CNN's Rick Sanchez bizarrely wondered on Tuesday's Rick List whether investigating the funding behind the planned mosque near Ground Zero would lead to investigations into Catholic and/or Mormon funding: "If you start going into who is giving money...you've got to go to Rome and start asking where the money is going into Rome....and you have to go the Mormons and ask...what are they doing with their money? [audio clips available here]
Sanchez posed that vaguely morally relativistic question as he interviewed former New York Governor George Pataki during the prime-time edition of his program 14 minutes into the 8 pm Eastern hour. Before bringing on his guest, the CNN anchor inquired whether the opponents of the proposed Islamic center/mosque had become extreme: "Are those against this Islamic center/mosque in New York City going too far these days? I want to you decide as you look at this new ad that's going to be running on city buses in New York. On one side, as you look at this, you will see that there's a picture of a mosque- on the other side, a shot of a plane that's slamming into the Twin Towers, and it poses this question: why there? The ad is being sponsored by a group that's called The American Freedom Defense Initiative."
After noting former New York City Mayor Ed Koch and current mayor Michael Bloomberg's support for the mosque, Sanchez introduced Pataki and first asked him, "Why are they [Koch and Bloomberg] wrong and why are you right?" After the Republican explained his opposition, the anchor gave his first hint to his later Catholic/Mormon question: "Once you start telling someone you can't worship here because it affects the sensibilities or sensitivities of someone else, you're starting to go down a slippery slope, and then a lot of people would ask- well, which religion is next? Who else are we going to not let worship where they want, how they want?"
Pataki disputed Sanchez's point and added that "the imam in charge, Imam Rauf...has refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization...We also know that he has said, after September 11th, that those attacks were in part a result of American policies." The CNN anchor then pressed his point with his "asking where the money is going into Rome" question.
The two spent the bulk of the rest of the segment arguing over the mosque funding question. Near the end of the interview, however, Sanchez seemed to endorse colleague Fareed Zakaria's recent claim that Imam Rauf was actually an enemy of Islamism: "We see that Feisal Abdul Rauf has been called 'al Qaeda's worst nightmare'- in fact by Fareed Zakaria, just this weekend on his show, because, according to Fareed and according to documents that we have seen- this guy sounds to me like he truly believes in American democracy, and he's on the record saying that he wants all Muslims to repudiate extremists." Pataki replied, "He may be rejecting violence. I don't know that's the case, when he refuses to renounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. Why will he not do that?"
The full transcript of Rick Sanchez's interview of George Pataki on Tuesday's Rick's List:
SANCHEZ Are those against this Islamic center/mosque in New York City going too far these days? I want to you decide as you look at this new ad that's going to be running on city buses in New York. On one side, as you look at this, you will see that there's a picture of a mosque- on the other side, a shot of a plane that's slamming into the Twin Towers, and it poses this question: why there? The ad is being sponsored by a group that's called The American Freedom Defense Initiative. It has set off controversy and lawsuits in New York, and has some pretty big names Tweeting in to 'Rick's List' about this.
As a matter of fact, let's go to the Twitter board. These are tweets I got today. Look who watches 'Rick's List' and decided to send us a Tweet. 'It is wrong to use the government to stop construction of a mosque where a church or synagogue would be permissible.' That's Ed Koch, former mayor of New York. So, that's what the ex-mayor says.
Look, let's ask the present mayor what he says as well. Take that, if you would.
NEW YORK CITY MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question: should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property, based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here.
SANCHEZ: So those are two mayors, and now a former governor.
George Pataki is good enough to joins us live. Mr. Governor, thanks so much for being with us, sir. We appreciate your time.
FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI : Thank you, Rick- nice being with you.
SANCHEZ: Why are they wrong and why are you right?
PATAKI: Well, I don't think it's a question of religious freedom. You just had your chart where you showed that New York has over 230 mosques, the most in America, and we are certainly a very tolerant society. In this city alone, New York City, there are over 100 mosques. So, it's not the question of building a mosque. The question is, what is this facility going to be? Who is behind it? How are they funding it? And I think that until those questions are answered, it's absolutely wrong. And it's not just a local community neighborhood mosque. This is a facility that's going to rise 13 to 15 stories high, that's going to cost $100 million, and we don't know where that's coming from. And in the- and what they claim is that it's in the name of showing respect. Well, out of sensitivity to those of us who care so strongly about the memory of September 11th, why that site? And, Rick, there's another development today.
PATAKI: Governor Paterson just said he would look- if they were willing to look for another site, he would look to use the state to find a more appropriate site further from Ground Zero. It's, in fact, what they want to do-
SANCHEZ: But, Governor, if this is a constitutional issue, which most people would agree it is- I mean, you come to this country-
PATAKI: I don't-
SANCHEZ: And one of the reasons we're different from them is that we have the right to worship wherever it is we want. Once you start telling someone you can't worship here because it affects the sensibilities or sensitivities of someone else, you're starting to go down a slippery slope, and then a lot of people would ask- well, which religion is next? Who else are we going to not let worship where they want, how they want?
PATAKI: Rick, I don't think that's the case at all. It's not a question of not allowing people to worship. It's a question of why this site- where is the funding coming from for this site? We have a right to know that. It will be a registered charity, and they're required to disclose their funding. They haven't done that. And in this particular case, the imam in charge, Imam Rauf- we don't know much about him, but we know some things. One is that he has refused to condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization, although our government has done that. We also know that he has said, after September 11th, that those attacks were in part a result of American policies, which I reject completely-
SANCHEZ Yeah, but let me tell you- but let me tell you- let me tell you, Governor-
PATAKI: One of the reason we were attacked is because we do believe in freedom of speech. And- wait: if this is a legitimate house of worship, why aren't they willing to work with officials, like the governor, and find a more appropriate site, as opposed to doing something that is deliberately, in my view, provocative to those of us who hold the memory of September 11 so reverently-
SANCHEZ: You've raised some interesting questions and made some excellent points. But the question goes back to who this imam is. And also, if you start going into who is giving money to whom- I mean, then you have to go to my church. I mean, you've got to go to Rome and start asking where the money is going into Rome.
PATAKI: Yeah (unintelligble)-
SANCHEZ: And you have to go the Mormons and ask them-well, what are they doing with their money? I mean, that too becomes a problematic area to go, when it comes to the people's right to worship constitutionally in this country, does it not?
PATAKI: Rick, I disagree with you on that completely, as well. We have a right to know, with a charity, registered in the State of New York, where the funds are coming from, and if they are coming from Iran- if they are coming from Hamas- if they are coming from supporters of terrorism- obviously, this is something that we should be able to factor into whether or not the mosque should be there.
SANCHEZ: But this is not-
PATAKI: We don't know the answer to these questions.
SANCHEZ: But this is not a charity, Governor. This is a religion, and a religion is different than a charity. Constitutionally speaking, it's got to be different (unintelligible), does it not?
PATAKI: They are subject to the same disclosure laws. It's not a question of the Constitution. No one is saying that we are looking to deny any Islam- any Muslim- freedom of speech- freedom of the ability to carry out their religion. What we're saying is that this mega-facility, 13 to 15 stories high- we have a right- particularly, when they are looking to build this so close to Ground Zero- to know who are people behind it, what is the motivation behind it. Is this going to be an Islamist institution-
SANCHEZ: All right. Well, let's talk-
PATAKI: That teaches intolerance and teaches violence against America? We don't have to tolerate that, and we should not tolerate that.
SANCHEZ: No, sir. Those are excellent questions, and they should be asked, and you're absolutely right-
PATAKI: And they should be answered.
SANCHEZ: And I think everything [sic] in America would probably agree with you. But if you look at some of the facts on the ground right now- we see that Feisal Abdul Rauf has been called 'al Qaeda's worst nightmare'- in fact by Fareed Zakaria, just this weekend on his show, because, according to Fareed and according to documents that we have seen- this guy sounds to me like he truly believes in American democracy, and he's on the record saying that he wants all Muslims to repudiate extremists. It sounds, just from that- I know there could be other sides to the story- but it sounds just from that like this is the type of Muslims that we Americans should embrace, doesn't it?
PATAKI: We should be embracing Muslims, but do you know if he's an Islamist or not? He may be rejecting violence. I don't know that's the case, when he refuses to renounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. Why will he not do that? But is he an Islamist who believes that the Islamic community should work to impose Sharia law, not just on their members, but on the country with whom- wherein they live? We don't know the answer to these questions, and until we do, I think we have every right to say that this might not simply be a neighborhood house of worship. This might be something aimed at a more political agenda, in which case, not only do we have the right, I think we have an obligation to protect the memory of those who died on September 11th.
SANCHEZ: This has been an excellent interview, and I'm so glad that you had a chance to come on and share this perspective with us tonight. Former Governor George Pataki of New York- thank you, sir, for giving us a chance to hear this perspective. We appreciate it.
PATAKI: Thank you, Rick- nice being on with you.