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Should Americans Fear Islam?

October 4, 2010

A special two-hour debate was taped five days ago and played yesterday (Sunday) on ABC's "This Week," edited down to something like 45 minutes. The debate question was, "Should Americans Fear Islam?" There will not be another debate like it.

The debate divided into two camps. Camp One said there were many Islams and many kinds of Muslims, including Westernized, Americanized Muslims who are law-abiding good citizens who deserve equal rights and equal respect. In Camp Two were those who saw Islam more singularly. One was Anjem Choudary, via satellite from England, who said that Islam should be embraced rather than feared. The others in Camp Two spoke in favor of fearing Islam.

In Camp One, Azar Nafisi (a woman author in exile from Iran) and Donna Marsh O'Conner (who lost a daughter on 9/11) were eloquent. And Reza Aslan was witty and strong. He scolded the Reverend Franklin Graham of Camp Two for describing one-and-a-half billion people as "actually the definition of bigotry." Aslan described Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, in Camp Two, as "quite famous for spewing nonsense." Aslan said that those trying to import institutionalized islamophobia from Europe into the United States were on the "wrong side of history." He won applause in adding that in a couple of decades, "you will be sweeped and your ideas will be sweeped into the garbage bin of history, along with the anti-Semites of the 20th century and the anti-Catholics of the 19th century."

The Reverend Graham responded to Aslan with calm, and he made his points with with patience and a natural dignity. Another in Camp Two, Peter Gadiel (who lost a son on 9/11) looked and sounded like one of those over-weight and hyper-fearful rabid anti-Communists who were around at the peak of the Cold War.

Daisy Khan of New York and Islamic center fame was in Camp One and figured prominently in the debate. When asked whether the Islamic center would be moved farther from Ground Zero she replied that American values had to be protected and therefore the Islamic center would stay where it is.

The former FBI Special Agent, Brad Garrett, seemed to belong between the two camps. There was reason to fear, he suggested, but it should be kept "in perspective."

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, via satellite, barely got a word in edgewise. She, of course, spoke of the dangers of Islam. Her contributions in the months ahead I suspect will be her AHA foundation's revelations of specific abuses by Muslims against Muslims.

Christiane Amanpour, who moderated the debate, in my opinion did a superb job. ABC News is to be commended for rapidly making available online a transcript of its "This Week" programs.

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