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Transcript:

June 22, 2007

BILL MOYERS: Every day people from all walks of life make their way up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to pay their respects to the martyred president. From here Lincoln broods over the city he imagined would become the seat of government of, by, and for the people. But this is no longer their city. or Lincoln's. This is an occupied city, a company town, whose population of lobbyists constitute the permanent government. The number of lobbyists registered to do business in Washington has more than doubled since the year 2000. There are now twenty five lobbyists for every member of Congress.

This is where you start if you want to know how it is that some truly awful regimes around the world keep on winning favors from our government. I mean regimes ruled by dictators, despots, and tyrants of every kind -- governments that send their critics to prison, torture dissidents, steal from their own people, control the press, and make a mockery of human rights...yet still wind up with trade agreements, U.S. tax dollars, business deals blessed on high, and a hearty welcome in Congress and the White House.

If you've ever asked yourself, why are we helping those guys, you are about to meet a tour guide of our nation's capital who can show you what dirty little secrets lie behind some of Washington's fanciest addresses and prominent letterheads.

Our guide is Ken Silverstein, one of the few journalists who has made lobbying his beat. He's now the Washington Editor of HARPER'S magazine. He's written two books of a ferret's life in the dark corners of politics and government: this one WASHINGTON ON $10 MILLION DOLLARS A DAY and this one PRIVATE WARRIORS.

His latest exposé appears in the current issue of HARPER'S. To find out what Washington lobbyists do for foreign governments, Silverstein goes underground - creates a fictional name - Ken Case - with a fictional business card for a fictional company in London - that wants a Washington lobbying firm to help it improve the image of a real country...

Turkmenistan - in central Asia - with an oppressive regime notorious for abusing its people and lots of energy reserves.

To find someone who will sell Turkmenistan to Washington, Silverstein calls on two big lobbying firms - APCO Associates - with over 400 clients including seven of the top ten companies on FORTUNE'S Global 500.

And Cassidy & Associates, perhaps, says Silverstein, "the most prominent of all the Washington lobby shops."

Both firms boasted to Silverstein of their roster of former public servants who would help the cause...

APCO's team includes 10 former ambassadors, 17 former elected politicians, 26 former business leaders, 54 former journalists, 41 former government officials and 90 former political advisers.

Cassidy & Associates claims that its team has served on Capitol Hill as members of Congress and Congressional staff, in the white house and in the pentagon as flag-rank military officers...

In HARPER'S this month, Ken Silverstein's story reports on the influence he can buy if the price is right.

BILL MOYERS: Here's the lead. You posed as the representative of a business group working for the country of Turkmenistan, and you got two top Washington lobbying firms to propose a campaign to clean up the country's image. Now that sounds like something out of Borat.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: We toyed with the Borat type approach. But we really felt that that would be counter-productive 'cause we wanted to make a political point, which was that the rules that apply to these firms are too weak, that they are able to manipulate political and public opinion too easily. And we wanted to highlight that. And so we thought we better do it straight as opposed to doing it as a comedy routine.

BILL MOYERS: So, you pose as a consultant named?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Kenneth Case of the Maldon Group..

BILL MOYERS: The Maldon Group. What's the Maldon Group?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: The Maldon Group was modeled on-- it's a real life situation. I described the firm as having a stake in the natural gas sector in Turkmenistan. That we were involved in the export of natural gas from Turkmenistan to Eastern European markets. That we were a group of private investors from the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: If I can point out that this is not an uncommon situation, This is a situation that you will find time and time again, where there's a cutout firm that actually does the hiring, so that it doesn't quite look so bad.

And then they can say we're not working for Turkmenistan. We're working for the Maldon Group. But if you look at the plans they laid out for me, it was clear they knew exactly what they were doing and who they were working for, and what the goal was. And that goal was to improve the image of one of the world's worst dictatorships.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: So, we picked Turkmenistan, which-

BILL MOYERS: It really is?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: It's-- it's scrapping the bottom of the barrel.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, I mean, North Korea might be a little bit worse in terms of just being an absolutely reprehensible dictatorship. But North Korea was over the top. It's illegal to lobby for the government of North Korea. We thought Turkmenistan was about as close as you could get. Until last year the country was ruled by a-- the self-described Turkmenbashi, the great ruler of the Turkmen. He was a notorious dictator. He built monuments to himself. He renamed the month of January after himself. Another month was named for his mother. Vodka and salt were named after the Turkmenbashi. There's a sort of comical side, if you don't realize that in addition to this sort of stuff it was a dungeon. I mean, there was no political opposition allowed. Any opposition to the government is considered treason in Turkmenistan.

BILL MOYERS: So, you wanted to see if there was an American lobbying firm that would work for that kind of government?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Exactly.

BILL MOYERS: You went to two firms, APCO and Cassidy Associates. What-- what did you know about APCO?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, these firms weren't picked entirely by chance. I mean, APCO-- we wanted to pick firms that had a reputation of working for dictatorships, and also firms that had a history of somewhat duplicitous practices. And also firms that had some experience in the Caspian Region, where Turkmenistan is located.

BILL MOYERS: The big oil region of the world. The new-- yeah.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: The new big energy region.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Right.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: So, APCO in the 1990s worked for the Sani Abacha dictatorship in Nigeria. This was at that time one of the world's worst regimes.

BILL MOYERS: That used to hang democratic dissidents, right?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: And-- and, in fact, APCO was working for them as they were preparing the execution of these nine pro-democracy activists that were hung in 1995. They also have worked for Kazakhstan, where the President-- recently effectively declared himself President for life. They've worked in Azerbaijan, which is another energy rich dictatorial regime in the Caspian Region.

BILL MOYERS: The details are all in HARPER's, but let me read you one of the e-mails that came to you from Barry Schumacher. Who is Barry Schumacher?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: He's an Executive Vice President of APCO Associates.

BILL MOYERS: He says we're a public affairs and strategic communicate firm specializing in country representation in particular. We've worked on image, policy, foreign investment and reputation issues for a host of governments, including Israel, Romania, Singapore-- Poland, Hungary, Turkey, all legitimate governments.

We've also worked for private sector interests. One of our professionals is formed Ambassador Elizabeth Jones, who had been the Ambassador to Kazakhstan. Other key people include former Senator Don Riegle, former Congressman Don Bonker, former Ambassador Marc Ginsberg.

We also have strengths in the communications world having on staff the former Deputy Press Secretary to President George H.W. Bush, former Communications Director for the Office of Management and Budget, and the head of Public Affairs for the CIA. I mean, they were wooing you with their connections.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: This was one of their big selling points. Both the firms bragged about how well connected they were. And they each talked about how, you know, other firms might boast about their connections, but nobody could really do it the way they could. And they talked about having connections across the board in Congress-- at-- with key staffers, with administration officials at the State Department.

And they kept trotting out these names of former government officials, and former members of Congress, who could open doors for me, because of-- you know, their past experience on Capitol Hill or in the administration.

BILL MOYERS: You describe an interesting meeting at APCO when one of the other lobbyist brags about the ties of one of the people in the room to the Republican Party.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah, because they had been laying out how, you know, we've got all these people on staff, and they were listing a number of Democrats. And I said, well, that's great, but-- don't we have-- need ties to the Republican Party as well? And the-- Barry Schumacher said to me that-- Jennifer-- Jennifer Dyck, who was a former spokeswoman for the CIA, and for Vice President Cheney, he joked, she's so well connected with the Republicans that she's worth six of our Democrats. Ha, ha.

So, yeah, this was all-- you know, a big game. They had connections across the board, and they could open doors for me. No problem.

BILL MOYERS:And they say they could — they would seek to arrange events highlighting Turkmenistan with leading U.S. think tanks. And they said we would target Heritage Foundation, conservative, Center for Strategic and International Studies, which is a centrist to right group, Council Foreign Relations, an establishment group, Brookings, liberal group, Carnegie Endowment, a very respected institution there in Washington. I mean, are they just making this up, do you think?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: No. That I don't think they are making up. I think lots of-- based on, you know, reporting I've done in the past, I think these lobbyist have pretty good relationships with a variety of think tanks around town. They were very clear to me. They said that they could utilize some academics and think tank experts. Not only, you know, they would be able to sort of put together op eds - and recruit op eds from these folks and I think that is true. I mean, I live in Washington. Everyday there are events held around town.

And now I wonder, is this put together by a lobbying firm? Or is this something that really grew spontaneously out of the interest of the think tank? You just don't know. It's the same with the op eds. Who really wrote it?

BILL MOYERS: In their Powerpoint presentation the APCO team told Silverstein that now is Turkmenistan's most important moment since independence. And there are only about ten members of Congress who could find Turkmenistan on a map.

And that no one is looking for perfection on democracy and human rights reforms.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: With APCO Associates I went in and, you know, we sat in a conference room and they made the introductions and they said, let's go through this PowerPoint presentation, and they showed it on the screen. And, you know, they went through-- first, again, how well connected they were.

They trotted out the big heavy hitters at the firm. The listed some of the governments that they had worked for in the past. And then they stated to-- you know, talking about-- what they could do on behalf of the Maldon Group. And, you know, they said, setting up a meeting with a government official from-- a visiting official from Turkmenistan. No problem. We can arrange that.

We can get them in the door, and get high level meetings for that official in Washington. We'll do a media campaign. We'll create media events. And we'll write and find signatories for, and-- and plant these op eds in the newspaper. Then they also said that they would hold events on Capitol Hill or in Washington for me-- where they would promote the government of Turkmenistan. And they said, though, that, you know, they didn't want it really to look like paid advertising. So, they would find the imprimatur of a respected third party, they said, so it would look like an independent event.

BILL MOYERS: And why were you drawn to Cassidy & Associates?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, you know, we didn't want to choose sort of fly by night firms. We didn't want to say, Oh, we went to sort of these, you know, firms that could be expected to take any client, because they're so hard up for money. Cassidy is maybe the biggest lobby shop in town. It's generated more lobbying revenue than any other firm. So, that was one thing.

BILL MOYERS: Founded by a former assistant to Senator George McGovern, the Democrat-- liberal Democratic candidate for President in 1972.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Right. And like all good lobbying firms, though, they've sort of-- I mean, actually they said to me, 'cause I asked them, do you have connections on both sides of the aisle? And they said, sure. We mirror the power structure. So, in recent years the firm-- it started as a Democratic firm. It's become much more of a Republican firm, because it's been mirroring the power structure.

BILL MOYERS: You met Gregg Hartley, who's the Vice Chair of Cassidy.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: He-

BILL MOYERS: Tell me about him.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: He was the leader of the team. No doubt about it. I mean, he came in and he was definitely the group leader. He worked until a few years ago for Roy Blunt

BILL MOYERS: Very powerful member of the-- of Congress.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: A very powerful member of Congress. He had worked for him for many years. And Hartley, you know, talked to me about how close his ties were with the Republican leadership. And, in fact, in that proposal they sent to me, after my meeting, they contacted me. They were so eager to do the work that they wanted to have another conference call. And then they said we'd like to send you a proposal. And I said-

BILL MOYERS: So, they were eager for the business?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: They were very eager for the business.

BILL MOYERS: They knew it was Turkmenistan?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: There is no question about it.

BILL MOYERS: They knew about Turkmenistan. Corrupt, repressive, but they were eager?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: They were very eager. Both of these firms were very eager. And if you look at their proposals, and if you look at the e-mails that they sent me after our meetings, where they kept saying, well, are you gonna hire us or not? We'd like to see you again.

APCO Associates-- Barry Schumacher said, I'm coming to London. I'd like to meet you before you make a decision, and talk to you more about our firm. Cassidy contacted me and said, We wanna send you this proposal. They were very eager to do the work. And I think anybody who looks at the e-mails and the proposals will not have any doubt about that.

BILL MOYERS: Cassidy & Associates boasted of their success in ending the U.S. embargo of Vietnam.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, they gave me about eight, or nine, or ten case studies of some of their past achievements. With Vietnam-- you know, for a long time obviously following the war, the relationships-- the relationship with Vietnam was very tense. There was no relationship to speak of for many years.

And in their materials to me, and in our meetings they talked about how they had successfully ended the embargo on Vietnam. They had put together a coalition of business groups that wanted to invest in Vietnam, and they were able to end the embargo. And they-

BILL MOYERS: Not a bad thing is it?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: You know, I'll leave that for others to decide. I mean, you know, whether we should have trade with Vietnam or not, I mean, that's a policy question. But what I did find interesting about it was that they talked about how there was opposition to this, but they were able to overcome the opposition. They said the families of MIAs and POWs didn't want this to happen, but they were able to muster a coalition that could get Congress to do what the business community wanted.

BILL MOYERS: They said we changed that policy, ended the embargo, and opened Vietnam up to U.S. economic exchange. A lot of people gonna like that. I mean, business with Vietnam, a Communist country.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Sure. I mean, you know, I-- again, this is a-- this is a policy decision. I mean, there are other instances of-- for example, when I wanted to talk to Cassidy, another reason was Equatorial Guinea. I mean, this is one of their clients.

BILL MOYERS: African country.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: An African country that pays Cassidy and Associates about $2.4 million a year, they told me. Now this is one of the world's rat hole regimes. This is-- again, this is getting pretty close to Turkmenistan level. The President has been in power since he executed his uncle.

He's been caught exporting millions of dollars of revenue-- generated by American oil companies.

For-- you know, he had-- like $500 million at Riggs Bank in Washington DC under his effective control. I first wrote about that when I was at the LOS ANGELES TIMES.

BILL MOYERS: I remember that.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: And the Senate investigation confirmed it.

BILL MOYERS: And Cassidy represents it?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: And Cassidy represents them.

BILL MOYERS: The government, or the-- or-- investors groups?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: No. In this case it's working directly for the government of Equatorial Guinea.

BILL MOYERS: Did you ask them about that?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, they offered it. I mean, they were proud of it. They saw it as a selling point-- you know, look what we were able to do for Equatorial Guinea, they bragged.

BILL MOYERS: What did they do?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, they told me that for years Equatorial Guinea had been on PARADE Magazine's list of the ten worst governments in the world-- the ten worst dictators. And Gregg Hartley told me this, and he actually grimaced as he said the word dictator. I think it pained him to acknowledge this.

So, he said we got 'em off that list. And then I went home and checked PARADE's list, and I saw that, yeah, it's true. They were off the list. They were all the way down to number 11. So, it's not as if, you know, I mean, and this is image management.

BILL MOYERS: They moved-- they moved them off the ten worst countries down to number 11 on that-

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Down to number 11. So-- no, I mean, there's no dispute that it is an absolutely awful, corrupt, thuggish government. And Cassidy has been able to win it a little favor in Washington. I mean, they were able to arrange a meeting between President Obiang and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

BILL MOYERS: I remember the photograph.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Yeah. There was a picture of Obiang with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And I can assure you that that picture was shown all over state media in Equatorial Guinea. There's nothing but state media, incidentally, in Equatorial Guinea. There is no free press.

BILL MOYERS: So, a visit by a dictator-- a visit by a dictator with-- members of Congress, or the President, or the Secretary of State gets big play at home? It's worth lots of money back there?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: It is worth a lot of money. It's legitimation. And that's the thing about this. These, you know, these lobbyists, I've talked to lobbyists before about this. And they'll say, well, every defendant, is entitled to a lawyer in court.

But they're not representing these people in court. They are representing them in the court of public opinion and the court of political opinion. And by representing them and trying to improve their image and to increase their-- or improve their relationship with the United States, they're giving them legitimacy. They're strengthening their hold on power. They are empowering dictators. That's the problem with what they do.

BILL MOYERS: If they had taken you on as a client, what would it have cost you?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, APCO said that it would cost me about $600,000 for the first year. Now, Cassidy said that it would cost me about-- they said, you know, with Turkmenistan, there are no quick easy solutions. I mean, this is gonna require major PR effort.

BILL MOYERS: It's not exactly a model of democracy and human rights.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: No. You're not gonna turn the image around overnight. So they proposed a three-year deal, $1.2 million to $1.5 million per year. And then there'd be expenses there, too. And they even said and by the way, you know, if one of these-- you know, they said that if one of these do-gooder groups, say, a human rights group targeted the government of Turkmenistan and maybe issued a report saying that, you know, there was no economic or political reform and the human rights situation remain terrible, it might actually cost us more money because then they'd require intensified spin control by the Cassidy people. So we were looking at at least $5 million over three years.

BILL MOYERS: As a potential client - we have to be honest here - you had to lie to these lobbyists.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: I understand that people will have questions about the undercover tactic. And I agree that it needs to be used sparingly. We felt in this case that it was an absolutely valid use of the undercover tactic. We felt there was a public interest at stake.

We felt that these firms are able to really, you know, very easily get away with manipulating political and public opinion on behalf of these dictatorships and that the rules need to be tightened. So we thought it was important to make that political point.

There's absolutely no way as well that we could have done this story-- by simply asking them questions. If you go ask them, oh, do you, you know, do you set up bogus third-party events that look to be independent but, in fact, are paid advertising for your clients? What? Are they gonna tell you about it? Oh, yeah, there's one scheduled next week? No. We could not have gotten the sort of information we got, we could not have shed the light on this story unless we did it in the way that we did it.

BILL MOYERS: I often remind myself that investigative journalism is not a collaboration between the journalist and the source.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Exactly. I mean, there was no other way to do it. I mean, we could not simply-- you know, we were not partners on this investigation. We did trick them. No doubt about it. That was the whole point of the story, though. And I will also say we did trick them. We didn't trick our readers.

We were very transparent about what we did and how we did it. And if the readers feel that they're not comfortable with it, they're-- I guess they're free to dismiss the findings. But we were not-- you know, we were completely upfront with the readers about how we did this story.

BILL MOYERS: The lobbyists have said that-- you represented yourself as representing an investor group, not the government. And if they had, you know, that's a legitimate operation, to represent an investor group. If they had had more conversations with you, discovered you were talking about the government, they wouldn't have touched you.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, that's preposterous. I mean-- APCO Associates and Cassidy both laid out plans for me that were completely focused on making the government of Turkmenistan look better and improving it's relationship with the United States. In fact, the proposal of the PowerPoint presentation that APCO showed me was a plan for Turkmenistan. They knew exactly who they were working for.

BILL MOYERS: You're no innocent. You've been around Washington a long time since you came back from covering Brazil for the Associated Press. Anything surprise you?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: I can't say that I was entirely shocked. I expect in some ways-- that the firms who we approached in particular, because we did pick specific firms to go to see if they'd take the bait, it didn't surprise me entirely that they were willing to work for a dictatorship. It surprised me a little that I, you know, we pushed it so far.

I wouldn't even tell them the name of the man I worked for. No problem. So I was a little surprised that, you know, given how far we pushed it that neither of these firms decided, you know what? We better take a second look at this.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: And I really think that those firms were blinded by greed.

I think if they had not viewed me as a big, glowing sack of money, and had stopped to think about, should we be doing this? And maybe we better check this out. They would have discovered that there was something wrong, and that they wouldn't have-- gotten in as deep as they did.

BILL MOYERS: I can hear the sighs of despair out there from people watching. Okay, it's an old story. I mean, we've lost our democracy. What's the bottom line here? What do people do?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, that's why we wrote this story. And that's why we think this story serves the public interest and why it justifies the undercover technique that we used, which I do know is controversial. We think the rules need to be tightened up.

We don't think these firms should have such an easy time making a mockery of the law. They don't-- I'm not accusing them of breaking the law. But they certainly break the spirit of the law. They talked to me repeatedly about how the disclosure requirements are so weak that you don't have to worry about any undue publicity.

Well, in the post-Abramoff climate, they said it might be difficult to arrange a trip to Turkmenistan by members of Congress, but we can probably swing it. APCO told me you know, I think there's a loophole in the law where we can-- use a Turkmen university to sponsor the trip. You wouldn't sponsor it directly 'cause that would raise questions. But we'll get a Turkmen university to front for the trip, and we'll be able to send a delegation over there.

They didn't say, we'll break the law. But it was clear to me from talking to them that the law was so weak and it was so easy for them to evade the spirit of the law that they could get away with this sort of stuff. So that's the point. Tighten the law.

BILL MOYERS: But if you're Congressman Silverstein instead of journalist Silverstein and you think that you may be leaving Congress voluntarily or involuntarily in 2008, are you gonna strengthen the law that will put a handcuff on how much you can do when you leave as a lobbyist?

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, that's a very good question. And I'd like to be able to say, yes, they should-- they-- they'll be willing to do this. I don't know. I mean, after the uproar over the Abramoff scandal and some of these other lobbying scandals of the past few years, Congress did feel compelled to take action. I don't think Congress acts unless it feels that it's just too embarrassing to do nothing.

Now, as it turned out, the whole reform effort did sort of fizzle away precisely for the reasons you raised. Because Congress doesn't want to regulate itself. They don't want to limit their financial options. But if people get mad enough-- and it's too embarrassing not to take action, then I think you get movement. They did pass some reforms in the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal. I don't think they went far enough.

BILL MOYERS: I hope a lot of people read your story in HARPER'S and online at PBS.org. Ken Silverstein thank you very much.

KEN SILVERSTEIN: Thank you.

Read APCO's response to the story BILL MOYERS: It is not easy being a mainstream American Muslim these days. The specter of radicalism hangs in the public mind, and even the most assimilated of believers...those born here or immigrants who now claim America as their own face skepticism wherever they turn. Here's our account of how one increasingly prominent figure in the community copes with the skepticism - and the scrutiny. His name is Zaid Shakir.

BILL MOYERS: On a recent Saturday at a mosque in Brooklyn, New York, hundreds of Muslims gathered to hear one of the rising stars in their faith.

ZAID SHAKIR: Many people act like this is the worst that the Muslims have ever experienced - you know, in America it's like: "I can't take it anymore!" Can't take what? "People looking at me! You know, that look!" Man, people's homes are being blown up and you're worried about that look?! You want to de-fuse that look? Just wave. Seriously, just wave and blow a kiss. And then start running towards them in slow motion. Boom, that look will go away real fast!

BILL MOYERS: Imam Zaid Shakir is one of the most popular Muslim teachers in America today.

ZAID SHAKIR: We all came from somewhere to this room today. Probably five years ago, a good percentage of us wouldn't be at a similar gathering, this type of gathering. We all have our histories. And for many of us, it was a very involved search. Now, would you like to go back to that confused state that Allah rescued you from? I don't think many would. Remember where you came from, and remember where you're trying to go.

BILL MOYERS: I first met Zaid Shakir five years ago when I interviewed him soon after September 11th and the country was scrambling to learn all we could about Islam.

His home is here in California. He's a scholar-in-residence at the Zaytuna Institute — a Muslim graduate school for students from across the country.

The graduate program is still in its infancy, with a handful of full-time seminary students, and general classes attended by several hundred.

Most Imams working in America are foreign born — enlisted by American mosques to tutor the growing Muslim population in this country.

For most of them, America is a wholly new experience. But not Imam Shakir. He was born Ricky Mitchell, raised by a single mom in a Baptist family.. In inner-city housing projects.

BILL MOYERS: On this expedition toward Islam, were you looking back over your shoulder at that experience in the segregated project?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Not really. More looking ahead. In a sense, let me rephrase that. I think now that I think about it, yes, because a lot of the problems-- there are social problems there, I was seeking an answer for. So, the broken homes, the alcoholism, the drug abuse. One of the most powerful experiences for me during that time, I was actually at a party at another project. This project is called Mount Pleasant, which in New Britain. It was probably the hardest one. And, there was--

BILL MOYERS: The roughest? The roughest?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: The roughest. The roughest. And, I was leaving, and there-- it was really cold. This was pre-global warming Connecticut, so it was real cold. And a young, probably ten year-old little Puerto Rican girl, she ran out of her house screaming in the middle of the night in the cold, "Why doesn't anyone love me? Why doesn't anyone love me?" And, that really affected me, and I said, you know, there has to be something we can do to avoid a child reaching this point at ten years old. So, that really, really affected me.

BILL MOYERS: You say in your book, SCATTERED PICTURES, that you once held a bitter contempt for the land of your birth, for America.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Absolutely.

BILL MOYERS: Why was that?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Just growing up a so-called ethnic minority in America, seeing how systematically people are placed in a context that does not encourage their success. That tends to make you bitter. Seeing people gunned down by the police and there's no-- not even an investigation into why they were shot. That makes people bitter. And I think it's the grace of God to be able to transcend that. And I'm sure some of that-- some vestiges of that are still in me. I mean, we are a product of our past and our histories.

BILL MOYERS: What did you do with that bitterness?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I had to learn to come to grips with it and channel it in constructive ways. I never challenged it in destructive ways. I don't have a criminal record.

BILL MOYERS: You've grown up with your mother raising you and what, six other-

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Six other-

BILL MOYERS: -- children. Tell me about your mother, because you talk about her often in your book-

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I think she was a very deep and strong lady. She was a epileptic, which we didn't know at the time. She hid it from us. And, all of her seizures were nocturnal. So, we never saw it. We would see the effects of it in the morning, and she would just dismiss it. "Oh, I had a bad night. I couldn't sleep -- insomnia." So, we didn't know this battle she was waging. She sacrificed and she focused on us and she I think she just was the epitome of the strong black mother who gave her all to her children.

BILL MOYERS: His mother was also a writer, and Shakir and his six brothers and sisters have just published her memoir.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: She was extremely intelligent. She probably under other circumstances would have had a brilliant college career, and could have been any number of things in this society. So that's where it came from-- this intellect, a love for reading, and a very rich and wide literary base.

BILL MOYERS: What do you think she would think -

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: And, a hard life.

BILL MOYERS: And, a hard life. What do you think she would think of what you're doing now?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I would hope that she would view it favorably.

BILL MOYERS: As a young man, Shakir turned away from Christianity and tried-on various world-views and theologies. Nothing stuck.

Then in 1975, after his mother's death, he dropped out of community college, and joined The Air Force. There, in uniform, he found Islam.

BILL MOYERS: You moved out of the Baptist frame and you tried transcendental meditation. You tried communism. You tried a lot of things, and finally something happened that attracted you to Islam. What was it?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I think a lot of elements in various systems and theologies that I studied before Islam and found them lacking for one reason or another, Islam addressed all of them-- all of those issues and brought them all together. So, it had the--

BILL MOYERS: How so? Help me to understand that. What was it?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: So, I'll give you an example. It had the spirituality of transcendental meditation through what we call "vicar" and Koran recitation -- things that are very soothing to the soul. But, it also had a social activism component that transcendental meditation didn't have.

It had the social activism of the communists with God. So, a lot of things that were absent in those things I studied before Islam were present in Islam. And, they were brought together in a very integrated way that led me to believe personally that this is from God.

BILL MOYERS: So there wasn't a moment an "Ah-ha!" moment, you know, Paul on his horse, knocked off his horse by the blinding light?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: No. I wasn't on the road to Hartford, not at all. It was definitely just exploration and inquiry, and that led to a certain conclusion.

BILL MOYERS: The scholarly life appealed to him. He graduated with honors from American University, got a masters in political science from Rutgers. And went on to study at some of the most prestigious Islamic schools in the Middle East.

He now lives with his wife and teenage son in Oakland, California, near the Zaytuna Institute. He met Saliah when both were in The Air Force. They studied the faith together.

After morning prayers at six a.m., Shakir drives his son Sayeed to school using the time to remind him to keep the faith.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: He's a Muslim and he will describe himself as his own Muslim. He doesn't smoke, he doesn't drink, he doesn't eat pork, he doesn't do any of those things.

BILL MOYERS: He's a real un-American, right?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: No, I would say, nowadays, he's very American.

BILL MOYERS: I'm just teasing. You know, we're a consumerist culture--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: He's a consumer.

BILL MOYERS: He's a consumer.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: He's a thorough consumer.

ZAID SHAKIR: (with son in car) Who is this?

SAYEED SHAKIR: Tyson.

ZAID SHAKIR: Tyson? Sound good?

SAYEED SHAKIR: Yeah.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: (to Moyers) Nike and Reebok have a good customer in Sayeed. He can open his own sneaker store.

ZAID SHAKIR: (with son in car) Do the right thing.

SAYEED SHAKIR: All right buddy-buddy

ZAID SHAKIR: Be strong. And don't wear that silly hat. I'm serious!

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: (driving) Definitely a lot of challenges raising a teenager here in the West because there are strong cultural influences that some of them that I think most Muslims wouldn't see as being the healthiest things. So, you do your best, and you can't take it too seriously. You can't get obsessed with perfection. Perfection is for God, and it's that simple.

BILL MOYERS: Which is stronger in America, culture or faith?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I think as the American Muslim community itself becomes more integrated and more mature, faith will probably trump culture. And, you have a new culture emerging. You have an American Muslim culture emerging, which is very important, because then you can get a unique understanding of the religion that would allow the American Muslim to take his or her rightful place amongst the various Muslim communities of the world.

BILL MOYERS: How do you define that American Muslim community? What's it's profile?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: It's profile is African Americans, increasingly large numbers of Latino Americans and European, Caucasian Americans, and immigrants - South Asians, Pakistanis, Arabs and others. And, collectively I think you'll see a common American Islamic culture emerge. It's already happening.

BILL MOYERS: In his teachings, Shakir tries to help his fellow Muslims bridge the gap between the traditions of Islam and the realities of life in America

You can see the challenge he faces most clearly in the questions he gets over the role of women:

ZAID SHAKIR in reading question Brooklyn mosque: "Can you please clarify whether Allah says that women are commanded to stay in the house, or should I quit my job?" See, look at this! Who is teaching this sister Islam? "Am I disobeying the commandment of Allah, please clarify"

BILL MOYERS: It's a very controversial issue. Popular magazines and books often report on the harsh treatment inflicted on women in some Muslim countries.

BILL MOYERS: Does the Koran approve men beating their wives?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Absolutely not.

BILL MOYERS: What about this scripture, quote, "And as for those women who-- whose ill will you have reason to fear, admonish them, then leave them alone in bed, then beat them, and if thereupon they pay you heed, do not seek to harm them, behold God is indeed, most high, great." I mean, that's clearly a rule written by men for men, because it does give permission to beat them.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: No, that's not permission. There, if, if you take that verse out of any meaningful context, especially out of any exegetical context, and it, a person who would do that as a Muslim, and used that to justify beating his wife, he will beat his wife anyway, because he is a pathological lunatic, maniac.

BILL MOYERS: But some men have interpreted it differently.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: And, what I'm saying, those men, that minority of men who would interpret it differently, they don't need that verse to justify beating their wives. That verse isn't in the Bible, and there are a lot of men in this society who beat their wives because they have certain pathologies and dysfunctions that will lead them to do that, anyway.

BILL MOYERS: That's true, but it's one thing to do it with the sanction of--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Well, if anyone does it, they have no sanction from God or the Koran.

BILL MOYERS: While Shakir believes that there are instances where the interpretation of Islam has been distorted. He's equally prepared to defend what he says are settled traditions.

BILL MOYERS: I was frankly, surprised, I mean, I know you've spent so many years becoming a scholar of the faith, but I was surprised that, as American as you are, you, yourself, conclude that Islamic law does not permit women to lead prayer in a mixed congregation.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: That's the conclusion that I understand. Prayer leadership, that is part of religious ritual. And so there are certain rituals that have certain forms that a majority of scholars feel should be conducted in certain ways.

BILL MOYERS: But it seems to be logical to conclude, that for Islam to become a truly dynamic religion in American culture, you're going to have to jettison, in time, the tether to those ancient traditions that grew up in a very paternalistic society 1,000 years ago. Isn't that right? To become an American religion, in the context of our society, with its Declaration of Independence, and its women's movement, and its drive toward equality, you're going to have to say, "We have to work out our own destiny here," more closely to American dynamics than to 1,000 years ago in the Middle East.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I think the bigger challenge is to work all of that out and more closely in line with our universal human values and beliefs.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: The important thing here is the truth. We are free to pursue the truth. And if our understanding of what we believe to be true is antithetical with a particular set of values or principles, at a particular time and place, then that doesn't alter what we believe to be true. 100 years ago, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because the values in American society wouldn't be conducive to us having this conversation.

BILL MOYERS: Well, the suffragettes were making this case--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Okay.

BILL MOYERS: They were.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: That's, but, they were, but we probably-

BILL MOYERS: They were still hemmed in, they were tethered, they were barricaded from--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: But Muslim women aren't hemmed in-- hemmed in, tethered and barricaded. Here, in this country, Muslim women are functioning at every level in this society.

BILL MOYERS: I really-- I want to send you the e-mails we will get to this conversation.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: The test isn't what the e-mails we get. I would say you should go out and talk to some Muslim women, and ask them if they feel hemmed in and tethered by their understanding of their religion.

BILL MOYERS: We met with some women at the Zaytuna Institute and they told us they are fully at home in the faith and in America.

UZMA HUSAINI: I think being an American and being a Muslim go hand-in-hand, just like being a person of any faith and being an American. That's what this country was founded on -- the freedom of religion. And I think that's why a lot of Muslims came here - that's why my family came here.

SADAF KHAN: With many Muslim countries, and within different cultures, women are subjugated to a certain status and that certain things are forced upon them in a few countries. But we have the same problems here in the US in our own backyard

UZMA HUSAINI: There is oppression of women. I mean, that is a global problem. Women are oppressed. But, I don't think it's fair to take a few stories and say, "Well, look, this is what the entire culture is like. You know, all the Muslim women in this country are treated like that." Because that's not true.

MARWA ELZANKALY: There are stereotypes on both ends and there are fears on both ends. And-- and the fears and stereotypes are exactly the same. As an American Muslim, I feel like I'm an ambassador between the west and the Muslim world

SADAF KHAN: You know, I walk into stores, and you know, people-- people look at me. Going to a mall people definitely turn their heads to look at me and look and see, you know, why is she wearing that. Or, you know, I get looks of question.

UZMA HUSAINI: I think what we have to really try to understand is that every culture has parameters for modesty, you know? I mean, we have a sense of modesty in this culture, and there's a different sense of modesty perhaps in France or, you know, or India or, every different place has a different sense of parameters. And-- but for Islam, what it does, is it sets guidelines for what those parameters are.

MARWA ELZANKALY: And that's really a very important thing to me as well, in terms of being visibly Muslim is to sort of break down some of these stereotypes, even if it's one person at a time.

SADAF KHAN: We're all very much Americans, you know we vote, we wake up in the morning and get ready for work just like every other American, we're concerned about health care in America and we're concerned about the same thing most other Americans are concerned about and I don't think we do it a less than any other American does.

BILL MOYERS: Shakir reminds his young students that Islam is a vast and flexible faith. Different societies interpret it in different ways. So his constant refrain to them is: think for yourself.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR (in Brooklyn Mosque): Some societies are more conservative. For example, Saudi society is very conservative, and probably too much so because what it does it breeds a lot of inconsistencies and hypocrisies and dysfunctions in people. So we should really be cognizant of those things and not import other people's societal dysfunctions -- we have enough of our own. Don't abandon your common sense. Seriously!

BILL MOYERS: What do you tell these young people? When they're entrusting themselves to you, what do you tell them?

ZAID SHAKIR: Show people the full range of positive Islamic values. Don't limit yourself to this or that manifestation of Islam that might be truncated, show the full range of values, and people will appreciate that.

BILL MOYERS: How do you tell them to square those values with what they and we all see so often in the last few years of the Imam calling for Jihad, or supporting the suicide bombers. How do you square those two contrasting portraits of Islam in-- with them?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: There's always going to be radical members in any community, and you're always going to have extremists. And, you know, for a long time this sort of radical message had it's appeal to me, myself. But, I--

BILL MOYERS: The radical message from Islam?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Right. But I think though, it's very important to see to what extent that is real, and to what extent it's exaggerated. So, the radicals have always been there. A lot of the radicals being condemned today are the same radicals that were being praised in the 1980's -- not only praised but lavishly financed by our government, by the CIA, by the American government.

BILL MOYERS: But then they were beheading--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: The Russians.

BILL MOYERS: --the Russians in Afghanistan.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Yeah. Well, I think that again, the point I'm making, you have that element and it doesn't speak for the mainstream of Muslims. So, when politics changes, that element then is transformed from a group of people, who are serving our interests to a group of people who are antithetical to our interests. And, the mainstream is always there, and they're being bypassed. So, we're just saying, interests will always change--

BILL MOYERS: But, Zaid, this does seem to--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Represent the mainstream.

BILL MOYERS: But this does seem to me a qualitative difference in extremism and radicalism. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson -- all that crowd -- they represent a different strain of my faith, but, they're not calling for people to be beheaded. They're not calling-

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: But, they're calling for people to be bombed into the Stone Age. So what's morally more repugnant? Five or six people being beheaded in some remote corner of the world or Madeline Albright admitting to children being starved and-- dying of disease, because we bombed their sewage treatment plants, and they have to drink sewage infested water? What's more morally repugnant?

I say we have to really look at things for what they are and get beyond the sensationalism of it all. This is what I'm saying. When it's in our interest to have this radical fringe destabilize the Soviet Union, it's fine. When it's in our interest to have this radical fringe represent the whole of Islam, and then present them as the most morally repugnant force on the earth, I think we have to get beyond the headlines, get beyond the sensationalism, and look at these as human problems that need to be addressed collectively, because a lot of people are dying. And, if you do a body count, we're killing a lot more of them the they're killing of us.

BILL MOYERS: But, people are going to say, "There, you see, is what we mean. You can never get a moderate Muslim-

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: To do what? To condemn--

BILL MOYERS: To condemn the radical-

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: All right. I hope you-- I hope you air this segment. I condemn all of the lunatics that are killing innocent people, be they in pizza houses in Tel Aviv, be they innocent Muslims, Christians or others being slaughtered senselessly in Iraq as strongly as I condemn people getting in the planes flying halfway around the world to bomb innocent people into oblivion for no crime that those people have committed. I condemn all of it.

BILL MOYERS: Though he mostly steers himself away from politics in his talks these days, it's impossible for him to escape controversy altogether.

Last year, THE NEW YORK TIMES wrote a favorable profile of his leadership in the search for moderation. The article ended with Shakir indicating he hoped America would become a Muslim society, quote "not by violent means, but by persuasion." The head of The Anti-Defamation League said Shakir's views were 'un-American' and hoped he was an "aberration."

An article in THE WASHINGTON TIMES implied Shakir was a radical masquerading in moderate's clothes.

BILL MOYERS: You kicked up a tempest with that remark. I mean, some people say you were arguing for America to become a theocracy ruled by Islam--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I wasn't-- I wasn't arguing for anything. I was simply making a statement in the context of a very long interview that as a Muslim I'd like to see everyone be a Muslim. And, I would hope Christians would like to see everyone be a Christian.

BILL MOYERS: Well, there are people who--

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: But, I respect-- I respect the right of people to be whatever they want to be, and to disagree with that and to want people to be whatever they'd like to be.

BILL MOYERS: So, you weren't calling for a theocracy?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I was not-- absolutely not. And, I would say further I've never challenged the pluralistic basis of American society.

BILL MOYERS: Shakir tells his audiences that they will often be called on to defend their faith.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR in Brooklyn mosque: ..in terms of manifesting Islam and letting people see its beauty in this society. At a time when a lot of people are muddying it up. So we have this beautiful stream and its crystal clear water and we're looking at and we're enthralled. And then someone runs over with a stick and stirs up all the mud on the bottom and says look at it and it's like Ugh! Gives you the creeps. I wouldn't drink that if you paid me! And so when people come with sticks and they're muddying it up, you have to do a lot of work to clear it out.

BILL MOYERS: You seem to be caught right in the middle, people afraid of Islam think you have an agenda of-- for turning America into a Muslim country, and the radicals in your own faith, who consider themselves the pious, think you are betraying your faith by moderation. Have you made peace with that conflict?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Well, I think that a person has to pursue the truth, as he or she understands it. And then, let the pieces fall where they may. If a person tries to adjust their values or principles or their positions, based on what other people say, you're not going to have any positions that are your own, because you're constantly trying to walk this tightrope or balance between what pleases this person or that person. And where will you end up? And then, what is the possibility of creating an environment where people can begin to think about things a little differently?

If I say yes, you know, the radicals are right, speaking in Arabic then how are Muslims going to be challenged to, to look deeper at the realities of this world that rhetoric and sloganizing aren't going to do to anything to change. Conversely, if in this country we say "Yes, Muslims are bad, we're the worst thing since the Bubonic Plague and if you're not careful, you're going to catch us and you're all going to be finished," then how do we create the climate that allows Americans to deeply reflect on the realities of a defense budget in excess of $500 billion? And the implications of all that, for our foreign policy? How are we going to create some-- a space where we begin, can being to look at those issues more objectively, if everyone either capitulates to this side or that side?

BILL MOYERS: Everything you say suggests that you do not feel your faith is incompatible with American democracy.

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: I wouldn't be here.

BILL MOYERS: How so?

IMAM ZAID SHAKIR: Well if I felt that my faith, and I'm a Muslim-- a practicing Muslim, is incompatible, with American democracy, why would I stay here? Because, essentially, I'd be saying, "I can not practice my faith here." That's not the question. That's not the case.

BILL MOYERS: You can see more from the Muslim women you've just met. Check out our web-exclusive video and join me on the blog at pbs.org.

That's it for this week. Thanks for joining us on the JOURNAL. I'm Bill Moyers.



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