(He contradicted himself like this throughout the debate.)

I don’t think your husband beats you, Daisy…but if he does, you call 911.

(Yes, he actually said this.)

Azar Nafizi, exiled Iranian intellectual, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran:

I came here to America because I expected that that image which those people had imposed on us would not be imposed on us again. And look at my surprise! What you hear from both sides of the aisle is that there is one Islam. If we think there’s only one Islam, then we have to take sides. Either it’s evil or it’s good. But there are as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims.

Anjen Choudary, British lawyer and leader of the (arguably extremist) group Islam4UK:

On Islamic domination: “Islam has a solution for all of the problems that mankind can face.” And later: “One day the Islamic flag will fly over the White House.” (Yikes)

On terrorism:

If you want to live at peace with Muslims, we are quite willing to live at peace with you. But you should know that history did not begin on 9/11. Before 9/11 the Americans bombed Iraq and Sudan, supported Israel… so 9/11 was a reaction.

(Now I don’t want to agree with this guy, but he might have a point here.)

On moderate vs. radical Muslims:

This idea that you have moderate Muslims and you have radical Muslims is complete nonsense. A Muslim is one who submits to the command of the creator. If he submits, then he is a practicing Muslim. If he does not, then he should be practicing…It’s very easy for people to justify the fact that they’re not practicing. I mean this lady in your studio (Daisy Khan), she should be covering her head…You know, people want to claim that they’re vegetarian, but they’re eating big beef burgers. You cannot claim that you’re vegetarian. Therefore, similarly, if you are Muslim, you submit to the Sharia.

(Yup, he’s an extremist with a talent syllogism.)

Donna Marsh O’Connor, a member of 9/11 Families for Peace, who strongly supports Park51:

On Park51:

I don’t know why on Earth you would say there’s an address in this country where Muslims can’t practice their religion.

On extremism:

I’m not an expert on religion, but I do know that in some fundamental sense, I just heard Reverend Graham make the same statement that Mr. Choudary made. I’m sure you can fill up every one of these TV screens with extremist people from all over.

Brad Garret, security consultant and former FBI negotiator:

The biggest fear is homegrown terrorism…but how many of those people are out there? Nobody really knows the answer to that. But if we look at this historically since 9/11, the numbers don’t support it. The US Department of Justice has prosecuted a little over 400 people for terrorism or terrorism-related crimes. If you break that down into violence, it’s like 130 some-odd numbers. So, compared to other crime, compared to other issues in this country, it doesn’t sort of match up in that way.

Reza Aslan, scholar and Daily Beast contributing editor:

There are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It is unquestionably the most diverse, the most eclectic religion in the history of the world. This concept of just using this word ‘they’ to describe one and a half billion people is actually the definition of bigotry.

Fear mongering about the ‘other’ is something that’s not new to the United States, and in the same way that we sort of laugh and consider with shame and derision the anti-Catholic rhetoric of the 19th century or the anti-Jewish rhetoric of the earlier 20th century, in a few years that’s precisely how we will view everything that just came out of Franklin Graham’s mouth. I think that Anjen and Reverend Graham oughtta go grab a cup of coffee.

(And leave the more rational and less proselytizing among us—Muslims and Christians and everyone else—to figure out some actual solutions.)

4 Comment

  • Islam is the most diverse and eclectic religion in history? Try the opposite, the most intolerant, supremacist, male chauvinist, and violent, a conquerors’ ideology hiding behind a religion. Take the Historyscoper’s free online Islam history course and decide for yourself at

  • I loved the debate this morning on ABC. My own personal conclusion is: I am a Christian American. I desire not to be ignorant and still remain a Christian known by my Love. To judge any belief is not my place. My Christ died for us all so we would not have too. I have been raised asking God to Bless American. Each and everyone of us as a country. Americans can be extreme too. Our moderate Americans are not all as portrayed by the predominate news coverage of the Koran burning, or the movie stars and their faults. Our moderate are not shown in equal coverage. But I know Christ loves you and pray my personal fears will not dominate who I am. I believe this debate has helped put my fears in perspective. Thanks

  • Donna Marsh O’Connor makes so much sense to me in my heart. I don’t think Sharia law will become part of America, but the violent nature of it’s laws understandably horrifies and disgusts people. Great debate. American values like the ones Marsh O’Conner references must prevail.

  • yeah it was great wasn’t it…everyone who didn’t agree with the muslims were made to look like charlatans.

    didn’t you love the way ole daisy stuck it to ayaan hirsi ali and made her look like a fool for needing body guards?

    after all if you question or criticize anything about islam then you are an ignorant islamphobic infidel right?