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Transcript:

May 11, 2007

BILL MOYERS: My mother told us never to speak ill of the dead. Ok. So let Jerry Falwell speak for himself.

JERRY FALWELL: I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'"

BILL MOYERS: That of course was Jerry Falwell, right after the atrocities of 9/11, downright gleeful, or so it seemed, at the sport god had made of america for tolerating so many wicked gays, liberals, progressives, feminists, agnostics, and Bill of Rights-huggers. Falwell was rightfully eulogized and applauded this week for his role in creating a born-again Republican Party.

But it wasn't his political connections critics couldn't stomach; it was his theology of fear and loathing. No man I've tracked these past 25 years so demonized people he didn't know or like or understand. Or seemed so indifferent to the hurt inflicted by his grotesque caricatures of those multitudes of people who would never be favored in his precinct or pew. It is sometmes a trait of the fundamentalist mind to deny the humanity of others, and this fundamentalism is not uniqe to America. Consider the story of Bruce Bawer.

BILL MOYERS: Ten years ago, Bruce Bawer had Christian fundamentalism on his mind. His book STEALING JESUS was a wake-up call about how the Falwells and the Robertsons and their legions of followers were sowing hatred in the name of God. as a gay man and a Christian himself, Bawer warned that they had hijacked Jesus' message of love and replaced it with a narrow minded legalism. His book was hailed in the press, named one of the year's best by publishers weekly. but then Bawer left America for the more tolerant shores of Europe.

What he found there was no refuge at all. In parts of Europe's booming immigrant Muslim population, Bawer witnessed a growing and dangerous radicalism - a strident interpretation of Islam hostile to women and homosexuals, And one that threatens some of the core values of western society.

And so Bruce Bawer wrote what he hopes will be another wake-up call: WHILE EUROPE SLEPT: HOW RADICAL ISLAM IS DESTROYING THE WEST FROM WITHIN.

BILL MOYERS: You write in your book, "The very things that I most love about Europe are those things most threatened by the rise of fundamentalist Islam." What are those things that you most love about Europe, or did?

BRUCE BAWER: It was the freedom. It was simply the freedom. I as a gay person, coming from a country where we're still caught up in these arguments with the religious right about whether gay people should have the same rights as anybody else, that sort of thing, to go to Europe and find myself in places where this simply didn't matter. And everybody realized that as a gay person I wasn't a threat to anything that they held dear. The idea that men and women should be treated differently, or gay and straight people should be treated differently, seemed to have been decided and moved past. And it just seemed so civilized.

BILL MOYERS: Is it the attitude-- is it-- wasn't the prevailing attitude when you moved to Amsterdam the philosophy that, well, you do your thing and I'll do mine, just leave each other alone?

BRUCE BAWER: Yeah, that's really the Dutch formula. And that's worked for them for centuries. And this is why the Netherlands was a center of liberty for hundreds of years. The problem is that when they began taking in a whole lot of Muslims, they extended that philosophy to Muslims and so the Muslims were able there to really establish a separate society within the society and you know, without being touched by the democratic culture of the Netherlands. You know, they have their own schools where the kids are taught the Koran, and Koranic values. And you know, fathers, the patriarchs are able to treat their wives just however they want to. Women have no rights to speak of. Their daughters are sold off in marriages. There are no -- there's no freedom of speech, there's no freedom of religion. This is the mentality that's been imported into Europe.

BILL MOYERS: But there is a paradox it seems to me. I mean, you were attracted to Europe and the Netherlands in no small part because you could be who you are, and your Dutch neighbor could be who he or she is, and you left each other alone. You didn't try to say, "My way of life as a gay man is better than your way of life--as a straight man" or vice versa. And, yet here you're saying we can't leave them to follow their own thing?

BRUCE BAWER: Well, it's the-- multi-culturalism works if the cultures that you're talking about are all cultures that respect basic human rights, that respect freedom. If you're dealing with a culture that is essentially intolerant of other values, and that is oppressive itself, then multi-culturalism causes problems.

BILL MOYERS: So you're saying we can't treat that ideology, or that culture, as equal to one that espouses democratic values?

BRUCE BAWER: Well, we certainly can't allow that culture to thrive in our own backyard, in our own countries, because it's not only unfair to the people living within that subculture, who are being oppressed, but it's in the long run, it poses a danger to all of us, because of the demographic situation.

BILL MOYERS: But aren't we talking about only five percent of Europe's population?

BRUCE BAWER: We're talking about a population that is growing very quickly. And it doesn't take long for five percent to turn to l0 to l5 to 20. If you have, you know, a native population that is decreasing quite rapidly, and an immigrant population that is growing quickly, you're going to see great changes very rapidly and that's something that people sometimes don't understand so well.

BILL MOYERS: So what is it about Muslims that make them outside the mainstream of assimilation, integration?

BRUCE BAWER: There's a problem with them living in enclaves. They've come to Europe and they've settled in their own communities-in closed communities. They've transported-- they've transferred their own societies essentially and social structures from the places they came from into Europe. It's a patriarchal society that exists within these modern democratic cities in Europe that we think of as the most advanced, progressive places on earth. And the contrasts between the ways in which some people in the city like Amsterdam live, and others do, is mind-boggling.

BILL MOYERS: When I read the book, I was thinking "Isn't there at the core of this an ideology as opposed to a theology?" Because there are so many Muslims who tell me they don't agree with that ideology.

BRUCE BAWER: I think it's fair to say that ideology really is the best word to use here, because I think it does make it very clear what we're dealing with. And one problem with the situation with Islam and Europe is that it is beginning to reawaken a lot of extreme right elements--

BILL MOYERS: How's that?

BRUCE BAWER: Who've responded to the presence of Muslims and not by turning to defend freedom and democracy and pluralism and secularism but by responding with a nativist intolerance toward any outsider. Toward, you know, the very ideas of outsiders and reclaiming their ethnic identity which is what got Europe in trouble in the first place. And that's a dangerous move.

BILL MOYERS: Bawer's book was a finalist for the prestigious National Book Critics Circle award, and it's been praised by many. But it's also been highly controversial. By throwing a light on the radical practices of some European Muslims, Bawer's been accused of xenophobia. THE ECONOMIST wrote that while he had revealed a real problem, he had cast "too wide a net."

Bawer says 'Let the reader decide.' He welcomes a debate about the conclusions he draws in his book, but says the facts will speak for themselves.

BRUCE BAWER: In Britain a poll by the Daily Telegraph showed that 40 percent of British Muslims support the idea of having Sharia Law.

BILL MOYERS: Which means?

BRUCE BAWER: Koranic Law in Britain

BILL MOYERS: Under Sharia law as you see it, and I know you're not a Muslim, but under Sharia law, what would happen to you as a gay man?

BRUCE BAWER: There are different interpretations. Some of them favor stoning. Some of them favor dropping a wall on you. There are disagreements about exactly which is the best method of execution.

BILL MOYERS: But I can hear many American Muslims saying "No, no, no. That's not what we're in America-that's not what we're about. He may be talking about a radical core of Islamic extremists. But we're in America because we don't agree with them."

BRUCE BAWER: Yeah, but when you have Sharia law, it's not run by people who are moderate and open minded. It's run by people who are judging according to what they read in the Koran and in their other holy books. And there are no questions about that as far as they're concerned.

BILL MOYERS: The BBC broadcast a report that Rotterdam almost has a Muslim majority. So is it conceivable that a Muslim majority in a democratic society could vote in Sharia law and would Europe accept that?

BRUCE BAWER: That's a disturbing case. But there's recently a minister of justice in the Netherlands, Piet Hein Donner said, he actually said this, he said that if a majority of people voted to have Sharia law in the Netherlands, it would be a disgrace to say no.

BILL MOYERS: A disgrace?

BRUCE BAWER: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Because a democrat-- the democratic principle had prevailed?

BRUCE BAWER: Yes. Because if that's what that majority wants, that's what we have to have.

BILL MOYERS: And what would that mean in your sense, for the rights of minorities?

BRUCE BAWER: That would mean that that would be the last election for a very long time. It would be-- it would be a terrifying situation.

BILL MOYERS: Bawer says this is indicative of how some European officials are capitulating to a growing conservative Islamic community.

For instance - just a few months ago, a judge in Germany denied a Muslim woman's appeal for a speedy divorce from her abusive husband, arguing that the woman's "cultural environment" allowed a husband to beat his wife. So even though domestic violence is a crime in Germany, the judge cited a passage from the Koran as reason to deny the woman's divorce request.

BILL MOYERS: There was a bill in Parliament to protect Muslims and gays from discrimination and it was changed to exclude Gays because of fears that Muslims "might feel offended if they were lumped together with homosexuals." What does that say to you?

BRUCE BAWER: That's very disturbing to me. Ken Livingston, the Mayor of London, used to be a strong advocate for gay rights and he has changed his tune also for the same reasons. He's defended-- the allowing this Muslim leader al-Qaradawi into London. He welcomed him with open arms. He held a public forum with him. He stood at his side. This is a man who has called for executing gay people. This is a man who's defended suicide bombers. It's a signal that a lot of leaders are willing to sell out gay people because they think that will solve a lot of the problems with the Muslim community.

BILL MOYERS: It will appease the Muslim-

BRUCE BAWER: Yes, exactly. And they've been allowing leaders of terrorist groups, who have been kicked out of Muslim countries for being terrorists-they've allowed them to settle in England and paid them a lot of money in welfare payments to-

BILL MOYERS: I don't understand the reasoning for that kind of policy.

BRUCE BAWER: It's this misguided sense of openness and multiculturalism. It's the only way I can explain it. I mean, in Norway we have a man named Mullah Krekar who is the founder of a terrorist group called Ansar Al Islam. And he came to Norway a couple of decades ago as a so-called refugee - totally bogus pretense - and he's been traveling ever since and back and forth between Norway and Iraq involved in all sorts of things. And it's been impossible to get this man back to Iraq.

BILL MOYERS: To be deported?

BRUCE BAWER: To be deported.

BILL MOYERS: Why?

BRUCE BAWER: Because the authorities say it would put him in danger. He might be tried and executed and they can't have that because they don't believe in capital punishment. And so he's walked-I've seen him walking the streets myself.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think Europe is committing cultural suicide?

BRUCE BAWER: At the moment it's hard to deny that it is, yeah.

BILL MOYERS By refusing to do what?

BRUCE BAWER: By refusing to embrace and standup for their own democratic values.

BILL MOYERS: You describe so well the values of democracy, pluralism, tolerance and sexual equality that took root in modern Europe. Why aren't they powerful enough to absorb and assimilate and mitigate these tribal customs?

BRUCE BAWER: I think that for one, I think that European leaders in many cases have lost confidence in the values of their own society. They've placed multi-culturism above democracy and freedom.

BILL MOYERS What do you mean by multi-culturism?

BRUCE BAWER: I mean an attitude that all cultures are equal, or value systems are equal — that we should respect other value systems and not judge them by our own value system. Now if you're talking about a value system that is patriarchal and undemocratic and hostile to human rights, then you've got a problem.

BILL MOYERS And it's clear in your book that you're writing about the extremists, those who abhor the West. What about all the Muslims who are not represented by the radicals? Have you heard from them? Are you getting letters from them? Are you hearing them stand up and say, "He is right about that core. We think it's wrong, too?"

BRUCE BAWER: I'm afraid I'm not hearing from them, and other people who are writing about these things aren't hearing from them either. And some are just scared to speak up. They live in communities where they don't have the freedom to speak out.

BILL MOYERS: Some who've spoken out have met a violent response - we all saw what happened when one small Danish newspaper ran several cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Offended by the caricature of their founding father, Muslims across Europe and the Middle East took to the streets in protest.

But this wasn't the first time that critics of Islam had been attacked. In 2004, the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh produced a movie highly critical of how some Muslim women were treated by the faith.

Clip from Van Gogh's film: "Submission"

Muslim WIFE: "Life with my husband is hard to bear, but I submit my will to you."

BILL MOYERS: A few weeks later, Van Gogh was shot dead on an Amsterdam street. His body was then stabbed repeatedly, a note impaled on his chest, threatening Jews, the west, and any who dared criticize Islam.

BRUCE BAWER: After the murder in Amsterdam somebody who was a member of the Muslim community in Oslo decided that there should be a public demonstration by Muslims in Norway. The media, they were all saying, well, now, we'll have a huge demonstration of the fact that Norwegian Muslims you know are opposed to terrorism and to this kind of brutal killing that happened in Amsterdam. And what happened? You know, there's 70,000 Muslims in Norway. Fifty people showed up from the Muslim community. It was a dramatic demonstration of something-but it was a demonstration on the part of some Muslims that they tacitly support that sort of thing. And on the part of a great many Muslims it was a demonstration of great fear. These people live in fear. And that's something that really worries me -- there's a lot of censorship going on since that murder in Amsterdam and since the cartoon riots in Denmark. There's more people who are just stopped thinking, "Well, is it worth my writing this, or painting this, or saying this, if I might be killed for it?"

BILL MOYERS: Did you think that? I mean, you were writing this book after all this. You knew what had happened to these other writers, filmmakers, politicians, who were espousing some of the very views you have. Not only were you criticizing Islam, but you are a gay man. This makes you very vulnerable, does it not?

BRUCE BAWER: I guess it does, yeah, but I mean, I became a writer, so that I could say what I think, and if I stop myself from saying what I think, because of considerations like that, then that means we've already lost our freedoms. I want people to appreciate the values that our society lives by. I think we take our freedoms for granted. We take our democracy for granted. We take secular society for granted. We take equality of the sexes for granted. I think we need to be aware that there are people who don't believe in these things and feel very strongly about it, and who represent a potential threat to those things.

BILL MOYERS Is there a liberal resistance growing in Europe that is standing up to resist the Islamic radicalism?

BRUCE BAWER: You mean from within the Islamic community?

BILL MOYERS: Yes.

BRUCE BAWER: There's a bit of one. There's the beginning of one. And the interesting thing is that the most outspoken voices against all this radicalism from within the European Muslim community are young women. Some of them really girls, have come out and spoken up increasingly, talked about the repression they have experienced within their communities, and they want to live as free women in the West.

BILL MOYERS: it was so fascinating reading your story. You left the United States in no small part because of the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the right wing with its homophobia. And here you are now living in a cauldron of homophobia among many Muslim fundamentalists there. Why do you stay there?

BRUCE BAWER: Well, my partner is Norwegian and you know what? We couldn't move to the United States because this country does not recognize our partnership. We are legal partners in Norway.

BILL MOYERS: It's just, if there's no safe haven for you on either side of the Atlantic, where do you belong?

BRUCE BAWER: Well, I don't know. It's funny. When I'm in Norway, I feel very American. When I'm back here in America, I feel Norwegian, actually. It's, you know, it's funny.

BILL MOYERS: Are you still a Christian?

BRUCE BAWER: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: What does that mean when you say "I'm a Christian?"

BRUCE BAWER: Well, that's a good question. I'm-- I believe in the things that Jesus preached about. I believe in-- Jesus came to break down barriers between peoples. He came to preach a radical love. He came to break down taboos and to just destroy the pillarization that existed in his own time.

BILL MOYERS: Are you at peace with being gay and Christian? When in fact so many people say that's impossible?

BRUCE BAWER: I'm at peace with it myself, yeah. I'm constantly reminded that I'm not supposed to be, but I am.

BILL MOYERS: What about the members of the gay community who claim there is no such thing as gay and Christian? In fact, they equate Christianity with right wing homophobia.

BRUCE BAWER: Yeah, they do. And--

BILL MOYERS: What about those people? What do you say to them about your faith?

BRUCE BAWER: Well, I wrote a book about gay rights called "A Place At The Table", which came out in the early '90s. And I wrote about that. And it was in large part a very strong criticism of the religious right. But it was also a criticism of those in the gay community who feel that we should come out of-- we should come out of the closet only to climb into another closet where we're not allowed to be everything that we are. And we have to fit one certain little narrow mold that is defined by "gay leaders" or "gay community" or "gay activists" or what have you. And I think that it is-- it's all about being free. That's-- all my books really, ultimately are about being free. And in "A Place At The Table", I was writing about, in part, about my freedom to be gay and Christian.

BILL MOYERS: You write "It is not secular liberalism, but the truth of Christianity that strikes most penetratingly at the heart of what is wrong with the attitudes of reactionary Christians to homosexuality." What do you mean by that?

BRUCE BAWER: I mean that when you look at what Jesus preached as opposed to what a lot of our fellow countrymen preach nowadays, they-- they-- they-- that's not what Christianity is to me. Jesus' message is the strongest thing that gay people have going for us, I think, in terms of asserting our right to be ourselves.

BILL MOYERS: And that message is?

BRUCE BAWER: Is that God loves us for who we are and everything we are. And that is in all our wholeness.

BILL MOYERS: And yet you're caught between these worlds. I mean, secular Europe, as you describe it, is seething with Islamic fundamentalism, and America is home to a powerful right wing fundamentalism whose bigotry against gays is a major pillar of the Republican Party.

BRUCE BAWER: Yep

BILL MOYERS: Where does that leave you?

BRUCE BAWER: Between a rock and a hard place, I guess. It's not easy, no.

BILL MOYERS: Well, thank you very much, Bruce Bawer, for being with me. And congratulations on your book.

BRUCE BAWER: Thank you.

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