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Muslim Life in America [Rush Transcript; Federal News Service]

Presider: Steven Simon, Hassib Sabbagh Senior Fellow, The Council on Foreign Relations
Panelists: Paul Barrett, Businessweek, and Mona Eltahawy, Syndicated Columnist
Author: Altaf Husain, Executive Committee Member, The Muslim Alliance in North America; Former President; The Muslim Students Association
November 12, 2007
Council on Foreign Relations


STEVEN SIMON: (In progress) -- kind of guy, which is great for our purposes. He was the two-term national president of the Muslim Student Association in the United States and is now an executive committee member of the Muslim Alliance in North America.

Immediately to my left, right from your perspective, is Mona Eltahawy. She is a commentator, a very well-known, swear-to-God important commentator, on Arab and Muslim issues. As you can see from her bio, she's been in just about every reasonably distinguished media outlet on the face of the globe. She's a graduate of the University of Cairo and I'm told recipient of the Cutting Edge prize which is awarded by the Next Century Foundation for her coverage of the Middle East, which is distinguished by its fairness. Interestingly, one of the things she does for a living and for our collective benefit is train journalists who work the Middle East beat. I think that's a really fine thing.

Paul Barrett who is to my right, despite his law school education, brings a real shrewdness and common sense, even wisdom, to his reporting which he has done for The Wall Street Journal and now for BusinessWeek -- well, I guess you're an editor at BusinessWeek really, not so much a reporter. He is the author of the acclaimed book "American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion." I encourage you all to run out and buy it immediately. It's a really fine book. Now, quite seriously, there aren't too many books on the subject out there, and this is a particularly informative and balanced work. And it's been officially noted as one of the top 150 books of 2007, which, as Paul notes, will get you a latte along with $2.50 at Starbucks.

Okay, let me proceed with a first question for the panel. I've just come back from Europe. I'm working on a book not unrelated to this subject but with a European focus. And my impression there is that the integration of a fairly significant Muslim minority has been beset by problems -- problems socially, economically and, of course, some of these integration problems have eventuated in violence, witness the Madrid bombings and the bombings and the various conspiracies that have taken place in Britain, Germany and so forth. Altogether, it's a bit of a disturbing picture. So with that in mind, it's hard not to look at the Muslim community in the United States and ask, you know, how are we doing? How well is this community integrated? So I'd like that to be the first question for the panel.

And perhaps we'll start with you, Paul, then go to you, Mona, and then Altaf.

PAUL M. BARRETT: Well, I guess in three words: much, much better in this country compared to much if not all of Western Europe which I think is what you're talking about. I mean, I think the place to start here is with the basics. When we're comparing immigrant Muslim populations, we have very distinct and different populations. You have a much larger, in proportional terms, population in Western Europe, much of which came to Europe in the beginning of the post-war years, brought there, invited there to do menial labor, almost aggressively kept at arms-length from the majority society and until very, very recently was the subject of very little interested or sympathetic attention from the majority societies there.

In contrast, Muslims who have come to this country, particularly in the last 25 (years), 30 years, many of them have come here seeking education, have come here with considerable resources, educational resources, material resources. They've come to a society which is far more geared to integrating immigrants in, if not an outright welcoming way, at least in an accepting way. And for all the problems that we have in this country in regard to immigration, the Muslim immigration and integration story in this country, 9/11 very much notwithstanding, is, over the long term, a huge success story. You can see this anecdotally in the stories that I recount in my book. And you can see it in -- and in the stories, by the way, that -- I mean, without meaning to embarrass them or be patronizing -- that Mona and Altaf and their families literally embody. Two people, just as an aside, and it would be worth their addressing it, who actually addressed the religion in different and very distinct ways in terms of observance and otherwise.

And you can also see it, I think significantly, in the demographic information we have. We have a proportionally smaller Muslim population that, almost by definition therefore, is more diluted into the larger population. It doesn't exist in isolated enclaves on the edges of cities. For the most part, it's a population that's geographically and demographically integrated into the larger population. It's a population that, in the aggregate, has college graduation rates, family income rates that are roughly comparable to those of the American population in general.

It's a population that registers to vote at only slightly lower a rate than the overall population. And in my personal experience over a period of years of spending time with Muslims in this country, it's a group of people whose aspirations here in the main are very much the same as the aspirations of immigrants who have come from other places at other times and who are adherents of other faiths.

So it's not that we are without our problems or without our challenges in this country. There is an undercurrent of, at times, unsettling patterns of thought and action and political and religious ideas that are not entirely in-step with all the rest of America, but that's not unique to Muslims, either. We're in a moment when Islam is obviously enmeshed in controversy all around the world. But the American story critically is different from the European story not to mention usually different from the Middle Eastern story and different from the South Asian story. And it's very important to sort these stories out. I'm not saying you shouldn't compare them and think about them and analyze them together but to understand their very big distinctions as you move forward and try to make sense of how Muslims are interacting with non-Muslims here and throughout the world.

SIMON: Mona.

MONA ELTAHAWY: Thank you. I think it helps often to see how well or poorly a group is doing when you see them from the outside. And I just returned from Europe also and from Egypt. And one of the last things that I did when I was in Cairo was I had a reunion of some of my university friends. And as one of them was dropping me off, she kept asking me, are you happy in America? Are you happy in New York? Is it okay to be a Muslim in New York? Or is it okay to be a Muslim in America? Because I think the idea outside, particularly in the Middle East, is that, you know, we're being rounded up, we're going to be sent into concentration camps very soon. And everybody knows somebody who's been profiled or has had, you know, a run-in with the authorities of various kinds, as I have.

And I'm in the business of confusing people. I always like to confuse people, because I take those assumptions they have and try to turn them upside down. So I like to tell them yeah, you know, it has been difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. Because I moved here in 2000. I lived in Seattle when 9/11 happened. And if I can give you the personal side of how I try to confuse people, I tell them that the day after 9/11, a drunk tried to set fire to my local mosque in Seattle. And the man I was married to at the time drove myself and my brother and his wife who were visiting to the mosque to see how it was doing. And I tell this story to people, because it brings out all the aspects of what it means to be a Muslim in the U.S. today.

Oh, I have to tell you as well that my sister-in-law wears a headscarf, and we didn't want to leave the house for at least 48 hours after 9/11, because we thought she would be in danger. But this is, you know, kind of liberal, touchy-feely Seattle, and she was just fine. (Laughter.)

But anyway, so we show up at the mosque. And the door to the mosque is flooded with flowers and messages of well being. And for two months after this attack, the neighborhood, not the police and not the Muslim community but the neighborhood, stood outside the mosque 24-hour guard holding up signs saying Muslims are Americans, too.

Now, that's one side of the story. The other side of the story is what happened to the man who tried to set this mosque on fire. He poured gasoline in the parking lot. And two men were coming out of the night prayers, Isha'a prayers, and caught him in the middle of it. He pulled out a gun and tried to shoot one of them, couldn't aim straight because he was so drunk, got into his car, couldn't drive and drove into a tree. And so the police came and arrested him. And one of the men who came out of the mosque was a Jordanian Muslim who had immigrated to the U.S. several years before that. And he went to see this man in jail. And he said to him listen, I understand why you did what you did. I understand after 9/11 how you could react like this, and I forgive you. And he went to the authorities to tell them that he wanted to drop charges thinking that he had the power to drop charges. But they told him it's too late now, it's in the system. So he offered to testify on behalf of the defense of this man. And instead of getting 75 years in jail, this would-be arsonist and would-be murderer got six and a half years in jail. So this is one of the stories I tell.

And then I tell what happened to my brother after 9/11. He was one of the 5,000 men who was interviewed by the FBI and asked that notorious question, do you know anybody who celebrated 9/11? As if anybody would say yes, but he was asked those questions. And he was also one of the thousands of Arab or Muslim men and North Korean mean, because they were number 25 of the 25 countries who were subjected to special registration. And that was a process that Homeland Security and the Patriot Act had enacted in which Muslim, Arab and North Korean men would show up to Homeland Security and Immigration service centers and be photographed and fingerprinted to go into the records of Homeland Security. That has now, thankfully, been suspended.

But the flip side of that also is that my brother and his wife are the only Muslim family who live in this tiny town called Bellevue, Ohio. And the reason they live in this tiny town called Bellevue, Ohio which nobody has ever heard of is my sister-in-law is an OB-GYN doctor. My brother is a cardiologist, and his wife is an OB-GYN doctor. And she got this job, because the community in Bellevue, Ohio wanted a female OB-GYN doctor. And as I said, she wears a headscarf, but her patients couldn't care less. And I'm happy she wears a headscarf and her patients couldn't care less, because when they watch Fox News or whatever news and they say, you know, Muslims think this and that, you know, her patients will say no they don't, my doctor isn't like that. And her waiting list is miles long, because they all want to go see this woman OB-GYN doctor. And they rent this house that is owned by the local church. So everybody knows this is where the Muslim family live.

And I love this story, as I said, because it confuses people. Because when I tell people this in Egypt, they can't imagine this story that, you know, we're not being thrown into concentration camps, and it's not -- yes, bad things have happened to Muslims. I myself have been profiled. I mean, most people don't think I look like a Muslim, but I have been profiled coming back, especially last summer after the alleged plots to blow up planes over the Atlantic using water and liquids and all that. I was pulled aside and told because I was Egyptian I was being questioned. And coming back from Canada once, I was actually told by a possible control agent that he thought it was time for the third crusade. So it's not always been a pleasant experience coming back and forth and traveling.

But when it comes to comparing life here for Muslims and in Europe, what I think sets Europe apart is that the conversation about Muslim life is much further along the road than it is in the U.S. Because they have had Muslim communities there quite visible in a way that we haven't had in the U.S. here. Because, as Paul said, Muslims in the U.S. are by and large relatively more educated and more affluent, they were quite happy to live quietly in the suburbs until 9/11 happened, and that really pushed the Muslim community out onto the stage. And people felt compelled to talk about what it felt like to be a Muslim. I mean, 9/11 compelled me to give up news reporting and write opinion pieces, because I wanted my voice -- I call my voice a secular liberal or Muslim voice -- to be included in that conversation about Muslim life in the U.S.

What I find has happened in Europe now -- and as I said, I was there over the past month; I visited the Netherlands twice over the past month -- is that I think there's a realization that governments in Europe have, for too long, depended on a certain cross-section of the Muslim community to be their interlocutors for the whole Muslim community. And often, it's been the most conservative elements of that community. And we can talk about this later if you like, because Denmark is a great test case for this because of what happened with the cartoons. And when the cartoon crisis erupted, the government and the media realized that the Muslims they had been turning to represent all Muslims were the most conservative and often the part of the community that did not always have the whole community's interests, you know, in mind.

Here, the U.S. administration, I think, has been doing a similar thing in going to very conservative groups. And those of us who identify as liberal and secular are urging the administration to talk to a greater cross-section.

And lastly, to wrap up, I would say that although we Muslims in the U.S. are more socially integrated, I would say that Muslims in Europe are better politically integrated. And again, I turn to Denmark as an example, because many of you know there are elections in Denmark tomorrow. And a Syrian-born Muslim politician is going to be the king maker. He is going to decide. He and his party called the New Alliance Party will be the deciders of who is going to be the next prime minister or the party that will rule Denmark tomorrow after their elections. Now, this man, Naser Khader, was the first immigrant and the first Muslim member of the Danish parliament. Here in the U.S., we have Keith Ellison who was elected last year. And granted, a congressman probably does have more kind of internationally more of a prominent position than a politician in Denmark. But this is a politician in Denmark who, as I said, is going to decide who the next government of Denmark is going to be.

So I hope that kind of gives you an idea of my own comparisons of Europe and the U.S.

SIMON: Over to you, thank you.

ALTAF HUSAIN: I think I would begin at the part 1965 which is social policy. And I think the comparison for me is really about Muslims in Europe and in America being really the beneficiaries of unintended consequences. And when I was studying social policy, I would always wonder, what is an unintended consequence?

Well, America wanted professionals, lots of professionals, in the '60s. I mean, many people don't know the Sears Tower was designed and essentially, you know, the chief architect is a Muslim of Bangladeshi descent, and I didn't know that. It was baffling that on the one hand, some radicals had brought down two of the tallest buildings in America. And on the other hand, there had been this massive contribution. So there was this professional. Sixties in America were different than in France. France and in Netherlands and in Britain, they wanted workers, just basically laborers. And so the laborers that came were of a different caliber intellectually, academically. Everything you wanted in the cardiologist you speak of and the OB-GYN, this is the case. Every American you speak said well, my doctor's Indian. After September 11th happened, I'm taking minutes after I'm taking the Metro home in Washington, D.C. And someone says, where are you from? And I didn't want to go through the whole I'm originally from India but great up in Cleveland, blah, blah, blah. So I said India. And he instinctively said you're going to be safe.

Apparently, he didn't know that I was Muslim. (Laughter.) But I could have -- Cleveland Indian, that's right. And I hadn't tucked in my beard or anything after the attacks. I was just being myself. But I know that as a beneficiary of this unintended policy or unintended consequence, we tend to look at our life in America as something of a blessing if you will, because we've been able to accomplish more -- and Paul's book speaks to this -- in the 40 or 50 years of an organized Muslim presence than the British or the Muslims in England have been after three or four generations, and that's the difference. We have to take into account that America presents an opportunity for the Muslims, and it continues to do so.

However, I was in the Netherlands in June invited by the University of Utrecht to give a lecture on Muslims in America. And believe it or not, after the lecture, the entire class raised their hand, and basically one after the other kept saying, do you work for the American government? Because the picture you paint is very, quote-unquote, "rosy." You're saying that -- I mean, and I told them, I said I have problems, I mean, traveling. I mean, everybody has their horror story, Customs agents that are uninformed and, you know, they want to say comments or whatever. And that's fine. I don't mind it.

But on the whole, I think that the freedom of religion part of the Constitution has allowed Muslims to have a more organized, established presence, not withstanding the minority of a minority of a minority who have the radical thinking that Paul referred to. But in Europe, the laborers have given birth to, if you will, the outlook on life that I think everyone dreads, which is that you grow up in a ghetto, you live in a ghetto, you know you're never going to leave the ghetto. So you end up being basically having the outlook of the ghetto. I mean, think about it. In France, in Netherlands -- Netherlands actually had a policy whereby they would pay for Arabic-speaking imams, the government would pay for the education of the children in the Netherlands, keep them in schools that were for their ethnic group, the Turks or, you know, essentially now there are also Somalis there. But what would they do? They would never learn to respect Netherlands society.

I mean, I know myself, landing in Cleveland at the age of 10, something that's a danger now, which is happening more and more. At that time, people were very welcoming of immigrants. In the '80s, people would welcome you to Thanksgiving dinner. My parents were open-minded, so we went to Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Marge and Ed Bergini (sp). And he had served in World War II. Had gone to India and had these experiences. Now, after watching Fox News and other things, you'll be -- I mean, it will be a big, big moment if an American family says oh, you're a new Muslim immigrant? Please come over to our house. It's not happening. People are scared to death to talk about Islam, to talk to Muslims, to even have a sense of a coordinated, if you will, effort to deal with Muslims.

But in Europe, on the other hand, and Netherlands is an example -- I've not lived in Europe, so I can't speak. I think you lived in England, right?

Yeah, I've not lived there, so it's an academic interpretation is that more and more the children of the immigrants who came as laborers are growing up hating European society. In all of my interactions on college campuses, in the communities, I have not found young Muslims who are really my hope. And that's why I study them, I work with them, I do everything. They are hating American society. That's not happening, and that's a good thing on the one hand.

On the other hand, we have not gathered the social capital to be able to be critical of foreign policy and then not be called unpatriotic. And that's a social capital that we need to gain, and it will take some time. It's growing pains, whatever it is. But we don't have that yet. In England, they have that. They're members of Parliament, they're all over Europe and what not, but we don't have that in America yet. So on the one hand, we have this sort of growing tendency of professionals giving birth to professionals and then therefore integrating with society. And in Europe, I saw -- again, from an academic sense -- laborers giving essentially birth to laborers who, essentially, end up living in the ghettos. And therefore, the outlook is radically different if you will.

SIMON: Well, three fairly nuanced representations I'd say. But I'm somehow a little bit less than convinced. Not because I would argue with broad outlines of the situation of Muslims demographically and economically in the United States that's been put forward here. That's indisputable insofar as these numbers can be relied on. But it strikes me that since 9/11, there have been problems emerging. And this is where one can't help but think of some of the problems that have emerged from different historical impulses on the European scene. But there's a little bit of an overlap.

And I say this for two reasons, and I'm really going to welcome your comments on this. First, there was the immediate post-9/11 response of the United States government. Since the FBI knew really nothing about what was going on in the United States -- I mean, outside of organized crime and so forth -- law enforcement in the U.S. adopted a round-up-all-the-suspects kind of approach, and a very large number of Muslim males were arrested. And the subsequent interrogations -- well, not 5,000 actually, but there were 8,000 men who were pulled in for interrogations.

Now, this sort of thing, as we kind of know from social science, can be alienating on a wider scale than those simple numbers might indicate, especially in a highly charged, emotionally charged environment. But more than that, the Pew Organization -- the Pew Foundation on Religion & Public Life did a very interesting poll that was released I guess in May or June of this year. And Pew does, well, robust, well-respected polling. Their sample is a little over 1,000. But you know, sampling methodologies are pretty good nowadays. So people have a lot of confidence, generally, in their polling. And the headline when the poll was released was "Great News, Muslims Go Mainstream." This was the sound bite, and it was generally accompanied by reassuring sentiments about how American Muslims have bought the, quote-unquote, "American dream," whatever that is. It's a dream that frightens some people. You know, it turns out -- (inaudible) -- but nevertheless, they were said to have bought into this dream.

But then you kind of read the fine print of the poll. And here are the darker notes of the overall theme. Well actually, before I even get to that, can I take a second to just go through some numbers about what Americans say about Muslims in some of the polls that have come out recently? Because this is part of the overall corpus of dark notes. One-quarter of Americans, according to a 2004 poll -- this was information that I got for my book, but I also see it's in yours as well -- one-quarter of Americans hold negative stereotypes of Muslims. Well, maybe that's not so unusual. One-quarter of Americans probably hold negative stereotypes about their immediate families let alone other ethnic groups. (Laughter.) But you know, there it is.

(Off mike commentary.) (Laughter.)

One-half of Americans polled in another opinion survey thought that Muslims' civil liberties should be restricted. And in one that I saw, 44 percent of the respondents -- this was a Cornell University poll -- said that Muslims should have to carry identification that would show law enforcement that they were Muslim if they were questioned. So anyway, that's what's sort of happening on the non-Muslim side.

On the Muslim side, 53 percent of the respondents said it was difficult to be a Muslim in the U.S. nowadays; 54 percent believed that they were a subject to extra surveillance on the part of the U.S. government; 26 percent said that someone had reacted to them within the previous year in a suspicious manner; and 25 percent had experienced what they defined as some sort of discriminatory experience.

When asked about al Qaeda, they said -- well, first, 27 percent of the respondents refused to answer or said they didn't know -- a very large number. And 5 percent had a favorable attitude, 10 percent had a somewhat unfavorable attitude. With respect to who carried out the 9/11 attacks, 28 percent said that they did not believe it was Arabs, and 32 percent refused to answer or said they didn't know. Sixty-one percent are worried about Islamic extremism in the U.S., and 55 percent think that the war on terrorism is not sincere. I'm not sure what the pollsters actually meant by that. But anyway, that's what the question was. And 19 percent didn't want to answer.

And as in Europe, there is a differentiation between the views of older-generation Muslim Americans and younger ones. There tends to be somewhat of a more perhaps a sharper edge to the views held by younger Muslims. On the questions of identity, 60 percent said they identified themselves as Muslims first. Now, in Europe, they make a mistake when they ask this question, because they generally don't offer the choice can you be both equally. But Pew did ask that question, and 10 percent of the respondents opted for that choice. And in the area of radicalism, 15 percent said that suicide bombing could be warranted depending on the situation, with 5 percent declining to answer.

So I just throw this out to you all as, as I said, something of a shadow on perhaps an overall sunny scenario. I'm going to have to ask you to keep your responses to this to about five minutes or maybe less, because I'd like to go on to ask just one more question about political participation before we go to the audience.

Why don't we start off this time with you, Altaf?

HUSAIN: Sure. Yeah, I think the one thing we forget is that the Muslim community is not nearly as organized, if you will, from a theological or religious perspective as the Catholic community or the Protestant community. So I can almost say with certainty that there are people in our community who we know of who espouse extremist and radical views. I mean, it's -- there's a minority of a minority of a minority of a minority. I don't know how many, but I know that if you think about the fact of Islamic thinking that the prophet Mohammed said, peace be upon him, that the entire Muslim world -- internationally, globally, if you will -- is like one body and that if one part of that body pains, then the entire body pains. Take it as you will; that's what he said. So the entire world, Muslim, globally, is one body and if one part of that body pains.

So if an African American or a Somali American or an Asian American comes into contact with the news, if you will, about one part of that body, whether it's in Chechnya, in Kashmir, in Palestine and Israel, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, now don't -- I cannot justify their feelings, but I can say that if they come across that, there is sincere pain that they feel, and then they may be the people who say, "Well, according to that thinking, then if I'm -- if they're hurting, then I should be hurting, then I should be espousing something to alleviate their pain."

Now, obviously it's not a sophisticated understanding. It's not something that's rooted in any international or foreign affairs perspective. And if you had an organized group of Muslim theologians, which we have more and more now, they would say that you don't take the law into your own hands. You don't get up and go and fight someone. You don't get up and go and kill yourself in a suicide bombing. There are ways to resolve this. There are ways to be diplomatic, there are ways to have dialogue, there are ways to have -- and there were calls for all of this, not only before September 11th, but after September 11th.

And what seems to have been lost on the media, if you will, was that those people who were calling for this dialogue, and those who were calling for such collaboration, if you will, almost never made the news. Their words never made the news. And I know that after September 11th, when I was interviewed and asked about extremism and radicalism and everything, we would interview sometimes for an hour, two hours, sometimes on camera, sometimes off camera, sometimes -- you know, whatever. But it would be like the smallest sound bite ever would come out. And you would think, how can we ever possibly benefit the larger American society if we don't ever get out the fact that these minority of a minority of a minority who are saying this are not necessarily -- they may be Muslims of their claim, but they're actually more a part of a cult of terror. And that can belong to any religious group, more so than they are Muslims.

And this was a reality for us. I mean, believe me, CBS actually did an interview with me about this FBI interrogations and Muslim youth and young men being called. We spoke, and I think it was Jim Stewart's piece. You know, after the entire however long we stood in Dupont Circle or wherever we were in D.C., the only thing they needed me for was to show a bearded man with approximately this length of beard, with framed glasses that look like the Taliban, because this was a few months after September 11th. And I was rhetorically posing the question, "Young Arab men are saying, 'Why me? Why is this happening to me?'" And do you know, all of my co-workers, my mom, my dad, everybody said, "What was going on? Because the entire piece they showed my face, suddenly saying, 'Why is this happening to me? Why is this happening to me?'"

And I said, how could I possibly benefit American society if I grew up loving this country, my father saying, "Keep in the East what you like least and take from the West what you like best." My father helping us to integrate, wanting us to live here and do everything, and be Muslim on top of all that. And there are many families that do, you know, repeat across the country.

But if we intend only to look at the fact that there is this minority, and then hone in on the fact that they are actually not represented by the majority of the Muslim mainstream community. And if they are, believe me, we are self-patrolling. Believe me. You may not even know what all we're doing. But Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations just spoke about, in Irvine, how a man who espoused these extremist views was actually reported by the Muslim community to the authorities, saying, "This is not one of us, and whatever he is doing doesn't belong in our mosques, doesn't belong in our community." So do -- basically, take note of him.

When the FBI called me -- and I'll stop here -- and they called me around 2004. They said, "You know, we just want to talk to you." Well, I wasn't in the office. They left their card; I called them back. I'm at a historically black university, so when two white men in long jackets show up, I'm sure people get a little worried, right? (Laughter.)

So I wasn't in the office. They said, "Maybe you should return this call." So I called them back. I called them back. I said, "How can I help you?" And he said, "Basically, we want to know what you know. If you know of any news or any information about the upcoming elections and the potential of any attacks." So I talked to my lawyer.

And, by the way, just a small aside, I picked up a phone in the office of the provost, where I work, to call the lawyer. And apparently, as I picked up the phone, I had dialed it, I had the phone on my thing, I was dialing the number for the lawyer. Essentially I picked up, and the voice says, "Who are you trying to call?" -- (scattered laughter). And believe me, for the first time in my life -- my back was somewhat arched, the sweat dropped from my neck to my back, and I could feel it. I said, "What?" He said, "Who are you trying to call?" and it was the lawyer's co-lawyer. The number had already gone through, and he had picked up the line by mistake, just heard the phone. So he was saying, "Who are you trying to call?" (Laughs.) I mean, you know, true paranoia. But I was saying, "Look, get off the phone. You're a lawyer, I'm in a moment, I need help." And so I faxed a statement, a one-page statement, and I never heard from the FBI again. Never heard from them again.

In the statement I said very clearly, I said, "You have asked me. I'm answering to you. In any community I've visited, any campus I've visited, I have never had any dialogue with anyone who espouses extremist or radical thought. If, on September 10th, I knew that someone was planning to attack my country, I would have given my life to stop those attacks." End of story. One-page statement, and responded.

So there is extremism, but we're trying to do something about it, and you'll see results.

SIMON: Mona?

ELTAHAWY: There anything wrong with Altaf if he's not angry. I wish he was angry, because he's the perfect example of what I call the "angry bearded Muslim man," because he is the kind of man they want on TV -- (laughter) -- and he is the kind of Muslim they're looking for. But you're not angry enough, Altaf.

HUSAIN: I'm trying. I'm a social worker. I mean -- (Laughter.) There's a limit of that; there's a threshold -- (laughs).

ELTAHAWY: No, but seriously. I mean, there are Muslims that the media looks for and that society at large looks for, and when you don't fit that profile, people are disappointed. I mean, there are countless stories of this happening. I mean, again, after 9/11, a "60 Minutes" crew went to a very liberal mosque here in New York, in TriBeCa, looking to interview Muslim women. And a Muslim woman I know came out to the mosque and the producer said to her, "We want to interview a Muslim woman." She said, "Well, interview me." And he said, "No, we want one wearing a head scarf." So unless Muslims come tailor-made, I mean --

This -- I can't stand these polls, honestly. I can't stand these polls. Because they're always looking for something, and they end up finding it. It's like -- and I'm going to basically preempt any questions any of you have about this, because this is the most insulting question I'm asked when I speak at these events, "How representative -- "

SIMON: We'll know what not to ask. (Laughter.)

ELTAHAWY: Yeah, I'm preempting it now, so that we can stay friends. "How representative are you?" It's incredibly offensive to think that there's one kind of Muslim that represents everybody. He's a Muslim, I'm a Muslim, my brother, his wife. I mean, Muslims come in all shapes and color, and to think that we're going to fit this one mold that is going to make you all happy and feel safe is so offensive.

Now, yes, there are extremists in the community, as there are everywhere. Yes, Muslim extremists are particularly dangerous because it was Muslims on 9/11. My first ever appearance on American television was on The O'Reilly Factor on FOX News.


ELTAHAWY: Am I a fool, or what? (Laughter.)

SIMON: Oh, well. (Laughter.)

ELTAHAWY: No, but after that appearance, I got all these e-mails asking me, "Are you sure you're a Muslim?" Again, because I wasn't the kind of Muslim they were expecting.

The second appearance was supposed to be to go in and talk about these polls, because some poll had shown that 60 percent of people in the Middle East didn't believe that Arabs and Muslims were behind 9/11. So I told the producer, "You know what? I can't speak for those people, because I can't even begin to understand the kind of thinking that would make someone think that it was -- it was somebody else and it was a conspiracy." I never -- I refuse to answer these questions.

What I do answer is look at Muslims as a diverse group, because we're not monolithic. I mean, that's the least that we can expect. Yes, there will be elements here and there, but by and large, I mean, there have not been, thank God, any attacks in the U.S. after 9/11. The Muslim community in the U.S., by and large, is very happy to be here, does not want to ruin its life in any shape or form, and wants to continue being happy here.

And even in Europe, I mean, you mentioned the children of the laborers who are increasingly unhappy. I also come across European Muslims who are becoming more educated, who are becoming more professional and who are trying to drag away those elements that come up in the polls.

So this is my way of saying I refuse to answer for those people, Steven.

SIMON: Whew. Okay, Paul, will you answer for those people? (Laughter.)

Was your hair gray before I asked this question? (Laughter.)

BARRETT: (Chuckles.) My hair's been gray for quite a while.

I think there's a tremendous amount of value in -- not necessarily agreeing with -- you don't have to agree with everything you've just heard, but to sift through it and think it through, because there is profundity among the many statements that have just been made.

Several thoughts back, on Pew, I don't think that there is a cloud hanging over Muslim America. There is a dark little corner within it, and there is debate over the exact extent of it and there is debate over precisely what is being said or maybe even plotted within that tiny little corner, and that is the main cause for concern.

I mean, I will argue until the cows come home, from every perspective, aggregate demographics, anecdotal, I will take the Pew poll and show you that for every response from Muslims who say it's hard to be a Muslim today, you can find Muslims actually answering that their outlook for their communities and the future of the country is quite positive, and where their numbers are actually just as optimistic as the responses from the general electorate -- you know, the general population.

Because if you ask people sort of what's -- how's the direction of the country these days? You don't get 100 percent of Americans saying rah, rah, terrific. And in fact, certain questions within that very poll, Muslims actually answer in a more optimistic way than Americans.

So those numbers are complex. The question is, I think, how do we constructively and effectively address the tiny group of people who may, if their ideas about Muslims being afflicted internationally, and there being a vast, international American and Israeli and Zionist plot against all Muslims and the religion of Islam everywhere, and that spirit of apocalyptic grievance which courses throughout the mainstream of politics and society in certain parts of the world, in Middle East, parts of South Asia, and elsewhere. To what degree is that animating conversation and, God forbid, action, among Muslims in this country?

The quick, rough answer is not to a great degree, but to some small degree. What is the danger of that bad, corrupted, degraded thinking turning into action? The chances are small. We have to hope that the FBI is now on the stick and figuring out how to monitor that. There certainly are Muslims who are cooperating with the authorities. There are Muslims who are resentful of the authorities. Some of them are resentful of the authorities because of this very kinds of attitudes you talked about from the Americans generally. They're -- Muslims are aware that many Americans are hostile to them. Muslims listen to the radio and hear conservative talk radio hosts degrading their religion. They hear certain right-wing Christian preachers who use Islam as a foil in their lecturing.

And what you have is a complicated, mixed situation where the overwhelming majority of Muslims, as our two fellow panelists are saying, are, in the great American tradition, trying to make the best of the tremendous opportunities in this country, and then at the margin, you have people who are unhappy and in today's environment with fundamentalism coursing throughout Islam around the world, those ideas can kind of bind together, as I say, in that spirit of global grievance that you and Danny Benjamin have written about as well, if not better than anybody else. And we have hints of that here.

If the hint -- if the little -- if those weeds are allowed to grow, then we have a domestic threat. If those weeds are plucked out and dealt with, then we don't. Nine/11 was brought to us from afar, and God forbid we have another incident like that, and we might, my guess is it'll come from overseas again.

SIMON: Just before we turn to Q and A, just a couple of observations.

First, not surprisingly -- and this is my fault, because I think the way I presented this -- panelists leapt to the conclusion that I was necessarily talking about terrorist violence coming out of this. But there is a vast space that falls well short of a violent expression of resistance or opposition attitudes that I think we need to worry about.

In other words, attitudes on the part of Muslims and non-Muslim Americans that can become conflictual and broadly conflictual in a way that throws sand into the gears of American society, which is already fairly divided in many ways because of the prominence of identity politics in today's world and on the American scene as it is. And I think it's -- it would be well to do what we can to avoid these kinds of tensions from increasing, regardless of whether terrorism per se is what we're worried about on the horizon, understanding that, of course, if a terrorism attack did occur, or more than one, it would in itself create problems, further problems, judging from the statistics that we've already seen between Muslims and non-Muslims.

The other thing is on these other Pew statistics that you mentioned, you know, statistics are so hard to interpret, because you see the same thing, for example, in Britain. And I'll just throw out this observation before we turn to Q and A, very briefly.

You have a lot of polling going on in Britain all the time, and one of the favorite questions is, "How well do you think British society is going?" And non-Muslim Britons respond generally by saying, "What a hell-hole!" You know? Who wants to live here? It's really bad. Nothing works. There's everything imaginable is wrong with British society. And then, you know, they ask the same question of Muslim respondents, and large majorities -- that is to say, in excess of 60 percent, recently -- will say, "We like it here. We think it's pretty good."

When the question, "Do you have confidence in British institutions?" and then the subset of that question, "Do you have confidence in British law enforcement," in the bobby on the street, non-Muslim Brits will say, "No, the institutions are all falling apart, and they're corrupt and, you know, may the Lord bless and keep police far away from me." And then you ask the same questions of Muslim Brits, and they'll say no, they think that British institutions are really robust, they take pride in them, and that they have a lot confidence in the police. Okay? So all that's happening at the level of the polls.

And then you get the head of MI5, their domestic security service, coming out and saying that they've got 2,000 individuals under active investigation, that there are hundreds of plots -- and of course they have seen violence. So you do get this weird disjuncture -- or maybe this weird conjunction is a better way to put it -- of positive attitudes expressed to pollsters, but this kind of dark corner, but it's not just a teeny one, at least in Britain. I think it is here, but it's not just a teeny one in Britain. And we, of course, wouldn't want it to get any bigger.

Let's open it up to Q and A.


QUESTIONER: Yeah. Oh, I'm sorry. My name is Patricia Carreras. I'm French, so I will be your witness here. (Scattered laughter.) And I'm also a Jew, and I have been raised in France by Turkish and Greek parents.


QUESTIONER: None of them could speak French when they came. So just to be on a personal note, I was treated also the "dirty Jew" in school, but I was able, through my parents, who had been forcing me to accept equality between men and women, the importance of education -- and really, I was pushed there -- to become the press secretary of the French president. So through education, and because we believed in education -- and I'm raising this issue because I think it's an important one -- it's the issue of integration of values of the country you are in.

HUSAIN: That's right.

QUESTIONER: And if you believe in those and equality between men and women, okay? Freedom of press. I mean, okay, fine, there are cartoons against Islam, but you are in a country where there is freedom of press. Why aren't you accepting?

So my question is -- and that's where my doubts are -- I have the feeling that, contrary to the way I've been raised, I mean, the Muslim population is not really integrating the values of democracy, and this can be in France, where I can talk a lot or about or -- maybe less in America.

SIMON: Anybody want to take that question quickly?

BARRETT: Yes. You're just -- I mean, I hate to be blunt. My two friends know that I'm -- my three friends here know I'm very blunt. Your premise is incorrect.

Look, despite the -- and next you're saying it's a serious question. I take your question very seriously. But there's absolutely no basis for the assertion that Muslims are not embracing democratic ideals in this country. I won't speak to Muslims elsewhere in the world. There's no basis for it.

They're heavily involved in politics. One of the fascinating things about Muslims in American politics is they are actually not -- their roots are not deeply in the soil in that they have voted for Republicans, they have voted for Democrats, they are playing critical roles in what we call the battleground states, helping to decide who are president is.

The whole issue of relations between men and women is a very complicated, cultural and religious question that deserves attention. But the notion that Muslims are not supportive of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of religious expression, freedom from religious establishment by the government -- just no basis. It's an assertion; you can say it. You can say you don't -- that's your perception. Fine. That's -- it's a free country. That can be your perception. But there's nothing to cite.

And it's important to, I think, for serious people to think those things through. And if you're going to make an assertion about Muslims and their attachment to democracy, to have some starting point for that.

QUESTIONER: I was talking -- (off mike).

BARRETT: Well, but you said you suspected that you saw that in this country as well.

QUESTIONER: Compared to European perspective -- (off mike).

ELTAHAWY: But even with Europe, I mean, who do you mean by "you"? Because I mentioned this politician, Nasr Hadr?? who launched an organization called Democratic Muslims in the middle of this cartoon crisis, and he stood up and said, "Of course I have a right to publish these cartoons." And they have thousands of members, this organization does. So if you're talking about the "you" that you see who are these angry, bearded Muslim men who are burning things --

You know, you mentioned -- I train journalists on how to cover the Middle East. I want to start training journalists on how to cover Muslim issues, because they're doing a really bad job. Because the kind of people you're seeing on television, yes, of course they exist, but do you think the entire -- there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world. You saw, whatever, 200 in Pakistan marching and burning things.

I've just come back from Egypt where journalists are being put on trial because they're fighting for democracy, where 24-year-olds and 25-year-old bloggers are jailed for 40 days and longer because they're fighting for democracy and freedom of expression and equal rights. So, I mean, who do you mean by "you"?

I spoke at a conference in Rotterdam just four weeks ago in which my fellow panelists came from France and the U.K. And one of them is a French teacher of Moroccan descent, and she teaches the children in the suburbs who, as she said, haven't even visited Paris. They are literally, you know, a few miles outside of Paris, but they never even get the chance to visit. She had a job in one of those well-to-do kind of rich schools, but she gave it up because she said it was boring, because it wasn't achieving anything. And she chose to go and teach in the housing project school, because she wanted to be a role model for other children of Moroccan and North African descent so they can see. And she says, "They respect me as a woman and as a teacher."

So, I mean, I'm really angry. Who do you mean by "you," you know? I hear Americans on a train when I'm coming back from D.C. to New York saying, "Oh, those people. They fly planes into buildings and they say nothing, but cartoons -- my God, and they go nuts." Who are these people? These people are not Altaf, and these people are not me.

So please be careful when you say "you," because just as your parents raised you so well to become the press secretary for the French president, I know millions of Muslims whose parents are raising them well in the Middle East, in Asia, in Europe, and in the U.S., to fight for democracy. I myself have been taken into state security because I fight for democracy. But this is nothing compared to the people I know in Egypt.

We have 20,000 political prisoners in Egypt. Some of them Islamists, some of them liberals, some of them Socialists, all fighting for democracy. So please. Democracy is not something that is owned by France or America or non-Muslims. It's something we all fight for.

SIMON: It's generally so hard to get a panel animated. (Laughter.)

ELTAHAWY: You don't have to try hard with Muslims. You know us. (Laughter.)

SIMON: Oh, of course!

ELTAHAWY: It's easy to get us going.

SIMON: You're just like that other 1.2 -- I can't do the math -- (laughter)

you, know, billion.


QUESTIONER: My name is Said (sp). I'm affiliated with Columbia University as a religious life adviser for the Muslim Students Association there, and I'm an alumnus of Teachers College from Columbia University. I've been here for 37 years.

I just want to make an observation that's probably not noted as clearly by all of us, and that's about the recent developments. We are talking about the society at large mostly, but in terms of governmental agencies, we haven't really raised that issue. I think it's becoming increasingly important. I will just make a reference about this NYPD report on radicalization in the West, "The Home-Grown Threat."

They have taken the incidents from Europe and they have reported on some of the suspect incidents within this country. And the way it's projected in that entire report, saying that these are unremarkable people, that simply means that, you know, that entire Muslim community, in a sense, becomes suspect because you can't identify these people -- can end up being the worst that you can imagine.

And that report has served as the basis for some very radical policy formulation at the federal government, and we see that most recently the House of Representatives passed legislation with six members opposing that, that you can take preventive measures for stopping violence and terrorism in this country. So it's making this entire community a suspect community.

And once that kind of project takes place at the government level, I think it needs to be addressed even more clearly so that we don't make things difficult, not only for the Muslims -- the Muslims are only 7 millions here, if we take that number, you know, as reliable statistics -- but it's going to be a disservice for the entire American society to project an entire community in that kind of context.

So I just wanted to share that with you.

SIMON: Thank you. I didn't read the NYPD report in quite that way, but I think your point is well taken that one doesn't want to stigmatize an entire society.

QUESTIONER: Yeah. Hi, my name's Eric Goldstein (sp). A question for Mr. Husain.

You mentioned that the American Muslim community is not that well organized politically.

HUSAIN: No, no. I meant theologically --

(Cross talk.)

QUESTIONER: Oh, theologically. Right.

HUSAIN: Yes. Politically, we're trying --

QUESTIONER: Right. So, I guess, to the political, where is the community on that, and sort of where are its plans?

HUSAIN: Yeah. It took a beating, because the American Muslim Task Force, as it's noted, composed of the national Muslim organizations, in 2000 actually decided to back the current president, George W. Bush. And to the detriment of the organized community -- when I say organized, essentially they were the immigrant-minded communities. And George Bush had said somewhere in Detroit or Michigan, somewhere in Michigan, that he was against racial profiling. And they kind of, you know, got excited and said, "My, this guy speaks our language," and whatever, so they supported him.

But that taught a bitter lesson that the indigenous community, led mostly by African Americans, predominantly by African Americans, said no. And, you know, "Over our dead bodies would we have ever supported a Republican." And then you said the Muslims speak -- you know, you were speaking, quote-unquote, for the Muslims, and you went ahead and did this.

Well, since then there has been a maturing, if you will, and a much more open discussion among both indigenous and immigrant communities, saying that if we are to become a political force in this country, not only must we stop sort of swaying, if you will, as Paul said, being a Democrat at one time, Republican at one time, but be serious about whichever course you choose. So you have more people actually joining parties now, among Muslims, Republicans or Democrats. And then also, this current election coming up, if you will, there's a great hesitancy at coming forward and just blurting out support for a candidate until several steps are passed. I'm not politically as astute, if you will. I'm more in social work.

But the notion that I see is that there's a much more cohesive approach to say that we will represent the Muslims, but we won't say that we speak for all Muslims. We will pick a candidate, but we may fall short on X, Y and Z issues, so you Palestinian-backing Arabs or whatever, if you see that our candidate doesn't support quite that strain of support that you want, you will have to live with this, because politically you'll have to make this choice at this time. Or you South Asians, if you're not liking what's happening in Pakistan and we support so-and-so candidate, you'll have to go with that, but there will be sacrifices. We won't be able to please everyone.

And I think this is a part of growing pains. It reflects the understanding that it's more sophisticated, that it's not just sort of nuanced and, "Well, as long as you support Palestine, we're with you." I mean, that could -- what does that mean? I mean, what does that mean, really, in real terms to a politician, and then will he change the next cycle and will it be throughout his term or whatever?

So now we're talking about a more global view, but at the same time a much more locally deep-rooted view that says that America first, and then the rest of the world. And we're seeing this in relief projects, raising money for Katrina, raising money for homelessness. So America first, and then also support other global projects, as opposed to the opposite side, which is '60s, '70s, '80s, we never heard about America. Everything was about overseas, and then here. And then the indigenous community of African Americans said, "Well, you guys are hypocrites, because you -- look at us. I mean, look at our situation in America." And please don't quote "look at us" -- (laughter) -- if you're going to go and report this. But they were saying that. And so politically now we're saying, "No, we're all together and we're going to have to move forward on this as one body, leaving some aside, but, you know, it's part of growing." That's what I was trying to say.

Thank you.

SIMON: Paul, have you been following Muslim political mobilization in the U.S.?


SIMON: How is it shaping up?

BARRETT: I think wariness is exactly the theme -- that's the first point. Muslims, at a national level, you know, swung very, you know, distinctly, according to exit polling, toward Kerry in 2004, having supported Bush strongly -- and possibly having literally helped elect President Bush because of the large Muslim population in Florida, if you view the Florida election as literally tipping the election, we may have Muslims to thank for President Bush in 2000.



SIMON: We're not going to stigmatize an entire people --


BARRETT: No, and heavily politically-involved Muslims know that and feel very rueful about it. (Laughter.)

May I -- a couple of quick points that I think are very relevant here. When I mentioned earlier that Muslims have not really "settled" politically -- first of all, I didn't mean that in a pejorative way. The Muslims who are politically active have shown themselves to be very politically sensitive in the sense that they actually listen very closely to candidates who come to them, and talk to them, and say certain things that they think are meaningful to them. So that's step number one.

Step number two, I would qualify Altaf's description a little bit -- and I don't think there actually is one Muslim institution or place to go to get the Muslim vote because, as he said earlier, Islam in this country, as it is around the world, is very decentralized, and there really isn't a single place to check-in. So you've got to go to Dearborn and check-in with the Muslims there; you've got to go to South Florida and check-in there; and you've got to go to Cleveland, and New York, and Los Angeles, and Houston -- literally, that's how you have to campaign to Muslims.

Muslims in this country, particularly Arab Muslims who are -- by the way, most Muslims are not Arab, and most Arabs are not Muslim in this country, just as a quick aside -- you know, they're in a tough spot, in a sense, politically, because, in terms of -- you know, domestic issues, I think they're spread all across the board -- according to religious beliefs, according to their socio-economic situation. Well-to-do people want to keep what they have -- (laughs) -- a lot of times. People who are less well-to-do are kind of worried about why they're less well-to-do.

But foreign policy is a tremendous, passionate interest to many Muslims, particularly immigrants for obvious reasons. Situation in Israel and Palestine is of tremendous importance to Muslims, generally, particularly Arabs. And there isn't a whole lot of choice in the American political system, say, on Israel. And this is a source -- and this has been a little bit of the elephant in the room here, which we haven't addressed, if you want -- if you want to look to the sources of alienation to the degree that it exists among Muslim-Americans, a great deal of it traces back to Israel and to American policy toward Israel.

Many Muslims in this country have very deep-seated and sincere disagreement with American policy. This is a view you can disagree with passionately -- as I personally do, actually, in many ways, but it deserves respect because it's not, it's not the view of terrorists, it's the view of people who see the world differently. And that is going to be the continuing source of frustration for Muslims that will not be easy to resolve until there's some type of compromise concerned Israel and Palestine. Because there isn't actually a whole, real range of debate in American politics over policy toward Israel, there's a kind of general position. And pretty much all American politicians have to buy into that position. And Muslims are frustrated by that.

Again, whether you agree with them, or disagree with them, they're frustrated. And that deserves attention, and we need to talk about that, and bring it out into the open, and so forth.

SIMON: I think it's -- it's really important because the impression I get is that the lack of recourse in this, the lack of some political channel in which to express this dissatisfaction with the broad tendency in American foreign policy is problematic.

BARRETT: Absolutely. It's absolutely problematic. If you are immediately susceptible to being accused of being anti-Semitic, and then unpatriotic. Two things, in respectable American society, you don't want to be accused of. And Muslims face that hazard when they want to give voice to the fact that -- let's just state this really crudely, that they're rooting for the Palestinians, not for the Israelis -- at the crudest level. People have a gut feeling about things. People see the world differently.

SIMON: And, you know, on The Hill there's this kind of peculiar situation, which I'll illustrate with just the most skeletal of anecdotes. I and my co-author were summoned to the office of a senior American senator -- senior senator, to talk about American Muslims. And, as you can guess, in an encounter like that it's the senator who does the talking. (Laughter.) You go there to listen to the senator talk for 45 minutes about what he thinks about American Muslims.

But one of the things he said was really reminiscent of Kissinger's old line about U.S.-European relations. You know, he used to say, "Well, I want to call Europe, what number do I dial?" That was his, sort of, anti-EU line. Well, what I was hearing from him was, "Well, when I want to talk to Muslims in America, who do I call?"

Now, you know, they're quite accustomed to the relative centralization of Jewish political organization in the United States -- where actually there are two or three numbers to call if you really want to press all the belly-buttons in that community. In connection with this, you know, there was the complaint that unless the Muslim community was organized, or got organized to the extent where there were authoritative representatives of that community who could speak on its behalf, he -- who had a strong interest in improving intercommunal relations, would not be able to convince his fellow counterparts in the Senate that they needed to take Muslim concerns seriously. I just wanted to throw that out.

Who was next?

HUSAIN: Can I respond to that, or do you want to --

SIMON: Oh, sure.

HUSAIN: I just -- I did want to say that I think that actually represents the current state of the Muslim community, is that ethnic/geopolitical affiliations, if you will, have given rise to national organizations. And they -- I know I'll be criticized for this one by Muslims, is that they have somewhat been top-heavy. So a few people with money, and education, and interest might have formed an organization, and the tendency -- I don't know what it was, whether it was particular to Muslims, but it happened across all races and ethnicities -- was to suddenly say that you were America.

So even a mosque may be called "the Islamic Center of America," but I mean, you're located in Detroit, Michigan. Why don't you say you're the Islamic Center of Detroit, or something local? (Laughter.) Something more, you know, like reflective of your surroundings? So the problem has been that -- when a senator, or a congressman, or even their staff, who do most of his legwork -- when they do want to pick up the phone, they don't know who to call because, well, maybe the Islamic Center of America is what it is -- it turned out to be a small mosque in Detroit. (Laughter.)

So I think the second -- (laughs) -- the second generation, and the third generation are going to be able to revolutionize, if you will, that thinking, because they will reflect typically American-born philosophy towards politics. And they will say, well, I stand for, you know, such and such policy and, therefore, if you what to talk about this, we are your people. We have a think-tank, you know, for example, located out of Detroit on the Islamic Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. So you can go to them for, you know, for this view. But it hasn't been there, and we're emerging in that --

ELTAHAWY: And I hope that happens because I think the most frustrating thing for me is that when people say, "Who do I call when I need to talk to Muslims?," they're looking for an imam. They don't -- for some reason, the last community that is suffering from this is the Muslim community, because when this senator would say it -- he would never say it to you, "if I wanted to call a Jewish-American," he wouldn't necessarily go to a rabbi. Or if he wanted to call a Christian -- well, you wouldn't even say, "Who do I call when I want to talk to the Christians?."

And something that really worried me about this particular issue was, I spoke at a counter-radicalization conference in the Netherlands, and they had all these representatives of various counterterrorism groups getting up at this conference saying this, you know, "We don't know where the moderate Muslims are." And I got so frustrated, I got up and said, well, I know where they are; and I'm really worried, if I know where they are, and you don't know where they are, how can you find the bad guys if you don't know where the good guys are? (Laughter.)

BARRETT: (Laughs.) Disturbing, isn't it? (Laughter.)

ELTAHAWY: (Laughing.) It's disturbing. (Laughs) So -- but they -- I just don't understand why they can't find them. (Laughter.) So stop looking for the religious guys, because they don't represent the whole community. Because Muslims are the last community where conservative equals authentic. You have to look for all the voices.

And this is where I find open what you're saying, Altaf, in that there are groups -- are coming up who don't just represent the religious viewpoints of Muslims, but -- you know, like Keith Ellison is a great -- I'm glad that, a) he's African American, he's the first, as a Muslim, first Muslim congressman. But he didn't run on a Muslim ticket, he ran on a ticket of social justice, and kind of a typical Democrat ticket. And, you know, he's black and he represents Minnesota, so -- and Muslim. (Laughter.)

SIMON: It is really depressing when you go to those conferences and you see the intelligence community is represented, and they seem, actually, completely unaware of --

BARRETT: Where the men's room is.

SIMON: That's a -- that's a different conference. Let's take three questions, and then have some responses; and then another round of three, so we can get the most out of the next 15 or 20 minutes.


QUESTIONER: Hi, Roger Kubarych of UniCredit and the Council. Very simple question: How do Muslim-American attitudes toward mixed marriages reflect their divergence from European-Muslim attitudes toward mixed marriages, and the, sort of, broad attitudes toward mixed marriages in minority -- majority Muslim countries?

HUSAIN: Within Muslims -- like mixed --

QUESTIONER: Mixed marriages -- between a Muslim and Catholic, between a Muslim and a Jew, between a Muslim and a Hindu.

SIMON: Got it.

Let's take two more, sir.

QUESTIONER: Dorian Weber (sp). I had a -- I wanted to throw some fuel on an earlier fire, because I thought the woman who left the room asked a very thoughtful question that neither of you really answered. You, I thought, distorted her question, because she said that -- she described what she had encountered in France, and she said she didn't think it was the same in America, but she was interested in the difference.

And you went into a defense about Muslims, generally. But she was being specific about this idea -- that, at least, I have heard and read a lot about, that -- let's say, in France, the Muslim community is different than other immigrant communities, and that it's not as interested in assimilating as -- And I think that's a legitimate issue. And if it is different in America, understanding why it's different is very useful to us. But to deny that it's at all an issue, as you appeared to do, is to me, dishonest, so.

SIMON: Okay, let's -- let's take a third question.

QUESTIONER: I mean, I'm not -- I must say I'm not surprised by numbers that show a lack of respect for the civil liberties of Muslims, because if you took a poll of Americans, and there were repeated polls to this effect, most of them don't believe in the free speech, or freedom of press or the right to be free of search and seizures. Over my 30-year career -- practicing civil liberties lawyer, that's remained true.

SIMON: Well, that's a relief. (Laughter.)

QUESTIONER: No, I mean -- but it, but it indicates that those polls ought to be taken with some grains of salt. After the Danish cartoons appeared, the Organization of the Islamic Conference went to UNESCO and proposed a resolution which would make it a violation of international law to publish anything that was disrespectful of the sacred figures of any religion. And, in fact, only -- actually through American intervention was that watered-down and diluted, but that proposal is kicking around various U.N. agencies.

What then should we make of the claim that it's unfair to tag Muslims as being opposed to freedom of speech, when here you have an organization that represents all the Muslim -- most of the Muslim countries in the world, in fact, with a very constricted view of freedom of speech, certainly hostile to the one that we've had in the United States over many years, that even hate speech is protected speech.

SIMON: Okay, Altaf, would you take inter-marriage?

(To Ms. Eltahawy.) Would you take protected speech?

(To Mr. Barrett.) And would you defend yourself? (Laughter.)

BARRETT: Absolutely. (Laughter.)

SIMON: Would you please just sit there.

BARRETT: (Off mike.)

SIMON: Let's start off with Altaf.

HUSAIN: I'll make it very brief. Well, first of all, the reason I asked for the clarification is because there has been, and continues to be, as a human weakness, racism within the Muslim community. So when you said mixed marriages, I was also referring to the fact that there has been attention, if you will, of interracial marriages. So among Muslims, so for example, Arabs and African Americans, or South Asians and African Americans, or Caucasians and whatever, so that's what I meant.

But to go to the other side, the interfaith marriages is what you're referring to. I think I have to state the theological position very clearly, that Islam says that a Muslim man may marry a Christian or Jewish woman, because those are mono-theistic religions, and so they are able to marry. And she can maintain her religion, as long as their children are raised Muslim. Now that's not going to a discussion, but I'm -- this is the theological position.

A Muslim woman may not marry a man of any other religion except Islam. And so the idea is that -- there are Muslim men who are married to Christian. One of my closest friends, his dad is obviously a Egyptian-Muslim, married to a Christian woman, and she has maintained her religion her entire life. He is raised as a Muslim.

So what is the larger view? The larger view is that we have problems. Why? Because there are more Muslim women now who are unmarried in the American-Muslim community -- (audio break) -- by the fact that there are so many unmarried women in the community -- Muslim, that people would say, well, why don't you marry someone, you know, within the community, rather than out-marrying?

And we can discuss more about that later, but --

ELTAHAWY: I would add to that -- before I get to your protected speech, that liberal interpretations of the theology allow Muslim women to marry non-Muslim men. And there are imams in the U.S., increasingly, who are conducting these marriages because they have found that realistically, on the ground, Muslim women are marrying non-Muslim men, and they had gone for civil marriages, but some women wanted to be married in an Islamic ceremony.

And I know of these clerics who do marry Muslim women. And the way that they interpret theology is that they trace it back to the days of Andalusia, when Muslims ruled Spain. And, basically, the kind of -- the percentages of the various faiths were, by and large, equal, or that Muslims were a minority. And they say, therefore, under those conditions -- I mean, it's been interpreted differently, but they say that Muslims are a minority here, and so the likelihood of a woman finding a man who's not a Muslim is quite large, and so on. I don't want to get into the details, but I know of clerics who do marry Muslim women to non-Muslim men.

Your protected speech question: Who elected the OIC to represent Muslims? If you look at Muslim countries -- if you look at, for example, the Grand Sahofal al Saraf (sp), if you look at the Grand Mufti of Egypt, they're all appointed by the governments of these countries. So you're talking about an organization where all those people are appointed, by and large, by dictators. The Muslim world is ruled by dictators. This is the reality of the Muslim world. Hardly any president in the Muslim world has been democratically elected.

So I would disagree with you that these people represent the Muslim world. The people who represent the Organization of Islamic Congress, are people who represent the governments who appointed them to those positions. And my particular position on the cartoons, is I personally did not find those cartoons offensive.

I was in Egypt when the riots broke out. And if you ask for my interpretation of why those riots broke out, it was a host of Muslim countries who were basically in competition with each other to show who could be more Muslim than the other in protecting the Prophet. Because you had various scenarios at play: In Egypt, you had the Muslim Brotherhood, who had won all those seats and became the largest opposition group. In Saudi Arabia you have the country that is the birthplace of Islam and has the two holiest sites -- and on and on and on.

So you had various Muslim governments for whom it was advantageous to basically say, "Oh, this is a huge offense to the Prophet." Personally speaking, yes, I know Muslims were offended by it, but I would disagree wholeheartedly that this would be called a hate crime, and that this would be sent to the U.N.

You don't seem to be -- to believe me?

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) No, I --

ELTAHAWY: You keep looking to the chair as if -- you should tell me I'm wrong.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) No. No. I don't doubt that that's true. The question is -- and it's a hard question, we in the West have a tradition, it was part -- certainly a part of the American Constitutional history but -- that we look at individuals, not groups. The very subject here tonight, though, is the realistic observation that groups have interests, positions, attitudes which need to be addressed by the society.

And the difficulty is that -- yes, I recognize that there are individuals who disassociate themselves from these positions; yes, I recognize that many, but not all, of the OIC countries are not democracies, and therefore one can say that they're not fully representative. The fact is, they are the governments of countries that are largely Islamic. We have no reason to think that these are positions that are -- that make life more difficult for the government. In that sense, they are, in some measure, reflective of -- or at least what the government thinks is reflective of popular opinion. So there's --

ELTAHAWY: The position of the government.

QUESTIONER: -- a difficulty. Hey, recognizing -- recognizing an individual's dissent. But you're asking about attitudes towards a group that, in the best indicia we have of that group, points in a very different direction. I'm asking you, how do you -- what do you expect people to do?

I was asked by the State Department to meet with Indonesian journalists. First question --

SIMON: Yeah, well -- Hang on. Hang on. Hang on. --

QUESTIONER: All right. All right. Okay, I'm sorry.

SIMON: We're running out of time. You're talking about Indonesia. We're talking about America. It's --


BARRETT: And the big, big footnote here is to make the distinction, that's just one small starting point. What goes on in this country is quite different from what goes on elsewhere -- people were not burning things in the street. And there's a big, big tendency to kind of slosh back and forth, and to make an allusion to what goes on in Cairo, in a discussion that is primarily about Muslims in this country.

And I am not an expert about what goes on in Cairo, having never been to Cairo. But, you know, there is a considerable amount of understanding in this country, and sophistication among Muslims -- as there are among Americans, generally, that you can agree to disagree. And just as a starting point, that's one small starting point -- to distinguish Muslims in this country who have a very different experience from Muslims elsewhere. And I would defer to others to talk about Muslims elsewhere.

SIMON: Okay, let's --

BARRETT: But that takes me to the very last point --


BARRETT: -- which is, my concern with what the woman was suggesting there, was she seemed to be making a contrast between the experience of her Jewish family in France, and their dedication to integration and assimilation into French society -- which I applaud wholeheartedly. If you read my book, you will not find a bigger fan of integration into the larger society; or the bigger fan of -- at least the ideals of American society, than the one who's sitting right here. In fact, I've been criticized for being an assimilationist by some Muslim audiences who that that to mean that I am lecturing Muslims to give up their "Muslimhood."

What really drives me crazy is the assertion -- but going back to this point: that the Muslims are monolithic; that Muslim attitudes in the suburbs of France are, in any comparable -- or really illuminating when talking about Muslim attitudes here; and the notion that Muslims in this country are uninterested in democratic institutions, and uninterested in the great benefits that our wonderful society has to offer, is -- it borders on the facetious.

And if you're going to offer that, potentially, kind of, offensive view -- which, of course, one can offer, one should start with some evidence, some Muslims in this country someplace saying, "no criticism of Islam ever;" or someone, you know, burning down a newspaper office, or something, as your starting point.

That's my main concern. And I would apologize because I was probably intemperate in the manner in which I responded. But I've heard that assertion -- in talking about my book, all around the country -- so often, about how Muslims don't appreciate democracy. And in my view -- like immigrants who've come to this country, generally, immigrants love democracy -- that's why they came -- (laughs) -- for the most part. (Laughs.)

ELTAHAWY: And if I could explain my defensiveness to you. My defensiveness was nicely illustrated by you. Because here you have a woman saying, "you" -- talking about Muslims; and here I am, a Muslim, trying to answer your question. And he doesn't accept my answer because he doesn't think it's Muslim enough.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

SIMON: Ah, --

ELTAHAWY: No, no, no, but you --

SIMON: -- ladies and gentlemen, --

ELTAHAWY: -- you're looking for something --

SIMON: -- it is -- it is 7 --

ELTAHAWY: -- that represents Muslims, and I'm saying -

SIMON: Mona.

ELTAHAWY: -- that here I am a Muslim telling you about freedom of expression, and you don't accept it because it's not the Muslim view that you want --


ELTAHAWY: -- so this is why I get defensive, because I'm trying to explain that the kind of Muslim view you hear doesn't represent other Muslim views.

SIMON: Mona, we have one minute left, so --

ELTAHAWY: I'm sorry, Steven --

SIMON: -- we have to end on --

ELTAHAWY: -- but this really drives me crazy.

SIMON: -- we have to end on time.

I know, I can see that, and I also understand -- (laughter) -- and I also understand why. You know, the odd thing -- looking at the French experience, if think of the riots in 2005, it wouldn't be unfair to say that the implicit cry, as it were, of the rioters was, "I am French. Treat me like I am French." It was not, "I am Muslim. Treat me like I'm Muslim." And this is an important point --

QUESTIONER: That's arguable.

SIMON: -- to underscore. Everything is arguable, including this, to be sure, okay. But --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

SIMON: Okay. --

BARRETT: (Off mike.) Keep talking, and it will go up in degrees. (Chuckles.)

SIMON: I take -- I take that as a given. I think the lesson here is that intercommunal views depend on attitudes that both sides of the equation bring to the issue, and these attitudes have reciprocal effects. And the more -- the more difficult the attitudes are, on the part of the majority society, the more likely they are to engender segregationist or isolationist tendencies on the minority societies. And that sets in motion a self-perpetuating process of alienation, at least potentially.

This was the lessons that Jacob Katz, you know, wrote about in his book, "Exclusiveness and Tolerance," one of the classics about Muslim-Christian relations in the Middle Ages, which is still in print I think.

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

SIMON: I'm sorry?

QUESTIONER: Jewish-Christian.

SIMON: What did I say?

QUESTIONER: Muslim -- (inaudible) --

SIMON: Oh, I'm sorry. I've got --

BARRETT: But it was -- (inaudible) -

SIMON: -- I've got it on the brain --

BARRETT: (Laughs.) Just go with it. (Laughs.)

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)

SIMON: -- one of those Abrahamic faiths. So -- I mean, for me, that's -- that's the lesson I take away.

It's now 7:30, or a little past. We need to break up.

I'd like to thank the panel. (Applause.) And thank you all for coming. Have a good evening.










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