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Episode no. 1137

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Moderate Muslim televangelists in the Middle East preaching a combination of piety and modern life.

Unidentified Man (working in lab): Just go ahead and stick it. . .

ABERNETHY: Also, should police be able to use the DNA of an innocent relative to lead them to a criminal.

MITCH MORRISSEY (District Attorney, Denver): There will be some people that will be talked to that may have nothing to do with this is not unusual when you look at police work.

Professor JEFFREY ROSEN (George Washington University Law School): They would hold people accountable not for wrong doing, but for wrong being.

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BOB ABERNETHY: Welcome. I’m Bob Abernethy. It’s good to have you with us.

A growing call by humanitarian groups for the United Nations to take more action in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where the isolationist military dictatorship continues to block most international aid. Caritas International and other aid groups say they have been able to reach some victims, but other reports suggest the military is confiscating donated food. The death toll is climbing beyond 100,000 and the Red Cross said as many as two-and-a-half million are in urgent need of food, water, and shelter. Friday, health officials warned of widespread disease outbreaks and said lack of clean water would be the, quote, “biggest killer” in coming days.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In China, the government and international aid agencies are asking for supplies to help rescue and relief efforts in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake there last Monday. Tens of thousands were killed and millions left homeless. It’s estimated that 10 million people were directly affected. The Dalai Lama and Pope Benedict offered public prayers. Samaritan’s Purse, Church World Service, and World Vision were among the groups urging donations.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In Israel, a week of festivities, protest, and violence. The country continued celebrating its 60th anniversary and hosted dignitaries, including President Bush. Bush offered his support for the Jewish state and encouraged leaders to work harder for peace for the Palestinians. Bush also toured Masada, the historic site where Jews killed themselves to avoid capture by the Romans in 70 AD.

In the West Bank, Palestinians marked the anniversary with protests. They call the founding of Israel the “catastrophe” and point to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were expelled from their homes in 1948.

Also during Bush’s visit, a rocket fired from Gaza hit a crowded shopping center in southern Israel, wounding dozens.

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BOB ABERNETHY: It’s common to hear and read stories about Islamic fundamentalists and their rigid interpretation of the Qu’ran. But we have a story today about transformation in the Islamic Middle East — moderate Muslims challenging the fundamentalists. The contest is being played out on satellite TV channels where young Muslim televangelists are preaching a combination of piety and modern life. Kate Seelye has our special report from Cairo.

KATE SEELYE: At a cultural center in Cairo, there’s a buzz of excitement. Thousands of youth have gathered — but not for a concert or a play. They’ve come to hear a lecture by a young Muslim preacher.


SEELYE: He’s 29-year-old Moez Masoud, a former advertising executive who turned to religion the death of several close friends. Masoud opens his lecture with a prayer and an appeal.

MOEZ MASOUD (Muslim Televangelist, speaking to audience, through translator): It’s not good to separate religion from life because life will turn into a jungle. Let’s take a closer look at religion and it won’t seem as so gloomy.

SEELYE: The audience is captivated by his message: it’s a call for compassion and love as well as tolerance.

Mr. MASOUD (speaking in Arabic to audience, through translator): Islam respects the principle of freedom of opinion, as long as the opinion is respectful of Islam.

SEELYE: Often referencing the Qu’ran, Masoud jumps from topic to topic. One moment he’s gently poking fun of religious fanatics, the next he’s talking about the beauty of art. Tonight he focuses on music. Is it allowed in the Qu’ran?

Mr. MASOUD (speaking in Arabic to audience, through translator): Is it really mentioned you shouldn’t play certain instruments? Or does it depend on the religious interpretation? There is a belief that certain instruments might be used for a good cause.

SEELYE: And then the highlight of the night: a musician comes on stage and sings about the beauty of marriage.


SEELYE: The audience loves it. Afterwards, many say Masoud’s message gives them hope.

MOHAMMED (through translator): I used to have some extremist ideas about faith, but when I heard Moez, so many things changed in my life. In my view so many things were wrong, wrong, wrong until I met him.

SEELYE: Masoud’s ideas are breath of fresh air for many young Arabs. In stark contrast to Islamist fundamentalists, he tells them they can be good Muslims and also enjoy life.

Mr. MASOUD: A lot of the Islamic faith is presented to them as only religious — meaning only outward things. It’s presented as a bunch of do’s and don’ts. And you know, with just globalization and a lot of the quote on quote, “Western culture” finding its way here, if Islam is not presented in its most expansive interpretation and really to just used, you know, every day in the coolest way possible, then there is no way people are going to approach it.

SEELYE: But Masoud doesn’t just encourage youth to believe, he also urges them to be active.

Mr. MASOUD: You’re also here to develop Earth and to make sure there’s charity and to make sure that everyone is eating and to make sure that there’s hospitals, and to just play God’s role on Earth.

SEELYE: Masoud began preaching about eight years ago after graduating from the American University of Cairo. In 2002, he landed his first TV show, but it was this program that introduced him to millions. “The Right Path” launched in 2007 on a popular religious satellite channel. Every week, Masoud travels the world, discussing issues like drugs and dating. He tries to help Muslim youth better understand the West. In one episode, he condemned the 2005 London bombings.

Mr. MASOUD (on “The Right Path,” speaking Arabic, through translator): The Qu’ran says the one who kills or spreads corruption, kills all humanity.

SEELYE: Masoud isn’t alone in calling for greater tolerance and reform. He’s one of a new wave of moderate Muslim preachers. Their goal: to mobilize Arabs and improve their societies. The most famous of them is Amr Khaled. Khaled started as an accountant but rose to fame about seven years ago with a TV show that encouraged piety and community activism. Khaled is now so popular in the Muslim world that his Web site gets more hits than Oprah Winfrey’s.

Abdullah Shleifer teaches media at the American University of Cairo. He says many young Muslims, like those at this university, don’t relate to traditional religious scholars. They’re turning to what Shleifer calls the “New Preachers” like Masoud and Khaled for guidance.

Professor ABDULLAH SHLEIFER (American University of Cairo): The new preachers share with their audience modernity. They have clarified, no doubt, their own inner discourse on how you can be moderates and pious. And by modern I don’t mean, you know, using appliances. I mean a modern lifestyle that at the same time is a pious lifestyle, you know. And that’s very difficult for people and particularly when you’re getting images coming in from MTV where modernity means anti-piety.

SEELYE: Shleifer says the new preachers are using a very modern tool to get their message across — satellite television. There are now more than 300 satellite channels in the Arab world. They reach tens of millions, and they’re allowing voices like Masoud’s and Khaled’s to target large numbers of people.

Amr Khaled’s latest show airs on this channel — Risala. It’s a new, 24-hour religious station run by Tarek Suweidan, a Kuwaiti cleric. It airs talk shows and religious call-in programs. Today Suweidan hosts a show called “Wasatiya”– “In the Middle.” Suweidan says Risala brings fresh voices and opinions to Arab audiences with a specific goal in mind.

Sheikh TAREK SUWEIDAN (Station Director, Risala): We want them to be more moderate. We want them to be more modern. The second thing that we would like to change is the interests. Many off our youth, their interest is marginal. They care about things that have no real effect in their lives, in the future, or the modernization of the Arab world.

SEELYE: Suweidan says Risala has the power to help transform the region.

Sheikh SUWEIDAN: Satellite TV is the most powerful weapon in the hands of the Islamic revival today.

SEELYE: And that revival is taking place against the backdrop of increased religious fervor here. In the past decade, mosque attendance has exploded. Most Muslim women have donned the headscarf. Some are even starting to wear the all enveloping niqab.

Widespread poverty, political stagnation, and loss of hope have all fed the boom in religion. In poor neighborhoods like these, fundamentalist imams are increasingly popular with their promises of a better afterlife. They are known as Salafis, and they’ve also benefited from the media revolution. The Salafis dominate the many religious channels in Egypt and preach a rigid morality as well as a paranoia about other faiths and cultures like this cleric, Mohammed Hassaan.

MOHAMMED HASSAN (on TV, speaking in Arabic, through translator): Recent events have been exploited by Jews and their supporters to stab Islam.

SEELYE: So in today’s Egypt who has the greatest impact — the fundamentalists or the new preachers? Khalil Anani is a scholar with the Al Ahram Institute and an expert on Islamist movements. He says the Salafis are very influential among the poor, but the new preachers also play an important role.

KHALIL ANANI (Al Ahram Institute): I think the main task off this new preacher phenomenon is to spread tolerance and the values of coexistence and to be civilized in your thinking. This is the most important benefit now to decrease the tension between the West and Islam.

SEELYE: But Anani doesn’t think the new preachers, like Moez Masoud, will have much lasting impact.

Mr. ANANI: They are a temporary phenomenon. They have no organizational or institutional bodies. They won’t be effective in the future of Egypt.

SEELYE: American University of Cairo professor Abdullah Shleifer strongly disagrees.

Prof. SHLEIFER: I don’t think Moez is a temporary phenomenon. I think his message so meets the growing concerns of this new young portion of the mainstream that is, is becoming the mainstream as they grow. He is in rapport actually, now with television, with millions and will be in rapport with still greater millions and this is not a passing fad. This is part of the transformation of Arab society.

SEELYE: Back in his Cairo apartment, Masoud relaxes with his guitar. He’s playing a song he wrote, “Coffee for the Heart.” It’s about spiritual rejuvenation.

Mr. MASOUD: So, what I’m doing right now is at least, you know, trying to put the light back into the attempts to religiously revive any thing because religion, when misunderstood, can take on a very dark form.

SEELYE: Masoud isn’t worried about the impact he’ll have. He’s pretty confident that with time more and more Muslims will discover what he calls “the right path.”

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Kate Seelye in Cairo.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In this country, a major decision on gay rights. The California supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. The 4-to-3 decision overturns a voter-approved ban on gay marriage and sets California on course to join Massachusetts in allowing full marriage rights for gay couples. Gay rights groups celebrated the decision, but religious and social conservative groups vowed to fight it by putting a constitutional ban on gay marriage on the California November ballot.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In Washington, Congress passed a controversial farm bill by a veto-proof margin. The $300 billion five year plan extends generous subsidies to farmers and also increases money for food stamps, food banks, and emergency food aid; and the bill includes a pilot program to support farming in foreign countries in need. The Christian advocacy group Bread for the World praised the bill for the increases in aid, but said it doesn’t do enough to limit U.S. subsidies and change policies that stymie agricultural development abroad.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In Texas, members of the polygamist sect that was raided by state authorities last month are battling with officials to reunite their families. Many of the parents are petitioning the court and lobbying local legislators to allow them more access to their children and to regain custody. Texas took more than 450 children after the raid and sent them to foster care facilities around the state. Siblings have been separated from each other and mothers separated from their children, except for about 20 mothers of infants who have been allowed to remain with their babies. The state argues that if the children are returned to their parents now, all of them are at risk of abuse.

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BOB ABERNETHY: We have a report today on a conflict between solving crimes and protecting privacy. It’s called “familial searching.” Police can now take DNA from a crime scene and compare it to millions of DNA samples in a government database. If there is even a partial match, that could lead to the criminal by way of his or her family members if their DNA is in the database. And they could be completely innocent. Should that practice be legal? Lucky Severson reports.

Unidentified Man (working in lab): Stick it right back in there. Okay, and we’ll close it up right there. And this is the same thing, these are . . .

LUCKY SEVERSON: Three years ago, Pearl Wilson’s son Charles died in a Maryland prison while awaiting sentencing for rape. But for his mother, her son lives on.

PEARL WILSON: My son lives in me and I in him. And his blood is my blood and my blood was in him.

SEVERSON: Though Charles is dead his DNA still sits in a databank. By law DNA has to be gathered from all felons. Some states even take it from arrestees. The DNA profiles remain there indefinitely.

Ms. WILSON: I’m worried about them continuously holding my son’s DNA in that database.

SEVERSON: Attorney Stephen Mercer, who specializes in DNA issues, says Pearl Wilson has reason to be worried. He’s trying to get her son’s DNA expunged from the database because he’s concerned it might be used at some point for what is called familial searching, a new technology that has been used sparingly so far in the U.S. The most notable case was the so-called “BTK” serial killer, Dennis Rader. After 30 years and 10 murders, the BTK killer was finally caught after police obtained a DNA sample from his daughter that almost perfectly matched the DNA from her father’s crime scenes.

STEPHEN MERCER (Attorney): DNA between persons who are related is vastly more similar than DNA between persons who are unrelated. So when the government has the DNA of one family member, in effect, they have the DNA of that person’s siblings, children and parents.

SEVERSON: Here’s how it works. DNA from a crime scene is run against the nearly six million samples on file. If there’s a partial match, it likely means that a relative of someone in the database is guilty of a crime. This kind of testing could open up a whole new realm of possibilities for authorities. But critics warn that is could mark the beginning of dragnets, sweeping in people who are completely innocent and possibly violating their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Sonia Suter is a bioethics professor and she’s concerned that people will see only the benefits of familial testing and not the threat to personal privacy.

Professor SONIA SUTER (George Washington University Law School): There’s a lot of kinds of uses of this — of these samples that sound great. They look good on programs like “CSI” but they might involve probing too deeply into very personal information. Could the police decide they want to do broad scale research on these samples, and start investigating the samples for links to certain kinds of illnesses, or certain kinds of propensities for behavior?

SEVERSON: Professor Suter says familial testing without safeguards may be only the beginning of a very slippery slope.

Prof. SUTER: I think people might start to feel differently about this if they imagined all of the information that could potentially be obtained. And it will only get easier to do as we identify more genes. It will only be cheaper as the technology advances.

SEVERSON: Constitutional law professor Jeffrey Rosen says the use of familial testing could signal a dramatic challenge to American civil liberties.

Professor JEFFREY ROSEN (George Washington University Law School): There’s a very profound moral lesson. My mother taught it to me actually. She said, “You should be responsible not for what you think but what you do.” And yet that idea is really being challenged by an idea of genetic surveillance that would hold people accountable not for wrong doing, but for wrong being.

MITCH MORRISSEY (District Attorney, Denver): There is no privacy right that is being violated by doing familial searching.

SEVERSON: Mitch Morrissey, the District Attorney of Denver is a vocal advocate for familial searching. He says it’s just another tool to track down leads, the way police use partial license plates and fingerprints.

Mr. MORRISSEY: The idea that there will be some people that will be talked to that may have nothing to do with this is not unusual when you look at police work.

SEVERSON: Familial testing could help bring many more criminals to justice says medical geneticist Frederick Bieber, who works with law enforcement on DNA issues. He co-authored a study published in Science magazine.

Dr. FREDERICK BIEBER (Medical Geneticist): Based on simulations, our data suggest that it could increase the yield of investigative leads by 40 percent. So it could substantially increase the number of cases that can be resolved through added investigative leads. Why? Because of the sad reality is that crime or habits of crime are often found more commonly in family members than in unrelated individuals.

SEVERSON: Statistics indicate crime does run in families: 46 percent of inmates, in one recent survey, said they had a blood relative also in jail. One black man in nine between the ages of 20 and 34, according to a recent Pew estimate, is now behind bars. With databanks getting larger because of familial testing, critics like Stephen Mercer worry that police will be even more likely to target those areas and those minorities whose only guilt is living in the wrong place.

Mr. MERCER: For minority populations who are already disproportionately in the database, you’re approaching a scenario where nearly a majority of some populations — minority based populations — are going to find themselves under genetic surveillance by the government.

Mr. MORRISSEY: Many, many of these crimes are crimes against persons of color — people that live in the same neighborhoods. And I talk to those people and those people want these crimes solved.

TONY LAKE (Chief Constable, Lincolnshire Police, England): I do think that the plight of victims is much underplayed.

SEVERSON: Tony Lake is the chief constable of the Lincolnshire Police in England. The United Kingdom has used familial matching since 2002.

Mr. LAKE: It is perfectly reasonable and absolutely right, that the rights of suspects should be considered and, as we maintain, is paramount when they aren’t actually under investigation. But, so too do the victims have rights. So too do the family of victims have rights. So yes there are some very, very difficult issues which we’ve got to confront here. But frankly the bottom line is we believe it is a risk worth taking and it is a process well worth doing.

SEVERSON: Police in the UK have resolved murders and rapes and other cases by tracing the perpetrator through a relative’s genetic profile. One case involved a man who had been raping and terrorizing women for 20 years. Known as the “shoe rapist,” police finally discovered who he was when a DNA sample from one of the rapes was a close match to his sister, whose DNA profile was in the data base for a minor infraction.

Mr. LAKE: The way that we operate in the United Kingdom is that unless there is some other substantial evidence the use of DNA on its own will not be run by the Crown Prosecution Service, the equivalent of your state prosecutor. They simply will not entertain running on the basis of DNA evidence only.

SEVERSON: U.S. authorities say they will also require other supporting evidence. But opponents argue that the FBI has been known to overstep its bounds in other investigations. And even though agents may be held accountable for overzealous prosecution, by then the damage to someone’s reputation has been done.

Ms. WILSON: I have not been in trouble a day in my life. They could come to my family members and even me. It is violating rights of innocent people.

SEVERSON: Pearl no longer needs to worry about her son’s DNA coming back to haunt the family, because Maryland has become the first state to ban familial testing. But several other states, with California in the lead, intend to approve familial searching, and that appears to be the national trend.

For RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY, I’m Lucky Severson in Rockville, Maryland.

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BOB ABERNETHY: On our calendar, Buddhists around the world mark their most important religious day of the year on Tuesday. Vesak commemorates the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment, and death.

And on Friday. Bahai’s celebrate the Declaration of the Bab, the anniversary of the day in 1844 that one of the founders of the faith, a young Persian merchant, declared himself to be the messiah.

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BOB ABERNETHY: Finally, the Vatican’s chief astronomer says believing that aliens exist does not contradict a faith in God. Father Jose Funes told the Vatican newspaper that extraterrestrial life may exist, and if it does, the beings are God’s creatures. He said that humans should consider them, quote, “extraterrestrial brothers.”

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BOB ABERNETHY: That’s our program for now. I’m Bob Abernethy.

There’s much more on our Web site, including more about religion and politics on our “One Nation” page. Audio and video podcasts of the program are also available. Join us at


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