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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  August 18, 2010 6:44pm-7:00pm PDT

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propose a swap of state-owned land to move the proposed building to a new site. groups for and against announced marches to be held in downtown manhattan. and president obama said he had no regrets over comments he made on two occasions last weekend, weighing into the controversy. in the past week, on this program, we've heard pro and con views from family members of 9/11 victims, activists, politicians and other interested parties. tonight, we hear from two columnists who've taken a wider view of the issues raised: eugene robinson of the "washington post" and ross douthat of the "new york times." ross, you wrote the other day that this whole thing revealed yet again a tension between what you call two americas , one constitutional, one cultural. explain. >> well, i think what you see happening in this debate is much like what you mentioned in the opening just now. there are people who frame it exclusively through the lens of constitutional rights, where what we have here is the free exercise of religion
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. muslims have as much a right to exercise their religion as anyone else and that's the only debate that matters, the constitutional debate. and then i think on the other side you have people who instinctively or, you know, intuitively or intellectually conceive of america in cultural as well as constitutional terms. and so, in a sense, in that america , it isn't clear that islam has completely arrived yet. there's a sense of suspicion, uncertainty that you have seen in the past where wreligious grouped like my own church, the catholic church in the 19th century, even with home-grown faiths like the mormons in the same period where groups are sort of asked to prove their american bona fide. and i think the negative reaction to the mosque is this is kind of presumptious by a religion that's new to the american scene and is sort of stepping on what's considered american hallowed ground. >> brown:
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eugene robinson, do you accept the idea of two americas? how do you respond to that? >> i think that's true, but i'm not sure that really explains what's going on here. i think if, for example, it were , you know, hari krishnas or someone who wants to build a temple at that site there wouldn't be this sort of reaction. so i think the question, the dichotomy swe're at war against terrorism. is it war against terrorism or war against islam? and i think that specific question is the important dividing line in this debate. and george w. bush, when he was president, and barack obama now that he is president, both have tried to make as clear as possible that our war against terrorism is not a war against islam. i think there are people in
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the country who don't buy that, who are suspicious of islam specifically, not just suspicious of the new. >> brown: well, ross-- >> i mean, i think that's absolutely true. i think that it is-- it's a combination of the fact that islam is new seeming and alien seeming and so on, and, obviously, the particular association of this spot with islamist terrorism. >> brown: right, but you're suggesting and you're-- the brunt of your argument leads you to believe, i guess, that this should be moved to a different site. >> i think it's a case where the location of the project is defeating the purpose of the project, right. when this project was announced, it was announced as a kind of outreach, a kind of bridge-building effort between muslim americans and the very americans who are most likely to be suspicious of islam. >> brown: but to get back to your-- to move that into your argument, you're suggesting that america that seeks a more coherent, assimilated culture
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, may produce xenophobia of the kin'd kind that eugene is talking about, but also produces, you think, something positive. >> where i think it is-- i mean, if you look back to the 19th search rear, the catholic experience. catholic immigrants came to the u.s. and faced terrible xenophobia and terrible nativism, and so on, but they also faced, i think, reasonable questions about the 19th century's catholic view on liberalism. this was when the vatican was railing against liberalism and democracy as terrible errors, and i think islam in the u.s. is in a similar position today. you see this in the debate about the imam heading this mosque and the things he said, positions he's taken, people he's met with, where there is a kind of burden on muslim leaders to disentangle themselves from anything rezem ling sympathy for extremism, terrorism,
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and so on, that i think was similar to the burdens faced by the catholics in the 19th century. to that extent, i do think some of the demands that this sense of american cultural identity to new arrivals can be reasonable. >> brown: eugene robinson, you said there is the possibility this will be moved if governor paterson comes through with a plan that all could agree to. would that in principle be a bad thing? would the constitution lose in that sense? is that the argument that you want to make? >> oh, i think it would be really bad thing if it were moved at this point, actually. i mean, look, the imam faisal abdue raul as was written about in the paper is a follower, a practitioner of the soufey strain of islam. these are like the flower children of islam. this is as if he were a unitarian or something. compared to the rest
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of kristendom. if this imam who has written for the "washington post" on faith blog and has been consulted by the f.b.i. and the state department to help them try to -- try to explain to muslims around the world what america is about . if this man cannot build this project , then i think that sends a terrible signal to muslims in the united states and around the world, and i think it reinforces the poisonous narrative that is the number one recruiting tool of terrorists, and that is the united states is, in fact, at war against islam. that it hates islam. that it is trying to destroy islam, and that what we say about really-- that al qaeda is really our enemy and not
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the great religion of islam, that's all smoke, that we're blowing smoke, that we're not telling the truth. i think this tend to reinforce a very poisonous narrative that is -- that has been used very successfully by terrorists . >> brown: ross, starting with you, is there a way forward that you see when you put together all of this? >> i mean, look, i don't honestly think that moving this project -- i don't know 30 blocks north in new york city and having it go forward-- is exactly the biggest blow to religious freedom in the history of the united states. projects like this, religious projects in particular, run into protests and zoning issues all the time, even when they aren't being built in and around a site where 3,000 americans lost their lives. i don't think when we look back on the history of u.s.-islamic relations over the last 25 years that having a mosque-- having a mosque built in new york city but not right in this spot is a deep
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blow to america's image in the muslim world. and i would also say, eugene is absolutely right about the place that soufies hold in the islamic landscape. on the other hand, if you look at what the imam has done, historically, the bridges that he's tried to build-- and i believe he's done this with the best possible intentions-- they've often been bridges to factions within the muslim world who whose values he may not share that i think a lot of americans would rightly consider beyond the pale. if you look at the comment he made about the violence surrounding the iranian election the advice he gave to obama was to give a speech where he recognized the foundation ruled by islamic jurists in iran. again, these are not the worst things in the world to say. arguably, you can see the geopolitical picture but at the same time you can see why people would raise an eyebrow. >> brown: brief last word from you, eugene robinson. do you see it? do you see any way forward out of this?
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>> i don't see any really good way forward out of this. i don't see any way out of it that won't leave some people terribly disappointed and angry. i don't know, i hope -- i hope in the end we learn something from it, and maybe we learn something about islam. we remember, for example, that there are hundreds of muslims , innocent muslims who died in the attacks on 9/11. >> brown: all right eugene robinson of the "washington post" lross douthat of the "new york times". thank you both very much. >> lehrer: again, the major developments of the day: forecasters in pakistan warned catastrophic flooding will not recede until the end of the month. and president obama pressed his case on the economy at a backyard event in columbus, ohio. he said things are getting better slowly but surely. the "newshour" is always online. hari sreenivasan, in our newsroom, previews what's there. hari?
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>> sreenivasan: margaret warner checks in from iraq on "the rundown" news blog. she reports on the country's problems with its electricity grid. spencer michels follows up on his cybersecurity series with a story about the debate over radio frequency identification technology. does it infringe on digital privacy? plus on "art beat," watch a profile of popular singer- songwriter ray lamontagne. he reflects on the challenges of being both writer and producer on his newest album. all that and more is on our web site, gwen? >> ifill: and that's the "newshour" for tonight. on thursday, we'll look at the latest science on how much oil is still in the gulf of mexico. i'm gwen ifill. and i'm jim lehrer. >> lehrer: and i'm jim lehrer. we'll see you on-line and again here tomorrow evening. thank you and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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and the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions captioned by media access group at wgbh
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