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Episode no. 1201

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Coming up – the Republican ticket is in place and conservative evangelicals say they love Sarah Palin.

KIM LEHMAN (Iowa Delegate): It was like taking a rubber band, pulling it backwards and just shooting it through excitement.

ABERNETHY: And moderate Muslim televangelists challenging fundamentalist Islam and reaching millions through satellite television.

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BOB ABERNETHY: Welcome. I’m Bob Abernethy. It’s good to have you with us as we begin our 12th year on the air.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (during acceptance speech, Republican National Convention): Stand up, stand up, stand up and fight.

ABERNETHY: Over patriotic shouts and symbols, John McCain this week officially accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president.

Sen. MCCAIN: We’re Americans and we never give up. We never quit. We never hide from history. We make history. Thank you and God bless you, and God bless America.

ABERNETHY: McCain’s surprising choice of Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate was overwhelmingly popular among Republican social conservatives. Kim Lawton covered the Republican Convention, and has our report.

KIM LAWTON: Kim Lehman is a Roman Catholic and an Iowa delegate to the Republican National Convention. Her opposition to abortion was one of the reasons she got involved in politics. Like many other religious conservatives, Lehman came here not feeling completely enthused about John McCain’s candidacy.

KIM LEHMAN (Iowa Delegate): It wasn’t as lukewarm as much as it was waiting to see if John McCain was going to hold to his commitment to have a pro-life administration.

LAWTON: Lehman says McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as a running mate changed everything.

Ms. LEHMAN: It was like taking a rubber band, pulling it backward and just shooting us through excitement. And so all of us, being on the reciprocating end of emails, phone calls -everybody’s excited.

Governor SARAH PALIN (during acceptance speech, Republican National Convention): We are expected to govern with integrity, good will, clear convictions, and a servant’s heart.

LAWTON: The nomination of Palin, an evangelical Christian who bly opposes abortion, has been controversial in some quarters. But it has clearly mobilized the Republican Party’s social conservative base and given the McCain ticket a big boost of energy. Many in that base were deeply concerned in the weeks leading up to the convention when McCain’s campaign floated the idea of picking a pro-choice running mate.

Dr. RICHARD LAND (President of the Ethics and Liberty Commission, Southern Baptist Convention): I told the McCain people flat out that would inflict a mortal wound on his campaign, one from which he could not have recovered. If he had picked a pro-choice candidate, he was going to lose. He still may lose. But that would have, that would have been it. He could never have recovered among evangelicals and social conservative Catholics if he had picked a pro-choice running mate.

LAWTON: Pro-family conservatives here were not fazed by the news that Palin’s unmarried 17-year-old daughter is pregnant. And as media questions about Palin’s family life intensified, so did conservative resentment.

GARY BAUER (President, American Values, speaking at Republican Convention): They have taken a 17-year-old girl and they are trying to use the crisis pregnancy that she finds herself in as a battering ram, as a club to damage her mother, her family, to damage Senator McCain. It is outrageous. It’s tabloid journalism and they ought to be ashamed of themselves.

LAWTON: Leaders here said they did not expect a widespread evangelical backlash over the fact that Palin is a working mom with small children, especially because Palin’s husband Todd shoulders much of the family responsibility.

CHARMAINE YOEST (Americans United for Life Action): To me it appears that they may have made a real conscious decision to move forward in a family partnership in a mission that she’s been called to. And so I think we have to be very careful as we look at each family and the decisions they have made, particularly when they very clearly have made decisions to have the father very heavily involved in taking care of the children.

LAWTON: Evangelicals and other social conservatives have been a key part of the Republican’s winning coalition. And the GOP is depending on them again this year. But the party also has to walk a fine line. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center, nearly half of all Americans think religious conservatives have too much control over the Republican Party.

Still, Republican strategists are developing a wide-ranging effort to mobilize religious voters. Nancy Pfotenhauer is a senior policy advisor to the McCain campaign.

NANCY PFOTENHAUER (Senior Policy Advisor, McCain Campaign): They’re a crucial part of the electorate. And you know, we get a lot of energy from this part of our base. I’m a proud member of the faith community. This community knows how to impact elections. And they’ve got the networks in place than can do so – everything from going door to door to speaking to their communities, to getting information out, to turning out the vote.

LAWTON: Evangelicals gathered for a prayer breakfast at a local Christian club, even though the venue was far away from the main convention events. They are the single largest religious voting bloc and they are entrenched in many levels of the Republican Party apparatus. People like Tamara Scott, a delegate from Iowa, believe they are part of a longstanding tradition of faith influencing American politics.

TAMARA SCOTT (Iowa Delegate): Once I got into politics, I was even more encouraged to find out our founding fathers had the same basic tenets of faith that I do, and that’s what created this great country. It was their faith that spurred them on and gave them the courage to take the brave steps that they did in signing that Declaration of Independence.

LAWTON: But the GOP has a challenge in reaching out to younger evangelicals who appear to be embracing a broader set of issues than their parents. At a local church here, 26-year-old Bjorn Amundson is an undecided evangelical who’s against abortion, but describes himself as a social liberal on other issues.

BJORN AMUNDSON: I can’t just pick Republican or Democrat. I have to know who they are. So I think that actually makes me end up voting less, but caring about more who I vote for.

JIM WALLIS (Author, “The Great Awakening”): The monologue of the Religious Right is over and now it’s a new dialogue. Sarah Palin will be evaluated not just on her stance on abortion, but her stance, her record, on poverty, on the environment, on the war in Iraq. So there’s a wider conversation now and that’s a good thing for politics and certainly for the faith community.

LAWTON: The GOP is aggressively reaching out to another key constituency: Catholics. In 2004, a slight majority of Catholics voted Republican. But in the 2006 mid-term elections, a slight majority voted Democratic, and the Democrats took over Congress. Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is helping to lead McCain’s Catholic outreach.

Senator SAM BROWNBACK (R-KS, speaking at Republican National Convention): The Catholic vote is a swing vote, it is a critical vote in swing states. It is a vote we can win but only if we work to win it. LAWTON: Republicans are also hoping for some new inroads among Jewish voters who have long been an important base for the Democrats. Now surveys show that while a majority of Jews are still supporting Barack Obama, the numbers are significantly lower than in other recent elections.

MATTHEW BROOKS (Republican Jewish Coalition, during panel discussion). I think there is real concern about statements and votes on positions he has taken with regard to issues like Iran. I think that there are very serious questions regarding his views as it relates to Israel and the peace process. I think there are very real questions about his naivet�, his lack of experience when it comes to foreign policy in a very, very dangerous time, in a very, very dangerous world where we find ourselves.

LAWTON: McCain has never appeared comfortable addressing issues of faith directly. But his campaign is stressing character and courage in its appeals across the faith community.

Ms. PFOTENHAUER: Doing the right thing when it’s easy, you know, a lot of us can fall into that category. But doing the right thing when it’s difficult is where character is shown. And you really see that in Sen. McCain’s walk in life and I think you see that also very much in his running mate.

LAWTON: The Republicans hope that will sustain enthusiasm through November 4. I’m Kim Lawton in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

ABERNETHY: Kim, tell us more about Sarah Palin, especially Sarah Palin and religion.

LAWTON: Well, Sarah Palin was baptized as a Roman Catholic when she was an infant. When she was a teenager, her family started to the Assemblies of God Church. And so she was re-baptized in the Assemblies of God – that of course is the flagship denominations of the Pentecostal movement – this very fast-growing part of Christianity that really emphasizes the Holy Spirit. She went to Assemblies of God churches until about 2002 and now she attends an independent, non-denominational Bible church.

ABERNETHY: Now, Pentecostals typically believe that speaking in tongues is an important sign of holiness. Is that in her background?

LAWTON: Well, we don’t know exactly what Sarah Palin’s specific beliefs and practices are because she hasn’t talked about them a lot. We don’t know if she does speak in tongues. But certainly in the Assemblies of God that is a very common practice. Not everybody at an Assemblies of God church speaks in tongues, but that is a very common practice.

ABERNETHY: And her religious background is now being scrutinized very carefully, isn’t it?

LAWTON: Well, just like we saw with Barack Obama’s former pastor Jeremiah Wright, Sarah Palin’s former pastors are being scrutinized. People are looking at the sermons that they’ve preached and the theology that they’ve taught. And certainly in this age of “YouTube” and blogging, it’s being sent allover the place and being given a real political spin too.

ABERNETHY: You were at the Democratic Convention as well as the Republican Convention. How did they compare in their attention to religious life?

LAWTON: Well, religion was part of both conventions, but it was handled very differently. At the Democratic Convention, it was really front-and-center this time around – a big change from the past. And the Democrats were really trying to advertise, “Hey, we do like religion” because a lot of Americans think they don’t. So all of their events were very high-profile. On the Republican side, it wasn’t so much front-and-center, but it was certainly there. Religious people were very involved, but it tended to be more on the sidelines a little bit – not in primetime. Also, in the Democratic Convention you saw all these faith groups coming together – diversity gathered. In the Republican Convention, it was a little more narrowcasted, so you had Roman Catholics meeting together, evangelicals meeting together – separately. But they both really paid attention to religion.

ABERNETHY: Kim Lawton, many thanks. We have more campaign coverage and analysis on the “One Nation” page of our Web site. Join us at pbs.org.

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BOB ABERNETHY: Along the Gulf Coast, faith-based groups joined the massive relief effort to help residents in the path of Hurricane Gustav. Gustav was not as fierce as many had feared and not as devastating as Hurricane Katrina three years ago, but it did wipe out power to more than a million homes and forced more than two million people to evacuate the region. Volunteers helped the families who took refuge in shelters.

Unidentified Woman: My son and my daughter-in-law and my grandbaby had a safe housing to keep out of the rain and tornadoes and things.

Unidentified Man: We thought a hur – twister – a tornado was going to come and hit us, so we had to come inside. And it was really nice to have a place to go to besides the car.

ABERNETHY: Catholic Charities, World Vision, and the Southern Baptist Convention were among the groups that sent workers and supplies. The SBC said its volunteers and the Red Cross have provided 600,000 meals a day.

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BOB ABERNETHY: The United Nations is appealing for immediate aid to stave off famine in North Korea. An assessment team said more than $500 million is needed over the next 15 months, $60 million of it immediately. The aid would provide high-protein biscuits and other food supplies to help those left vulnerable because of poor harvests, the rise in global food prices, and the government’s mismanagement.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In Central Africa, a plane carrying humanitarian workers went down, killing all 17 aboard. The passengers were working in Congo for the UN, Doctors Without Borders, and other aid groups. They were French, Canadian, Indian, and Congolese. Officials have yet to determine the cause of the crash.

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BOB ABERNETHY: In Eastern India, Hindu extremists continued to attack the minority Christian community. The clashes that broke out in the state of Orissa late last month have left at least 16 dead, thousands displaced, and dozens of churches destroyed. The World Council of Churches and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for more protections for Christians. Within India, many Christians protested what they said was a lax government response. One Catholic leader said if the violence is beginning to abate, it’s because, quote, “there are no more targets to attack.”

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BOB ABERNETHY: Meanwhile, in another part of India, the Dalai Lama left a hospital in Mumbai. The 73-year-old spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism spent last weekend being treated for abdominal pain and exhaustion. Aides said he has recovered and is in good health.

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BOB ABERNETHY: This past week, Muslims around the world began observing the holy month of Ramadan. In this country, the holiday coincided with the annual Islamic Society of North America Convention, the largest gathering of Muslims in the U.S. Leaders emphasized the community’s growing political power. The two Muslim members of Congress, Representatives Keith Ellison of Minnesota and Andre Carson of Indiana, said Muslims have a responsibility both to vote and to run for office.

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BOB ABERNETHY: It’s a common complaint of moderate Muslims around the world that the minority of radical Islamic fundamentalists gets too much attention. But that may be changing. We re-run a story today we told a few months ago about moderate Muslims in the Middle East challenging the fundamentalists, especially on television. Young, moderate Muslim televangelists are preaching a combination of piety and modern life, and they have become very popular. Our reporter was Kate Seelye in 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.

HALIL 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 bly 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: Finally, as many religious denominations lose members, a new study finds a big increase in the number of the Amish, the strict sect of so-called plain people who avoid most modern conveniences. The Amish population in the U.S. doubled in the last 16 years to a quarter of a million, according to researchers at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. They’ve also spread out, with communities now in 28 states. Very few people convert to the Amish faith, but very few leave, too. Most important, the average Amish family includes five or six children.

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BOB ABERNETHY: That’s our program for now. I’m Bob Abernethy. There’s much more on our Web site. Audio and video podcasts of our program are also available. Join us at pbs.org.

As we leave you, music from Christian singer Rachael Lampa at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.


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