Interviews

Two Muslim Authors React to Survey of Muslim-American Attitudes Toward U.S.

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," May 23, 2007, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN KASICH, GUEST HOST: A new poll of American Muslims is really raising some eyebrows. Here are some of the most interesting findings. One in four of those younger than 30 say that suicide bombings are sometimes acceptable to defend their religion. Only 40 percent believe Arab men were behind the 9/11 attacks. And more than half say it's harder being a Muslim in America since 9/11.

Joining us now with reaction, Irshad Manji, author of the book "The Trouble with Islam Today" and Ahmed Younis, the author of the book "American Muslims Speak the Truth." Irshad, pretty stunning to me. Twenty-six percent of young Muslims saying that somehow suicide bombing can be justified. How is this possible?

IRSHAD MANJI, MUSLIM AUTHOR: Well John, first of all, in the spirit of no spin, let me say that I'm disappointed with FOX News. A patriotic channel like this ought to be emphasizing all of the good news that's coming out of this report. And there's plenty of it, showing that the condition of American Muslims is so much better than that of Muslims in Europe. And that's the pat on the back for the United States. So let's not lose focus of that bigger context.

KASICH: Irshad, you know, I mean, I got your point. But you know when 25 percent say…

MANJI: I'm about to get to that.

KASICH: ...that you can strap a suicide bomb belt…

MANJI: Yes.

KASICH: ...and blowup innocent men, women and children on a bus, I mean, the rest of it is great, but it's stunning.

MANJI: John, let me get to that now. That bad news ought to be a source of embarrassment for the Muslim American establishment, because it shows a lack of leadership. They have failed to teach enough young Muslim Americans the difference between means and ends.

You know, saying that it's OK to engage in suicide bombings to defend a peaceful religion is rather like saying that it's OK to have premarital sex to defend virginity. It makes absolutely no sense. And if it was explained to young Muslim Americans who are increasingly religious, that way I think that it might have some resonance, this distinction.

KASICH: All right, Ahmed, your take on this? I mean, look, I understand that there's some hype in this. Some young kid might just want to just say oh yes, yes, yes, yes. But you know, suicide bombing is so horrible, it's so repulsive because it targets people who are purely, totally innocent. And designed to do nothing but kill. How do you get this kind of number?

AHMED YOUNIS: Absolutely. I think part of why you're getting this number is we're seeing a snapshot. A lot of times the development of Muslim identity for young people in the West is kind of a three-prong process.

Number one, political awareness, a sense of wanting to relieve what is perceived to be social injustice, oppression, etcetera. Number two, that political awareness is infused with misunderstandings of the religion, initial engagements with the religion.

And then the third stage is when the knowledge of the law and the religion itself ameliorates the political perspectives, shedding the fact, shedding the extremism you see in all of their parents, their polling is consistent with this perspective.

Number two, I think second-generation immigrant youths are not satisfied, some of them at least, by what their parents and their communities have to offer them — the nexus that they're looking for between religious identity and political identity. The parent immigrant generation, for the most part, is able to offer them what they need, but the institutions, the parents…

KASICH: But Ahmed, I mean, look, I…

YOUNIS: They need to create new avenues for these conversations.

KASICH: Well, but wait a minute. What we're finding with a lot of these suicide bombers in actuality, whether it was the Toronto planners, or whether it was the people in England, we're finding out these are people, they're not deprived. They're not living in a bad situation.

MANJI: Right.

KASICH: These are people who are middle-class, who have somehow become radicalized. Am I right about that?

YOUNIS: Of course you are. You're absolutely right. Just very quickly…

KASICH: Yes.

YOUNIS: ...if Irshad would allow me. Yes, you're absolutely right, very similar to Timothy McVeigh. I would posit to you that these ideologies that are being harbored by this very small percentage of young Muslims that say that it is justified are more…

KASICH: Ahmed, it's 25 percent. It's not.

YOUNIS: It's 25 percent say that in some situation, it might be justified. But those people are taking it from the book of Howard Zinn, from the book of leftist Western political ideology, more than they're taking it from the Koran. And when they infuse the Koran…

KASICH: I think we can…

MANJI: No, I have to disagree with that.

KASICH: Go ahead.

MANJI: Ahmed, John mentioned that this time last year in my own city of Toronto, where I'm speaking to you now from, 17 young Muslim Canadians, men, were arrested on evidence that they were planning a beheading of the prime minister and an explosion of the parliament buildings.

Guess what? They named their campaign after the first military victory that was achieved by the prophet Mohammed. Ahmed, my point is that there was a religious motivation to this. And they were not just blowing off steam. They truly…

YOUNIS: Oh, you're absolutely right

KASICH: OK, here's the thing. But let me give you some more numbers.

YOUNIS: Sure.

KASICH: Twenty-seven percent of Muslims in the U.S. refuse to condemn Al Qaeda, which is unbelievable. And 60 percent are not sure that Arabs were involved in the attack on 9/11.

YOUNIS: Well, you know, 9/11, I mean…

KASICH: But let me make my point here.

YOUNIS: Sure thing.

KASICH: Twenty-seven percent refuse to condemn Al Qaeda. Twenty-five percent say suicide bombings OK. If we're not winning this battle, what are we doing wrong? I mean, if we can't win this battle in the U.S., how are we suppose to win it worldwide with just a handful of these nuts go out there and blow themselves up in a shopping mall?

YOUNIS: Again, I think we're talking about symbolism over substance. The numbers do cause concern. They do cause, as Irshad said, an alarm amongst American Muslim leaders to ensure that there are more organic leaders, imams, religious leaders that understand and are relevant to a Western experience, and are perceived as legitimate by the global Muslim tradition or the global Muslim...

KASICH: Irshad, are we developing those people? I don't think we hear enough of them speaking out condemning this kind of radicalism. Right or wrong, Irshad?

MANJI: You're right. And that is part of the problem is that the so- called moderate or mainstream of the religion in America is deadly silent about all of this. We need to have more people speaking up more.

KASICH: Well, we need more leaders like you to be out there, because I'll tell you, this is serious numbers. I don't want to overreact to it. It's serious. We got to be on top of it. Thank you both.

MANJI: Thank you.

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