Sunday, August 22, 2010

Americans can worship freely except near Ground Zero, say Rabbi Klein and Jihad Turk

Clergy Support Protested Mosque; Scientists Find Oil Plume in Gulf of Mexico
Aired August 20, 2010

...It's an article in faith in this country that Americans can worship freely or not according to our beliefs or lack of belief, and we can voice our opinion about religion or politics or anything else. These fundamental, monumental freedoms come from the very same sentence in the Bill of Rights, and thus comes the passionate and sometimes painful exercise that's come to be known as the Ground Zero mosque debate.

If you haven't been keeping up, it centers on plans to build a $100 million Islamic community center two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Opponents have argued that it dishonors the memory of 9/11 victims, and many take issue with Islam itself, the religion.

That view is not confined to Manhattan. In a southern California town of Temecula, protesters confronted Muslim worshippers over plans to build a mosque next to a church. One of the protestors' signs read "Muslims danced with joy on 9/11." A broad array of Southern California religious leaders don't want that to be the final word. Last hour, they gathered in Los Angeles in defense of religious liberty in general, and in defense of the Ground Zero mosque in particular.

I'm joined now by two of those interfaith leaders, Rabbi Jonathan Klein f the group called Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, and Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of Southern California.

Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining me.

Rabbi Klein, let me start with you. What caused you and the others to get together to -- to take a position on this? Because it seems every time someone has taken a position in defense of allowing this mosque to be built there, they become targets from all around them.

RABBI JONATHAN KLEIN, CLERGY AND LAITY UNITED FOR ECONOMIC JUSTICE: Well, there's no question, but that this is a moment when we need the interfaith community or really the multifaith community to come together.

We have as Jews, my community, has benefited from having a community welcome for us. Over the years, we've had our hard times. But Americans have prospered in our society. There's no reason that Muslims should have any less of a fair treatment in our society. It's very frustrating.

VELSHI: Jihad Turk, we have had this discussion daily on this channel, on other channels and newspapers, and there is a growing feeling that Muslims in America are becoming more militant, or we're finding more militant people amongst Muslims of America, in some cases, American-born. What's the effect on your congregation, and the responses you've been getting from people as this discussion has been going on?

JIHAD TURK, DIRECTOR OF RELIGIOUS AFFAIRS, ISLAMIC CENTER OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Well, first let me say, Ali, that the Islamic community in the United States is really on the front lines of trying to protect our country from extremist rhetoric and extremist individuals who want to do harm to our country.

We work closely with law enforcement at the local level, at the federal level, to ensure that mosques across the country are insulated and protected from extremist rhetoric, and also can identify individuals who would want to do this country harm. So American Muslims are really the greatest ally, locally and internationally, on this war on terror. So let me just say that first.

With regards to this particular issue, you know, still I think the case is most Americans, according to a recent Pew study, don't know anything about Islam or very little. I think it was something like 60 some percent know little or nothing about Islam. And it's not surprising that a similar number have a negative impression now of Islam, given the ratcheted up rhetoric concerning the Ground Zero mosque. And the conflation -- the unfortunate conflation between Islam and terrorists. Muslims have extremists in -- we have extremists in our ranks, and we want to try and root them out, just as other religions...

VELSHI: Why is that...

TURK: Others also have extremists, where they're talking about abortion and doctor killers, et cetera.

VELSHI: Why is that not obvious? Why is it that polling shows otherwise?

TURK: Well, you know, I have to say that Muslims are kind of the new kids on the block. I mean, I'm an American Muslim. I was born and raised here. My mom is American Christian. My dad is an Arab immigrant from Jerusalem. And I just think most people don't know a Muslim personally. Muslims are relatively recent on the stage in terms of immigration and establishing themselves as, you know -- ourselves as a community here.

But I would say that what we have in our favor is that American Muslims are very integrated in society. If, you know -- if you poll the people, the American people about Islam, their impression or their information about Islam isn't from directly from Muslims or interaction with the Muslim community. It's from the news media. And so there's not really anything to counter that negative impression.

So I can't blame the average American for having a negative impression about Islam. Growing up within the tradition, the American tradition, as well as the Muslim tradition, there's no conflict there. And in fact, I feel empowered as an American Muslim to really, you know, try and take an educational role and try to take this as a teaching moment.

VELSHI: Guys, I apologize. We have a bit of a delay in our signal, which is why it sounds like we're talking over each other a little bit, and I apologize for that.

Rabbi Jonathan Klein, I want to ask you. Jews have gone through this. I talked to Bobby Gauche (ph) yesterday, who wrote the article, the cover story on "TIME" magazine, is America Islamophobic?

And this is a story the Jews have gone through for different reasons by different associations. But he said that, if we had listened to the polls, Jews still wouldn't have proper rights, blacks wouldn't be able to vote, women wouldn't have the vote in this country. Sometimes you just need leadership to get ahead of this.

But as somebody from the Jewish community befriending the Muslim community, what advice can you give in the face of a society that seems to be increasing its phobia, its fears and its prejudices against Muslims?

KLEIN: Yes. Well, it's -- really, it's amazing to watch where the Muslim community is today and compare it to where the Jewish community was 75 years ago or so. It is an uphill struggle to be given the -- the support of our tradition as Americans to support life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, and equal and -- equality and justice. All these values that are at the core of our tradition as Americans are sometimes pushed in different communities in different ways. And the end result is that some people are left out.

And so it's really important, I think, for the Muslim community to continue to do what it has done, which is to build bridges. Jihad is a personal friend of mine. Jihad is a personal friend of a number of the rabbis in this city, and I am close to the Muslim community in my own way. It's about building bridges so that we can move past this paradigm of hatred, which tends to move the scapegoating tendencies of human beings toward the most egregious examples of hatred.

We have a tendency in America sometimes to scapegoat those for our problems that we feel are either easy targets or in the margins of our society. We have the same issue with immigrants in general.

I think that the struggle of the Muslim community is, in part, because there is a tendency for people to just want to treat the other as other, and to not love those that they don't understand.

So I think that it's important for those bridges to continue to build, which Jihad just mentioned about the deep relationship between Muslims and other parts of our society, that they are not insular entirely, as I think a good thing, for forging a path forward. It's about those bonds in American society.

VELSHI: I want to put this comment to you that Franklin Graham made on "JK USA" the other night. I'm going to -- I'm going to read you this and then I need to just take a quick break, and I'm going to ask you for your commentary on the other side.

Franklin Graham said on John King's show, quote, "The teaching of Islam is to hate Jews." You know what, I think we -- can we just play it? Let's play it.


FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: The teaching of Islam is to hate the Jew, to hate the Christian, to kill them. Their goal is world domination. And for the Muslim, peace means when all the other nations are subject to Islam. Then we are at peace. The world will be at peace when the entire world is under Islam. Well, I don't agree with the teachings of Islam.


VELSHI: I want to get your comment from that -- about that after a break. Let's just think about that all for a second, because it is definitely the kind of language that I see on my Facebook page, definitely the belief that some Americans have about Islam. So I want to address that to both of you.

Let's take a quick break. We'll continue this conversation about faiths coming together to try and make sense of this dispute that's going on. We'll be right back.


VELSHI: So much noise in this conversation about this mosque at Ground Zero it's hard to get down to brass tacks. So I'm putting it to two gentlemen, Rabbi Jonathan Klein of the group Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice in Los Angeles. Standing next to him on his left, Jihad Turk. He's the religious director of the Islamic Center of Southern California, also in Los Angeles.

Gentlemen, just before the break, I read you something that sounded very inflammatory from Franklin Graham, or you heard Franklin Graham's comments from when he was on John King's show the other day. It starts by saying the teaching of Islam is to hate the Jew.

Rabbi, you probably heard that. You probably heard it from Jews. You probably heard it from Christians. Tell me what you think of that.

KLEIN: I think that what's happened, if you look at the history of Jews and Islam, in fact, Jews have fared quite well in the context of Muslim society. And so what's happened is, in the last past century in particular, since the creation of the state of Israel and even a little before that, you see an increase in tensions between the communities.

But that's to really distort the record of the relationship. It is completely wrong to say that Islam is out to destroy Jews or Christians or anyone. People are trying to live with their values on -- in their lives, and live fairly and faithfully to their traditions in an American context.

We're blessed with a beautiful system that allows people to live with the freedom of religion. This is not about Islam being evil. And I can't believe that -- I mean, if we look at any religious tradition, you can find all sorts of perspectives that are contrary to the world view that Jihad and I bring to the table, one which is about love and about community-building.

VELSHI: Jihad, isn't there...

TURK: And if I could add, Ali, that...

VELSHI: Go ahead.

TURK: No, go ahead. I was just going to add that, you know, I would suggest it's not just the view that I hold here at the -- you know, West Coast of the United States, the idea that Jews and Christians and people of other faith are free to practice their own religion.

In fact, the Koran describes Christians and Jews as people of the book, i.e. people of the faith. And the Koran describes Jews as the chosen people. So Muslims respect and honor and give dignity to people of various faiths. And it's -- and it's our goal to really try and counter the extremist rhetoric that you'll hear out of parts of the Muslim world with the perspective that most -- most American Muslims and Muslims internationally hold about pluralism and tolerance of other faith traditions.

VELSHI: Well, I think we both -- we've gone some distance at countering extremist rhetoric and giving a real story by having this discussion with the two of you today. I appreciate the work that you're doing in trying to foster a better understanding of what this issue is. Rabbi Jonathan Klein, Jihad Turk.

And by the way, these two gentlemen are representative of a larger group of people who have come together to try and get this dialogue back on track...

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