Unmentioned by Amanpour or her guests: A report presented Friday by former 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton about, according to Reuters, a needed “wake-up call about the radicalization of Muslims in the United States.” The report warned: “The U.S. is arguably now little different from Europe in terms of having a domestic terrorist problem involving immigrant and indigenous Muslims as well as converts to Islam.”
At the top of Sunday’s show, Amanpour noted the 9/11 anniversary and used it to frame her agenda: “Nine years later, the growing hostility towards American Muslims.” In a lengthy set-up piece leading into Rauf, Amanpour fretted that “the plans to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero have whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment” and insisted: “Not since 9/11 has the country seen such anti-Muslim fervor.” She asserted “Muslim-Americans are feeling vulnerable, with attacks on mosques in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. And the latest fuel poured on the fire, a threat to burn Korans...” And “these tumultuous events have created a global backlash. From Washington, to the Vatican, to Afghanistan.”
She cued up Rauf: “Sarah Palin made a famous tweet saying please reconsider, the feelings are too raw. What did you think about that?” Rauf rejected the advice as he regurgitated Amanpour’s spin: “I thought it was disingenuous to a certain extent. The fact of the matter is, this has been used for political purposes and there’s growing Islamophobia in this country.”
Amanpour tried to portray a nefarious trend: “In the latest poll that ABC's conducted, only 37 percent of those who were asked expressed a positive feeling about Islam. Do you think that Muslims, people such as yourself, others here, can actually have a place to practice their religion freely, to live freely as Americans, given that figure? It's the lowest figure since 2001.”
But, it’s “the lowest figure since 2001" by “just two points,” within the margin or error, ABC’s polling chief, Gary Langer, pointed out on ABCNews.com.
Nonetheless, she empathized: “Do you think Muslims feel more afraid today, here in America, than they did right after 9/11?”
She next set up her panel of “leading thinkers on faith” to “discuss religious tolerance and Islamophobia in America,” namely: “Eboo Patel, he serves as an inter-faith adviser to the President, by Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, and by Richard Cizik, founder of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.”
Citing “this fervor that is being whipped up, this rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment,” she highlighted a poll number that’s actually held steady since 2003:
Eboo, you have done a lot in interfaith dialogue, trying to really build bridges here since the disaster of 9/11. What does this say to you, this fervor that is being whipped up, this rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment in this country? Because let me read you, actually, some of the poll numbers which are interesting here. ‘Mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims.’ That was a question by ABC News and 31 percent of the respondents said yes. The next question, ‘do you have a good basic understanding of the teachings and beliefs of Islam?’ 55 percent of the respondents said no. So what has all your work done over the last nine years?
Langer: “Just 54 percent call Islam a peaceful religion, while a substantial minority, 31 percent, thinks mainstream Islam encourages violence against non-Muslims. This view has held steady since 2003.”
(Manji, while in favor of proceeding with Rauf’s project, is at least a critic of moderate Muslims for not doing more to denounce radical Islam.)
From Thursday night: “Amanpour Paints Rauf's Protection Racket as 'a Matter of Vital National Security'”
My August 22 NB posting, “Amanpour on One-Sided This Week: ‘Profound Questions About Religious Tolerance and Prejudice in the U.S.’”
Amanpour’s set-up leading into the session with Rauf pre-recorded Thursday in New York City:
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: As much as the President wanted to talk about the economy this week, he also found himself having to speak to the country about religious tolerance. Yesterday, at Pentagon ceremonies to observe the 9/11 anniversary, the President reminded Americans that they’re not at war with Islam. The plans to build an Islamic center close to Ground Zero have whipped up anti-Muslim sentiment to the extent that a pastor with a handful of followers can cause an international incident. In an ABC News poll released this week, nearly 50 percent of Americans say they have an unfavorable view of Islam now.
Not since 9/11 has the country seen such anti-Muslim fervor. President Obama is now calling for religious tolerance, just as President Bush did in 2001.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, SEPT 17, 2001: The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.
JOHN ESPOSITO, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: America has a significant Muslim problem. And I think that what we've seen now really shows what is the tip of the iceberg. A reality that most people didn't notice. Unleashed out of Manhattan, then becomes a series of acts, hates, protest.
MAN: I feel like Islam has been under attack.
WOMAN: I think there's definitely an increased level of fear because it used to that we’d just walk around and be a normal citizen, a normal part of American society and now you get a lot more suspicion.
PROTESTER: No mosque here!
AMANPOUR: Muslim Americans are feeling vulnerable. With attacks on mosques in California, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. And the latest fuel poured on the fire, a threat to burn Korans by a fringe pastor with a flock of 30. I went to what’s become the flash point in this debate, the proposed Islamic center just blocks from Ground Zero where I found visitors from out of town.
MAN: Certainly it’s a time to draw together, not do things that would divide us and make us more divisive. It sends the wrong message around the world.
WOMAN: That is not America. That is not what Americans are about.
AMANPOUR: And journalists from around the world.
WOMAN: This whole thing is like a huge international issue.
MAN, YELLING: We don't have to agree with Islam. We have to agree on the constitution.
WOMAN: I lost both my parents!
AMANPOUR: These tumultuous events have created a global backlash. From Washington [Hillary Clinton], to the Vatican, to Afghanistan [Karzai].
ESPOSITO: We have two dangers right now. One is that the civil liberties of Muslim Americans will be even more eroded. Two, and more broadly, we will wake up one day and realize that the America we like to celebrate, you know the America we point to people around the world when we look down on them and say, we're a democracy, we believe in pluralism, we believe in human rights. That, in fact, all of that, with the exception of this group. And that's a very dangerous and slippery slope to go down.
AMANPOUR: And in New York City yesterday, 9/11 ceremonies were marked by protests for and against plans to build that Islamic center nearby. The imam in charge of the project says that he has no intention of moving it right now, or of meeting with the controversial pastor who wants to burn Korans. I sat down for an exclusive interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf.