Monday, June 4, 2012

Two very different interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf...

Two very different interviews with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf...

Iman Feisal Abdul Rauf has been in America long time. Born in 1948 Kuwait to Egyptian parents, Rauf  moved to New York City in the 1960's, where he, from 1983 to 2009, served as Imam of Masjid al-Farah. Rauf studied physics at Columbia University, where he earned his Bachelor's Degree in nuclear engineering in 1969 before earning a master's degree in plasma physics at Stevens Institute in Hoboken, New Jersey. He has also authored three books on Islam and its place in Western society and founded two non profit organisations charted with improving the caliber of the conversation of Islam in the West. He was also invited by President Bush immediately after the attacks in New York City and the Pentagon to speak with the FBI and the US State Department officials. He has a reputation for being a moderate Muslim, who condemned the attacks on 9/11 as "un-Islamic." He has rejected radical forms and practices of Islam. I have watched/listened to several interviews with this man and in my opinion,  he is a model of an American Muslim. I've listened to him defend the building of an interfaith community center, (which was supported by the local Community Board), which has been quite controversial. While I agree that the Center could have been built in some other place, I don't necessarily agree that it should have been. Its removed far enough from the actual ground zero, despite the pejorative nickname many gave the project, ie. "the ground Zero Mosque." 

I hear a man of grace defending his faith, finding fault when applicable and a man who has spent decades trying to help bridge the gap between Muslims and Christians in our Country. I say we need more men like Imam Rauf. This is not to say he is without controversy himself. He has made statements in the past which many found highly offensive, especially those in the aftermath of 9/11. He has also publicly apologized for all of them. 

With Islam growing in practice here in the United States, surely there is no version of the world that I can comprehend that doesn't include sensitive relationships with Islamic Countries. I say the better we can understand each other, the better for us all. This notion that suggests that the Muslim faith is an enemy of Christianity is wrong and dangerous. We should agree that radical "any faith" isn't good, but also avoid the broad brushstrokes of ignorance and hatred.

Recently, there have been two very different interviews with Imam Rauf. One was conducted on May 10th of this year by Pete Dominick, talk show host of "Stand Up with Pete Dominick" heard on the Sirius/XM POTUS channel (#124) Monday through Fridays at 3:00pm. Dominick is a slightly left of center host who's strong point is having interesting guests from all viewpoints making their case. He does not engage in the "gotcha" journalism or bullying/shouting over his guests that other talk show hosts utilize heavily. The conversation with Rauf was friendly, probing and highly informative. Dominick asked tough questions of his guest pertaining to Shariah Law, the radical Islamic voices shouting louder than the moderate ones, women's right's, etc. I felt I learned something from this interview. 

You can listen to the entire Imam Rauf/Pete Dominck interview here... (...its about 45 minutes long and I highly recommend it.)

The other interview I'd like readers to consider is the one conducted by Fox News' Sean Hannity on May 23, 2012. Hannity is one of the most popular talk show hosts in America with both a radio and a television show Monday through Friday, with millions of listeners. Hannity is firmly to the right on most issues and makes no attempt to suggest otherwise. Hannity took a very different approach than Dominick, almost being hostile with the Imam, especially about a few previous comments Rauf had made in the aftermath of 9/11. The bulk of the interview was spent on these controversial comments as opposed to the current state of Islam in America, the Middle East, etc... To my eyes, it was Hannity bringing up one comment after another, sometimes giving Rauf time to provide some context and sometimes not, and then moving directly onto another comment, and another, and another. Rauf apologized for most of his controversial remarks. Hannity clearly looked the hero to his loyal viewers, who in their eyes, saw the host toss around the Imam like a ragdoll. Instead of a 80/20 split between bringing up old comments and some current issue discussion, I wish it had been inverted, with more time being spent on current affairs involving Islam and the US. 

You can watch the entire Imam/Hannity interview here... (...its about 15 minutes long and worth watching...)

I understand why Hannity handled the segment as he did. For his audience, a dense policy discussion isn't what they want to hear. Also, to be fair, his program is set up in :15 minute segments, not 45-60 minute blocks, which makes it hard to develop much context or nuance. That said, in my opinion, Hannity had this list of comments from Rauf, and only wanted to force him to deal with those words, even though that many of them were over ten years old. There's no question that Hannity is a skilled host and quite adept at controlling the conversation to suit his needs. Ironically, with the charges of "left wing gotcha journalism" being a standard ingredient of many voices complaints, I felt Hannity "got" Imam Rauf that evening. 

Some will prefer Dominick's interview and some will prefer Hannity's. Its hard to say that there was as much depth to the Fox segment as there was on POTUS. I wish Hannity and Rauf would have been able to have more of a conversation than they did. Hannity does what Hannity does. Dominick is consistently providing the quality interviews across a wide swath of subject material that many listeners crave but have a hard time finding on their radios or televisions. 

Listen/Watch both and tell me which you preferred and why...

(Edited for clarity...)


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