Episode no. 509
November 2, 2001
BOB ABERNETHY: Coming up, America's Muslims trying to make their voices heard in the midst of terrorism.
PROFESSOR JOHN GREEN (University of Akron): We're going to need to convince many Americans that, in fact, there are legitimate participants in the American political process.
ABERNETHY: And a place where residents think churches are threatening their quality of life.
DON KNABE (Board of Supervisors): They've become seven-day a week operations, and way beyond the scope of the Wednesday night event or a Sunday church event.
ABERNETHY: Plus, the obscure biblical prayer that captured the public's imagination and is still a best seller.
Welcome, I'm Bob Abernethy. It's good to have you with us.
BOB ABERNETHY: In Pakistan, grief and anger this week after masked gunmen broke into a Christian church during a Sunday morning service killing 14 worshippers, their pastor and a Muslim security guard. It was the most lethal attack on Pakistan's Christian minority in the nation's history. The gunmen reportedly shouted anti-Christian slogans and "God is great," as they entered the church in the southern Pakistani city of Bahawalpur.
On Monday, crowds gathered at the church to hold a funeral for the attack victims, whose number included women and children. Thirteen of the victims were members of the one family. Pakistani officials say the gunmen's identities and motivation remain unknown, but many local Christians fear the attack is a reprisal for the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan. Christians make up about one percent of Pakistan's 120 million people.
BOB ABERNETHY: Israel's recent occupation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank has drawn strong criticism from Pope John Paul II and from Catholic and Episcopal bishops in America. Last week, Israeli tanks and troops moved out of the Palestinian-controlled city of Bethlehem after a 10-day incursion. The troops occupied Bethlehem and five other West Bank towns after Palestinian militants gunned down an Israeli cabinet minister in October. Fighting between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen damaged dozens of shops, homes, churches and hospitals, including a Catholic university. Among the dead was a youth killed by crossfire just outside the Church of the Nativity, traditional site of Jesus' birth.
BOB ABERNETHY: A coalition of Muslim and human rights groups is asking the Justice Department for information on the people detained since the September terrorist attacks. It's believed more than 1,000 persons are in custody. The request was filed on the Freedom of Information Act. It asked the government to release the names of those held, the charges against them, if any, and the names of the lawyers representing them. Most of the detainees are believed to be Muslim.
BOB ABERNETHY: RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY has learned that for the first time the White House has hired a staff person specifically assigned to do outreach to the American Muslim community. Suhail Khan is a Muslim-American and a former congressional aide. He'll work in the White House Office of Public Liaison along with staffers who do outreach to Christians and Jews. Muslim leaders are pleased, although they say there are still no Muslims in decision making government positions.
BOB ABERNETHY: Muslim-Americans have been working hard to strengthen their political clout, but, as Kim Lawton reports, the events of September 11th are complicating that task.
KIM LAWTON: In the days since September 11th, Abdulwahab Alkebsi who's been a vocal advocate for Muslim participation in the war against terrorism. As executive director of the Washington-based Islamic Institute, he hosted a Capitol Hill luncheon to introduce the members of Congress to the Emir of Qatar, a key U.S. coalition partner. Alkebsi also helped pull off several meetings with top Bush administration officials. Among them, the president's high profile visit to the Washington Islamic Center. Alkebsi sees it all as part of his duty as a Muslim-American.
ABDULWAHAB ALKEBSI (Islamic Institute): I'm American by choice, and I feel patriotic to this country more than any other place, and this is home. And I want it to be home. And I'm scared for it, I feel the vulnerability, and I want to help it. And I assure you, my community as a whole feels that way.
MAHDI BRAY (Muslim Public Affairs Council): Peace be unto you.
LAWTON: The Muslim Public Affairs Council's Mahdi Bray, who hosts a radio program on Islam, has been in on some of the meetings with government officials. But he's also been protesting outside.
In late October, Bray joins with several other Muslims to pray in front of the State Department and to denounce the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan. Bray says he doesn't care if that costs him his entree to official Washington.
MR. BRAY: It doesn't matter to me, something about this is in my gut and my heart tells me it's not the right thing to do. And I have to stand with my own moral conscience. I have to be accountable for that, I have to stand before God.
LAWTON: In recent years, American-Muslims have been trying to expand their political influence, both from the inside and the outside. The events of September 11th are posing new challenges to those efforts.
PROFESSOR JOHN GREEN (University of Akron): Well, I think in the near term, the American-Muslim community is going to be in a defensive mode. They're going to need to convince many Americans that, in fact, they are legitimate participants in the American political process. And 9-11 has certainly been a very major setback for them.
LAWTON: Professor John Green says one of the biggest challenges for Muslims is distancing themselves from the perpetrators of the attacks.
PROF. GREEN: I think it is quite difficult for politicians, whether it's the President or other elected officials, to have a more positive relationship with the Muslim community in the wake of these new suspicions.
LAWTON: Ironically, several Muslim leaders from across the country were in Washington on September 11th for a long-hoped for White House meeting with the President. Instead, they found themselves at a news conference condemning the terrorist attacks. The White House meeting finally took place on September 26th. Instead of talking about Middle East policy, or the president's faith-based initiative, the topic was terrorism.
MR. ALKEBSI: Of course, the agenda for the meeting changed, like everything else changed in our country, and everything else changed in our lives. So, the agenda changed. Mostly what we talked about was terrorism and how we should be united in the fight against terrorism. But many of the projects we've been working on are right now on the back burner, like it is for most other Americans.
LAWTON: It's a frustrating situation for those Muslims who last year launched a new effort to begin flexing more political muscle.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We are all united. We are united on.
LAWTON: Prior to the 2000 elections, leaders of several Muslim groups put traditional differences aside and pledged to create a unified voting block. They endorsed George W. Bush as the candidate most open to their causes. For many Muslims, those causes include questioning the strong U.S. support for Israel, lifting sanctions against Iraq, and strengthening U.S. ties to the Arab world. There are also domestic concerns, such as Muslim civil rights and the faith-based initiative.
Bray and other Muslims have long been preaching the need for more political participation. It's sometimes a tough sell.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Half of the audience here feels that democracy is incompatible with Islamic principles.
LAWTON: Creating a unified political block has also been difficult because of the great diversity within the American Muslim community. About a third of the community is South Asian, and almost as many are African-American converts who follow traditional Islam. About 25 percent are of Arab descent, and the rest are white converts, Africans and Europeans. In addition to cultural differences, there are deep theological divisions, with varying interpretations of the Koran.
PROF. GREEN: And so it's been quite difficult for American-Muslims to craft a common approach to American politics. Now, this is not unusual, the American Jewish community has often faced that problem, American Catholics, various Protestant groups, and so forth.
LAWTON: Nonetheless, according to exit polls, the majority of Muslim votes went to Bush. Many were disappointed when that did not translate into immediate access to the new administration. They were especially angered when the White House abruptly canceled a scheduled meeting with Muslims in March, citing weather concerns. But the same day, the President did meet with the University of Oklahoma football team.
Everything changed after September 11th when the administration actively reached out to American-Muslims. But with the new access has come new scrutiny of organizational ties and past statements, particularly statements against Israel. There's been some harsh criticism of Bush's meetings, particularly by some in the Jewish community.
DANIEL PIPES (Middle East Forum): He did not seem to be aware that the Muslims, the American-Muslims that he was meeting with, are representatives of extremist Islam, are apologists at the very minimum, and activists at the maximum, for the kind of militant Islam that led to the catastrophe last month.
LAWTON: Muslims who attended the meetings deny that and fired back with accusations of their own.
SALAM AL-MARAYATI (Muslim Public Affairs Council): We have special interest groups, whether they represent Christian fundamentalism or Zionistic extremism, you have that notion that they don't want to share power, therefore, they're going to do everything to prevent Muslims from even discussing these issues, let alone have any influence on any policy.
LAWTON: Some non-Muslims acknowledge they're uncomfortable with the idea of growing Muslim political influence.
MR. PIPES: I worry very much, from the Jewish point of view, that the presence, and increased stature, and affluence, and enfranchisement of American-Muslims, because they are so much led by an Islamist leadership, that this will present true dangers to American Jews.
LAWTON: Muslim activist groups say the resistance shows they are having a political impact. They plan to push forward with their efforts, such as urging the Bush administration to hire a high ranking Muslim.
MR. ALKEBSI: There is not one Muslim-American in the whole of government, whatever you -- the legislative branch, the executive branch, that have decision making abilities.
LAWTON: Alkebsi says Muslim-Americans have much to offer the war against terrorism.
MR. ALKEBSI: If it is to be done the right way, you have to have people who know the area, who know the nuances of the culture, of the language, of the religion at decision making positions. I think, it's a necessity. It's absurd, it's unacceptable they're not.
LAWTON: But there are growing divisions within the American-Muslim community about how the war against terrorism is being conducted. Mahdi Bray has broken rank with some Muslim colleagues over the military actions.
MR. BRAY: If this is not a war on Islam, then why are we willing to sacrifice the lives of so many Muslims in Afghanistan?
PROF. GREEN: I think that American-Muslims need to understand amongst themselves that they need to convince their fellow citizens of their rightful place in American politics. And that's a place where some unity within the community can be very, very helpful.
LAWTON: For now, many American-Muslims still feel politically on the defensive. But they say, they're determined to continue seeking a role in American politics. And they're optimistic the new attention they've been getting, both good and bad, ultimately will lead to greater political influence. I'm Kim Lawton in Washington.
ABERNETHY: Nobody knows exactly how many Muslims there are in America. Estimates vary widely from 1.8 million to as many as six or seven million.
BOB ABERNETHY: Four weeks since the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan began, and as that bombing has been stepped up in recent days, how's the war going? Specifically, in ethical terms, does what's happening meet the requirements of a just war?
Father John Langan is a professor of Catholic social thought at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University in Washington. Father, welcome.
I wonder if we could mark up a kind of report card on the ethics of the war so far. Has it been just?
FATHER JOHN P. LANGAN (Georgetown University): Well, the two things that analysts look to in determining the justice of a war while it's being fought are: The issue of civilian casualties, and there I think we've been doing reasonably well, obviously not perfectly. Civilians have been killed, mistakes have been made on targets. But this, I think, been a serious effort to respect that norm. The second is the question of whether we're making real progress toward morally important goals.
ABERNETHY: And how do you come out on that?
FATHER LANGAN: I think that's still taking shape.
ABERNETHY: The goals are moral though, for you?
FATHER LANGAN: Yes. I think the whole task of trying to stop this kind of terrorism, of restoring a sense of order and confidence in our society, and in the world at large, that's morally quite important.
ABERNETHY: And it is important that the good likely to be done outweigh the harm.
FATHER LANGAN: Yes.
ABERNETHY: ... that is being done.
FATHER LANGAN: That's correct.
ABERNETHY: How do you rate us on that?
FATHER LANGAN: What's commonly called the principle of proportionality. And I think we're doing reasonably well. But that's -- you can't really judge those things until you're near the end.
ABERNETHY: What about the humanitarian consequences of the military action? Five big relief agencies urged this week that the aid effort be separated from the military effort and that everyone create conditions so aid can get through to the people who need it. Is that practical?
FATHER LANGAN: I'm not sure. I don't really know enough. I think it's very desirable. I think we have a large number of lives at risk in Afghanistan with the possibility of famine, and we should be doing all that we can to protect these people. How you combine that with military operations, that's very, very tricky.
ABERNETHY: But maybe take the administration out of the U.S. hands and into somebody else's?
FATHER LANGAN: I think that would be good because ...
ABERNETHY: The aid I'm talking about.
FATHER LANGAN: ... we're crossing cultural lines here. It's very important that the people on the other side understand that certain kinds of dealings with foreigners will provide relief and they should -- they can express trust in those relationships. Other kinds will have to be very cautious because these people are fighting.
ABERNETHY: You teach Christian ethics and international politics at Georgetown. What do you worry about what is happening? What should we be watching carefully?
FATHER LANGAN: Well, one of the things that I worry about most is mission creep, which we applied originally in Somalia, but could very well happen here, because our concern both for eliminating the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, and for protecting the Afghan people, means that we can wind up, without intending it, in effect, controlling Afghanistan, and trying to reshape that society.
ABERNETHY: Now why would that be a bad idea?
FATHER LANGAN: It would exceed our appropriate powers, and it almost certainly exceeds our abilities. And there are real parallels I think here to Vietnam.
ABERNETHY: Ramadan begins in a couple of weeks, the Muslim holy month, should there be a pause in the military action for that?
FATHER LANGAN: I don't think so. This is not a requirement of Muslim theology, and it's very difficult to sustain military momentum and to hold a coalition together if one gets into these sorts of pauses.
ABERNETHY: And again, Father, if you were giving a grade on whether the operations in Afghanistan have met just war criteria so far, what would you?
FATHER LANGAN: I would be inclined to say "B" with a question mark, because I'm not sure about the real progress toward the ends.
ABERNETHY: Many thanks, Father John Langan of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
BOB ABERNETHY: This weekend many Christian, Jewish and Muslim houses of worship are joining in a day of prayer for peace and unity. It's part of an ongoing series of memorials and worship services following the September 11th attacks.
Last week, families of World Trade Center victims attended a special memorial service at the ground zero recovery site. The event included prayers from several faith traditions.
BOB ABERNETHY: Can too many churches be bad for a neighborhood? In the Los Angeles community of Rowland Heights, some people seem to think so, and they've persuaded the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to declare a 45-day moratorium on the building of any new churches there. Residents say the traffic and noise generated by the churches are bad for business. The churches insist they have a constitutional right to the free exercise of their religion.
The problem began with the demand for new churches, especially for Asian immigrants. In Rowland Heights, dozens of new churches opened in residential areas and in strip malls under unclear zoning and land use laws. The Living Word Christian Center now draws so many worshippers that local business owners complain they've lost customers. They say people see a filled parking lot and don't drive in.
FRIEDA SLOAN (Restaurant Manager): Sunday mornings we tried a buffet and that wouldn't work out because there's no parking.
ABERNETHY: But the problem is not just Sunday morning worship. County officials are more concerned that the churches are offering other services to parishioners, such as day care, housing and food services that extend beyond what their permits allow.
DON KNABE (Board of Supervisors): They've become seven-day a week operations and way beyond the scope of the Wednesday night event or a Sunday church event.
ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, constitutional lawyers worry that zoning restrictions will interfere with religious freedom.
JOHN MAUK (Constitutional attorney): What needs to be done is have proper accommodation and thinking through how churches should be zoned, particularly with an eye towards their religious freedom rights, which we in this country hold very dear.
ABERNETHY: So, for 45 days in Rowland Heights, officials will grant no permits to build new churches or expand existing ones, instead, they'll take an inventory of all the churches and try to balance the county's right to zone with the churchgoers' right to worship.
BOB ABERNETHY: A small book about a simple prayer has showed impressive staying power on the nation's best seller lists. The book is "The Prayer of Jabez," the man who uttered the words, Jabez, appears only once in the Bible, but his prayer can now be found in bookstores everywhere. To date, nine million copies of "The Prayer of Jabez" have been sold. Deryl Davis reports.
DR. BRUCE WILKINSON (Evangelist and Author): Let me tell you my Jabez story about what God did for me.
DERYL DAVIS: Few people had ever heard of the obscure sonnet psalm prayer lodged deep in the book of 1st Chronicles, but Atlanta evangelist Bruce Wilkinson changed all that when he and a co-author, David Kopp, wrote a book about the prayer published last year.
The book's tremendous success is based, in part, on Wilkinson's interpretation of the ancient prayer as a plea for personal blessing and more opportunity to do God's work. The book has struck a chord with many evangelical Christians who think that Wilkinson has shown them it's okay to pray for themselves.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's how do I pray? How do I pray? The Jabez prayer teaches you in about three verses, two verses, this is how God wants us to pray everyday.
DAVIS: Wilkinson calls Jabez a daring prayer that God always answers. He encourages readers to pray it for at least 30 days in order to see results.
DR. WILKINSON: What happens is if you keep praying that prayer, you do get answers, and thus far we've not met anyone who has prayed the prayer for at least a month that doesn't have a number of stories to tell you.
DAVIS: But "Jabez" has drawn critics, who say Wilkinson's book makes unfair promises and encourages American obsessions with money and success.
REVEREND JAMES MULHOLLAND (Author) "The Prayer of Jabez" in some sense anoints avarice and makes greed and selfishness a virtue and that's a deeply troubling thing.
DAVIS: The words in question were first spoken by a man named Jabez, who appears only once in the entire Bible. The account reads, "And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, 'Oh, that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.'"
A prayer for blessing can sound odd for Christians more familiar with sermons about sacrifice and humility, but Wilkinson says it's all right to ask for blessings. In fact, God likes it.
MR. WILKINSON: And also in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, asking God to bless you is practiced widely, and today we misunderstand that asking God to bless you isn't something that displeases God. It is a pleasure to God to hear you ask, "I would like you to bless me."
DAVIS: There are songs about the prayer, a new Jabez CD, and a Web site where readers post testimonies. Many record miraculous experiences.
Susan Heinz started using the Prayer of Jabez last year.
SUSAN HEIM: I just really cried out to God as Jabez did for blessings, and God gave us the blessing of another child, which we were not able to do on our own.
DAVIS: Audrey Massey believes the Prayer of Jabez has helped her fight serious illness.
AUDREY MASSEY: I use it everyday and I've even taught my children to use it, and just anywhere I am at anytime of the day I pray that prayer.
DAVIS: Despite such testimony, critics challenge the prayer's appropriateness as a model for Christians. Reverend James Mulholland recently wrote a book on the Lord's Prayer in response to the Jabez phenomenon. He says the two prayers offer a sharp contrast. Jesus praying for God's will versus Jabez praying for himself.
REV. MULHOLLAND: In so many ways it is counter to the priorities of God and to the emphasis that Jesus made clear in his ministry and his teachings, and finally in the Lord's Prayer.
DAVID: But Wilkinson says that that's wrong. The Jabez prayer isn't about money or selfishness, it's about God.
DR. WILKINSON: God is the subject of every verb in the prayer. "Would you bless me, would you give me more ministry for you, would you put your hand of power on me, would you keep me from evil?" So this is a theology of God's desire for mankind.
DAVIS: Nevertheless, Mulholland's is one of several new books critical of the Jabez phenomenon. One even compares the prayer to a magic chant, spoofing the suggestion that God will answer it in 30 days. For Mulholland, the problem goes deeper. He believes the Prayer of Jabez reflects a shallowness in American spirituality, the desire for instant results with no long-term commitment.
REV. MULHOLLAND: It's what we want to be true. It's the way we would like our spirituality to be.
DAVIS: No one reason can account for the success of Jabez. Size, packaging and content, an unknown and allegedly powerful prayer, all are possibilities.
For now, controversy seems only to fuel the Jabez phenomenon, which shows no signs of slowing down. More books are on the way, including "Jabez for Women," more conferences are scheduled and next year Wilkinson plans to launch a worldwide course on the Jabez prayer. For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I'm Deryl Davis.
BOB ABERNETHY: Finally, this week many Christian traditions observed one or more important days on their calendar. Wednesday was Reformation Day, Thursday All-Saints Day and Friday was All-Souls Day.
That's our program for now, I'm Bob Abernethy. To find out more about RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY online, logon to pbs.org or America Online, keyword: PBS.
As we leave you this week, the dress rehearsal by an inter-faith choir for a concert at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.
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