Return to Transcripts main page
CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Last U.S. Combat Convoy Leaving Iraq; Will NY Governor Make a Deal to Move Islamic Center?; Russell Simmons Opens Up about Ground Zero Mosque
Aired August 18, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST (voice-over): Tonight. New York Governor David Paterson opens up for the first time about the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero.
Will it be built there? Can he solve this crisis? Could it be a dealmaker?
President Obama said he's not sorry he spoke out about the controversy.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No regrets.
KING: Who's right, who's wrong? We've got the latest on the governor's efforts to talk to Muslim leaders.
Next on LARRY KING LIVE.
KING: First, we have breaking news. A milestone in the war in Iraq. The last U.S. combat convoy is leaving the country.
Let's go right to CNN's Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon. In a couple of moments, we'll talk with Governor Paterson.
Help me, Chris. I thought the last date is August 31st. And aren't there still 6,000 troops there of combat level?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Larry, you're exactly right. We should put this in some perspective. The last combat convoy is now pushing its way out of Iraq into Kuwait. But this is the 4th Stryker Brigade.
There's still a couple hundred members of this brigade -- combat members of this brigade who stayed behind in Iraq to finish up some logistical duties. They're not going to fly out of Iraq until later Thursday.
There's also another 56,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq. Now 50,000 of them will stay beyond next month. They'll stay to the end of 2011. But you've still got the matter of those 6,000 troops that are still there.
Now they're not designated necessarily combat troops. But a Pentagon spokesman said, look, they can still perform a combat function. And our combat mission doesn't end until the end of the month.
He says, in fact, a couple of them were originally combat brigades but they got transitioned to this new role of advise and assist which is going to become the main U.S. mission once the handover takes place at the end of August.
KING: Thanks for clearing that up. Chris Lawrence. He's been on the scene all day. He'll be with you probably all night.
Chris Lawrence, CNN Pentagon correspondent, putting some clarity on this moment in history.
Let's go to the governor of New York, David Paterson. All right. Let's get right to it. What's your position on this proposed Islamic community center and mosque? It's going to be two blocks, if built, from Ground Zero. What do you think?
GOV. DAVID PATERSON (D), NEW YORK: Well, Larry, I think that there is no local, state or federal statute or any clause of the Constitution that would prohibit the mosque from being there. And so therefore anybody that thinks otherwise clearly is not realizing what has really been the bedrock core of the principles of our liberty.
But I think the issue --
KING: How about --
KING: I'm sorry, go ahead.
PATERSON: Well, no, Larry, I'm waiting for you.
KING: All right. What about the emotional aspects? Legally, of course, you may be completely correct. People have a right to build. How about the emotional aspects, over 3,000 killed?
PATERSON: Well, that, Larry, is exactly the point. You know, the precept of Greek tragedies is that the right are clashing with the right. And I think that's what's happening here.
I've just defined the reasons why the mosque and the developers have every right. It's their property to build on. But let's look at what's going on at Ground Zero. First, they were the epicenter of the first attack on this country, on our own soil.
We were, in addition to that, subjected to traffic delays for security. Service interruptions. For years. And then people were living in peace and working in safety as they were promised were not.
And you've got a 9/11 bill that we're still trying to get through Congress to help the sick and the families of those who were lost. Then you have a trial of some of the perpetrators scheduled to be put right in the area.
That issue has never been resolved. So I think that the stationing of this mosque and that area really has just been further anxiety and creating great fear for the people who live there. And I hear that fear. And so --
KING: All right.
PATERSON: -- what I'd like to do is talk it over, if possible, with those who are developing and looking to build the mosque.
KING: You have not talked to them yet?
PATERSON: We've talked on the staff level. We had a meeting scheduled for Monday. We postponed it because the imam was still traveling in the Middle East. And we're hoping to get together but only if they want to get together.
There's no attempt at pressure or coercion here. I just like to talk about what might be a magic moment in our history. We don't want those who -- terrorists who attacked our country to have any more time than they deserve fostering division among us.
And it's my firm --
KING: When you --
PATERSON: It's my firm belief that if we talk about perhaps maybe some way of working this out, which would be suitable to both parties, it would be a great day for this country.
KING: Simply put, Governor, if they asked you your input, would you ask them to seek another location?
PATERSON: I'm -- it's certainly a suggestion worth considering. We wouldn't violate any laws. All these transactions have to be at arm's length. But I think that that might be a way that would suit the needs of a community that was actually there in some form before what happened on September 11th.
And at the same time recognize that I think the people who have lived in that area have been through too much. The scars of that day have not healed. And we owe all of them, more than anything else, our greatest respect and admiration for staying there and trying to rebuild that needed section of Lower Manhattan.
KING: All right. As governor of New York, you can't stop it legally. You can certainly put the pressure of your office on them or suggest it. Do you think the president should --
PATERSON: I would never do that, Larry. I'm not putting the pressure on anyone. I just want to have a dialogue, to think about what a magic moment -- you know, sometimes -- you know, back in 1984 in Auschwitz, there was obviously the -- the convent that was moved in 1993 after there was heightened tension and intervention by the Vatican.
And what he said at that time was that this would help to keep the peace. So the sacrifice often ignites compassion. So if one of the two sides of this issue would stop engaging in who's right, who's wrong, who's winning, and who's losing, what's good and what's bad, and think about how to bring us together, that sacrifice might bring us all together in a way more so than we had been before this.
KING: Should the president get more involved?
PATERSON: Well, I think that the president spoke very eloquently on the issue and so have many others. Not to leave out the mayor of the city of New York. But I think there's another half of this problem which is that so many people who normally would understand this issue are very upset by the fact that this is happening.
And what that tells me is that the wounds of 9/11 haven't healed. And I think if they haven't, perhaps we can find ways to bring about that healing by perhaps creating a situation where people will feel more comfortable.
And if anything else, what I think was wrong after September 11th is that we did not appeal to the religious leaders of the world, all of them, to condemn this act of wanton violence.
And so perhaps --
KING: So you think --
PATERSON: -- spiritually we can get through this period by dialoguing with each other in a way we never have before.
KING: So you think there is a solution acceptable to all sides?
PATERSON: I think if we work hard enough that we can find one. And if people would stop talking about what's impossible and talk about what is -- that what could actually happen, if people put their heads together, maybe we could find a site that's away from the site now but still serves the catchment area, that would be a noble gesture to those who live in the area who suffered after the attack on this country, and at the same time would probably in many ways change a lot of people's minds about Islam which is really a peaceful religion practiced by peace loving people.
KING: Always good having you with us. Thank you, Governor.
PATERSON: Thank you, Larry.
KING: Governor David Paterson, the governor of New York.
Russell Simmons supports construction of the Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero. And he'll tell us why next.
And later, we'll have a live report from Iraq. The last U.S. combat convoy is leaving the country so some troops, the convoy is leaving. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Russell Simmons is the founder of GlobalGrind.com. The hip-hop pioneer is chairman of Rush Communications. And we welcome him back to our show.
All right, Russell, what did you think of the governor's idea of sitting down, trying to reason together, and maybe, maybe a different location?
RUSSELL SIMMONS, HIP-HOP PIONEER: Well, I'm here in the capacity of the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. And we've worked with the Imam Rauf on promoting -- religious tolerance. And we have a twinning program where imams and rabbis work together.
Their congregations twinned (ph) hundreds of programs around the world and he's been a great supporter of that initiative.
And the thing that's troublesome to me, Larry, is that this mosque is a replacement for one that's been there since before there was a World Trade Center. For 40 years Imam has preached in that neighborhood. That's his neighborhood.
They've gone -- they've been working on this project for four years. And recently, it's been politicized. Now the idea of moving it might have been OK until it was politicized. But now since -- you know, the Imam is there, and we are talking about it, we should make every effort not to move it.
I think it's critical that we recognize that we built this country on religious tolerance and on religious freedom. And so if we want to penalize the two billion Muslims because of the actions of a few, then we have to examine the way we look at each other and all religions. So I think it would be a terrible idea to move the mosque.
KING: But how about, Russell, his statement about the sensitivity of people in the area, that yes, legally they have a right but --
SIMMONS: Yes, I --
KING: Two thousand souls were killed. And there's a lot of --
SIMMONS: Yes, many of them were Muslims.
KING: Isn't there a reasonable solution?
SIMMONS: Muslim-Americans and other Americans are fighting to free Muslims. But we're saying that we can't have Muslims have a religious center or a community center in the community where two -- there are two churches. There's the holocaust museum or the Museum of Tolerance, and we can't have a mosque there.
That says something very bad about the state of America today. Even if there's a discussion, for me, is hurtful. But the two billion Muslims who are watching us now are being hurt. When you talk about the Muslims who are tolerant, which are most every Muslim in this world, and the ones who -- I guess they like to say that they're -- they accept everyone and they're tolerant and they're reasonable, how do they feel when we tell them that they can't build a mosque somewhere in the United States?
And the sensitivity, the fact is al Qaeda attacked us, not the Muslim religion. And if Islam didn't attack us, we can't hold them all accountable. And if someone had -- if someone believes that they hold ill will towards the whole Muslim faith because of it, then they're wrong.
It's like telling someone it's cold outside but we're going to -- you don't need a coat. The fact is that al Qaeda attacked us and not the Muslim community, and we should be -- the plans are to have a vigil for -- at Ground Zero every year in honor of the people who lost.
It's a center that is open to everyone. And I think we should respect their plans. In fact we should support their plans. And that's been my opinion as the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, and Rabbi Marc Schneier who's also the chairman of the World Jewish Congress.
The whole -- the whole group of us who promote religious tolerance, who know how important it is. Because if we don't promote religious tolerance, then we could create -- we already have created, after 9/11, a very negative reaction when in fact we had our chance to promote world peace.
After 9/11, with all the compassion that was given to us, we threw a lot of it away and I think now is an opportunity for us to turn it around and promote a relationship with the Islamic world that makes good sense, not one that's based in fear and ignorance.
KING: All right, Russell, let me get a break. When we come back, we're going to play a little clip by Newt Gingrich who may be a presidential candidate, a critic of this whole concept. Right after this. Don't go away.
KING: Russell Simmons is with us. This controversy has drawn lots of political commentary. One of the Islamic center and mosque's most outspoken critics is Newt Gingrich. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. HOUSE SPEAKER: They're building a genuine interfaith center. A building that had a church, a synagogue and a mosque. With an interfaith board.
That would at least be interesting. But to suggest that a few blocks from the site in which Islamist extremists killed nearly 3,000 Americans, that we should tolerate an act of triumphalism?
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: How do you respond to that, Russell?
SIMMONS: Well, I'm sorry he feels that way. It's sad in this day and time that Americans who built this country on interfaith respect and dialogue would think that -- he could think that -- and I'm sorry, not only that he thinks that, that he has support.
It's very -- it's saddening that we have this kind of belief system. There was a moment when I moved in to Queens, a part of Queens, and there was some sensitivity neighbors there. Was I supposed to move because I was an African-American and they were sensitive?
The fact is we were attacked by al Qaeda -- al Qaeda, and not by Islam, and the fact is, there are hundreds of millions of law-abiding, respectful Muslims, and American Muslims are respectful and they built this country, and they're an important part of this country, and if we can't respect them, then we don't deserve the respect that we can't give them.
We don't -- in other words what we give to others is what we get for ourselves. And there's -- it's a terrible state that we're in. And we can have this kind of discussion. That we're even talking about this.
Again, it was not politicized for years. They've been working on this for a long time. And the fact that they're making -- that there is such opposition, and there's so many people who have lost people in the World Trade, who are supportive of this, and they're not being promoted.
There's a lot of dialogue about some people are sensitive and who -- but, again, like I said, if you are -- if you're blaming Muslims, then you need to change your mind. If you're blaming Muslims for the attack on 9/11, then you need to change your mind.
We didn't -- do we blame Christians at the first World Trade attack? We didn't. And I think it's insane and it's wrong-headed. It creates a negative -- cycle of negativity.
KING: Russell, do you think the president should be more forceful?
SIMMONS: I think the president was eloquent. He made the right statement. It wasn't for him to comment on the wisdom of building it there. That's fine. But the truth is, for me, as the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and -- of course, I know that the best thing a Jew can do today to fight anti-Semitism is to find Islamaphobia.
And I know that the best thing -- this Muslim, the imam who is a preacher, he fights anti-Semitism. And I think that the work he's doing to promote religious tolerance and inter-faith dialogue is needed. And the fact that he wants to be there as an example of the moderate Muslims in the rest of the world, to make a good statement, I think that that's a great statement and I think that we should support it.
And if we don't, it says something very bad about this country.
KING: One other thing I want to -- Dr. Laura was with us last night. You know the music world very well. No one knows it better. What do you make of the argument that the "N" word that she used which dealt with a great deal of outrage is used by African-American rappers and comedians all the time?
SIMMONS: Well, I don't want to comment on that. Today we're talking about a very sensitive issue. And it's sad. It's a sad state we're in today. And I'm very, very sorry that I have -- am having this dialogue.
I wouldn't believe it possible. The research that we get year after year said we're becoming a more tolerant, a more loving community. And I think that -- I haven't seen research in the last six months, in the last year.
I'm worried that we're going the wrong way. And that for me -- that's the work that I do as the chairman of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. And I think that -- I'm going to keep doing it despite the fact that we're in such a sad state but we are, and we have to look at ourselves and make some different choices.
KING: OK. Very eloquent. Russell Simmons, the founder of GlobalGrind.com, the hip-hop pioneer is chairman of Rush Communications.
Thanks, Russell, always good seeing you.
SIMMONS: Thank you, my pleasure.
KING: Two congressmen, one for the Islamic center's construction near Ground Zero and one against, are next.
KING: In a moment, we'll be joined by Representative Peter King of the state of New York and Representative Keith Ellison, the Democrat of Minnesota, to discuss the Islamic situation.
Let's get more on that breaking news. The last U.S. combat convoy is leaving Iraq. Here's CNN's Arwa Damon in Mosul.
Are they pretty -- is the convoy all gone now?
ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Larry, they pretty much are. They have safely left Iraq. They were very anxious about that journey, just because so many of these troops are hoping it will be their final one. But they have crossed the border into Kuwait.
Now this draw-down has been going on for months now. Remember, the U.S. military's trying to reach that White House thereby having its troop level at 50,000 by the end of the month. And at that stage, Larry, the America's official combat mission in Iraq, "Operation Iraqi Freedom" that began over seven years ago is going to come to an end.
On September 1st at midnight we're going to enter into this "Operation New Dawn." It's going to see the U.S. military in an advise-and-assist role there. Footprint. Their ability to impact security on the ground here is going to be drastically reduced.
But we've been talking to soldiers throughout this entire draw- down process. Many of them have been reflecting on their years in Iraq. Many of them, Larry, have been here on multiple deployments. Up to four, even five years in Iraq. More time here than they've spent at home.
They've seen their friends die next to them. Some have actually had to carry them off of the battlefield. It's been an incredibly intense experience.
DAMON: And also remember that at the onset of this many of the soldiers were saying that they thought it was only going to last for a few months and here we are right now, Larry.
KING: Thanks, Arwa. Arwa Damon, our CNN correspondent, who of course staying atop this historic story which will really be complete August 31st.
We're joined now by Representative Peter King, Republican congressman from New York. He's opposed to the Islamic center and mosque at Ground Zero. And Keith Ellison, Democrat, from Minnesota. He's the first Muslim elected to Congress and he supports the Islamic center and mosque.
Congressman King, if -- if it's not a legal question, why can't they build it?
REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: First of all, Larry, let me make clear that the Muslim community has the absolute right to build a mosque. But I think it's the wrong location. It's the wrong time. And it's insensitive.
The fact is that there's so many people were murdered that day on September 11th. And to have this 13-story, $100 million edifice constructed, barely 500 feet from Ground Zero is causing tremendous pain certainly to many of my constituents who lost their friends and neighbors that day.
And to me, the fact is whether or not -- obviously, 99 percent of Muslim-Americans are outstanding Americans. The fact is that this attack was carried out by an Islamic force. And to have that mosque that close to Ground Zero I think is just -- it puts salt into wounds.
I think Governor Paterson is entirely right. I've had discussions with Governor Paterson. If he can make another site available through state property or a land swap which would satisfy all these -- the Muslim community; at the same time, satisfy the legitimate needs of family members who feel very offended by this or very struck by it. I think that is the route to go. I think that Muslim officials, including the developer, should find a way to sit down with the governor.
KING: Congressman Ellison, it's legally OK, but how about Congressman King's point that there's a sensitive question here?
ELLISON: Well, of course it's sensitive. But the fact is constitutional rights must always take precedence over people's sensitivities. There are, in fact, a number of people who were first responders and who lost loved ones in 9/11 who support President Obama's position and that of Mayor Bloomberg and that of Representative Nadler and that of Representative Wiener, who all believe that there's no problem with the developer and the organizers going forward with the mosque project -- with the Islamic center project.
So the fact is, you know, we cannot simply yield to sensitivities when constitutional rights are involved. And, plus, I think -- I'm concerned about the international picture and the message that it sends. You know, the fact is that our constitutional rights are our best protection, because we send the signal that America's about -- is about tolerance and about religious inclusion.
If we send an opposite message, basically, we allow the Anwar al- Awlakis and the Osama bin Ladens to say, see, America's at war with Islam. And that's a message that I'm absolutely against ever being sent out. I want America to stand firm on the idea of liberty and religious tolerance, as we always have.
KING: Congressman King, isn't that a good point?
P. KING: Larry, the fact is that rights have responsibilities. Just because you have the right to do something doesn't mean you have to do it. There's also responsibility to take into account the consequences. Now, the imam and the developers have said they want to build bridges. They want to break down barriers. They want to bring about reconciliation. But obviously the backlash of the -- the results that are happening are people who feel deeply offended and hurt by this.
So if they really are interested in reconciliation, to me it would show tremendous statesmanship, tremendous class, by moving the site. I think -- Archbishop Dolan today made the analogy today to Auschwitz, how Pope John Paul II asked the nuns to move the convent away from Auschwitz, even though the nuns had nothing to do obviously with the Holocaust. But the fact is he realized this was considered to be sensitive by the Jewish community. And even though they had every right to be there, he asked them to move.
I think Archbishop Dolan was making the analogy to New York; while the Muslim community has the right to be there, it's causing such pain and such suffering among good people. I think it's wrong -- and not Keith, by the way. Keith and I get along great. So I'm not saying he does it. But other people in New York who say that those who oppose this are biased, are bigoted -- these are some of the most wonderful people I know. They went through incredibly suffering on September 11th. This is now reopening that wound. I'm asking the imam and the developer to take this into account.
KING: Congressman Ellison, is there, in your mind, a compromise acceptable?
ELLISON: In my opinion, the fact is that the developer and the organizers have the right to build there, and we have to stand up for the Constitution. Larry, I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. So I'm going to do my job and my duty, as I swore to uphold it.
But this great country afforded me the opportunity to swear that oath on Thomas Jefferson's Koran, because we are a country of religious liberty and we respect the religious diversity of this great country. Um, I think that Governor Paterson is making a mistake. I think that he ought to stand up for the Constitution. And I think that if we -- if before this whole thing blew up, if he wanted to work out a compromise, maybe if it was in everybody's interest, it would make sense.
But once you have people protesting and trying to stop Americans from exercising their Constitutional rights, I think that you can't possibly back down at this point. Because the message is that churches are allowed within two blocks of 9/11. Other religious institutions are allowed there. Hey, even off-track betting establishment is allowed there. But not a mosque.
And that means that we have second class citizenship for people who would go to a mosque. Well, that's Muslims.
KING: We'll be calling --
ELLISON: -- to go that way again.
KING: We'll be calling on both of you again. We have a major debate coming up on this same issue. We thank Congressman Peter King and Congressman Keith Ellison, who, by the way, are very good friends. We'll be right back.
KING: Now to debate and discuss this issue, Peter Beinart is senior political writer for the "Daily Beast." Marc Lamont Hill is professor, Columbia University, and host of "Our World" with Black Enterprise. David Webb is co-founder of the Tea Party 365 Org, and he's a Sirius XM radio host. Susan Molinari, former Republican congresswoman from New York.
We'll start with you, Susan. We've heard both sides. We've heard the governor saying he's going to try to sort of moderate this. Why are you opposed?
SUSAN MOLINARI, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN: I stand firmly with what the governor said today. I think that so much is lost in this conversation with the president of the United States standing up and saying, we stand for freedom of religion and we stand by the Constitution, which we all do, including those families that lost loved ones on 9/11. What the families of 9/11 are asking for, though, are some information, are some concerns to their sensitivities to what's being built in that general area at all, and a larger discussion, because they're concerned, because questions aren't being answered, and because --
You know, Congressman Peter King pointed out we can have a conversation about the Constitution and honoring freedom of religion, while also honoring the sensitivities of those people who lost their sons, daughters, you know, mothers in 9/11. I don't think that they should be exclusive.
KING: Peter, are we demonizing Muslims there, do you think?
PETER BEINART, "DAILY BEAST": I think so. I think one has to see this in the larger context. There is now, as "the New York Times" reported, a whole wave of campaigns against the building of mosques all over America, very, very far from 9/11. I don't think we can be naive about what's going on here. Of course we all want to be respectful to people who had tragedies occur to them.
But sensitivity is not an excuse for bigotry. If an evangelical church that is opposed to gay rights wants to build in the heart of the gay community of San Francisco, I say let them do that, even though there may be some gay people in San Francisco who are offended by that. The whole point of the First Amendment is that we allow free speech and freedom of religion, even for points of view that might be offensive. That's why we allowed the Nazis to march in Skoki, a neighborhood filled with former Holocaust survivors. We were right to do it.
KING: David, before we ask you to comment, there's no shortage of politicians speaking out. Here is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And then we'll have you comment. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: There is no question that there is a concerted effort to make this a political issue by some. And I join the -- those who have called for looking into how is this opposition to the mosque being funded?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: David, what do you make of that? Is this a -- is this a Tea Party issue?
DAVID WEBB, SIRIUS XM RADIO HOST: No, actually, and it's neither a legal issue. Look, America doesn't have to prove her religious tolerance. It exists. We have it. The simple fact than Peter would refer to anyone who has a different point of view as a bigot is also another specious argument.
The imam, Imam Rauf, talks about having tolerance and building bridges. But yet the very first act is to do something that is intolerant of other's feelings, and about the promotion of sharia. This is a man who has not denounced Hamas as a terrorist organization, in his own writings, in his own book, supports jihad, violent jihad, and is a purveyor of sharia law. So there are a lot of issues in here, but they are not constitutional. They are not legal. And, Peter, people who have different points of view aren't all bigots.
KING: Marc Hill, what's your comment on all this?
MARC LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, first of all, in response to David, I'd have to strongly disagree. Since 9/11, America has not demonstrated religious tolerance towards Muslims. We see all sorts of human rights violations in public places, like airplanes and airports and schools and prisons, where Muslims are not being given the same rights and privileges as other Americans. So that's absolutely not true.
The other thing here -- because I agree, the constitutional issue is somewhat of a red herring. We can all agree that they have a right to do it. But the idea that it's somehow insensitive or intolerant of people's feelings to build a mosque is only true if we buy into the perverted logic of Islamaphobia, which suggests that Muslims caused the towers to fall down, or that Islam did it, as opposed to a few radical fanatics in Islamism, as opposed to Islam.
That's the issue here. We have conflated those things, and somehow made a war on terrorism a war on Muslims. That's the problem. And America has to deal with that.
KING: Susan, was the president having it both ways when he said on one day that they have a constitutional right based on religious freedom and the next day said he was talking about the right and not the wisdom?
MOLINARI: Look, the president of the United States -- to hear Speaker Pelosi, who is a friend of mine, talk about people who want to make this a political issue -- clearly the president of the United States helped to make this a much larger political national issue than it was a week ago. The president was trying to have it both ways. Quite frankly, even today, to be so -- with all due respect to the president, off-handed, when we have had, you know, so many days of people talking about the concerns of the survivors, of the victims of 9/11, and the question is do you have any regrets. And all he can say is no regrets. Not no regrets other than the fact that I'm sorry that the people who were hurt by 9/11 by losing their loved ones didn't understand that, you know, I have a stronger obligation to the Constitution.
There was absolutely no attempt to try and feel the pain or the concern or the sincerity of the people who are against the mosque. And as president of the United States, I think he's got a responsibility to both sides of this argument.
KING: Peter -- did you understand, Peter, the governor's statements tonight?
BEINART: They don't really make a lot of sense to me. I mean, the truth of the matter is that once you tell people you can't build a mosque here but you can build a mosque here, you're creating a kind of second class citizenship. I would ask what about the Muslims who were in those towers who died on 9/11? What about the Muslims who were first responders on 9/11? Don't they deserve, also, their sensitivities to be concerned, to be involved?
The reality is that people who went through this terrible trauma of having loved ones die on 9/11 have pretty much the same set of political views they did before 9/11. We as a country, it seems to me, should have, as a principle the idea that we have exactly the same rules for building a form -- a religious institution for one religious and of another, that we make no distinction. That should be central to the way we operate. I don't want to keep Baptists or whatever Timothy McVeigh's religious was from building a church near Oklahoma City,. where he blew up a bomb. It doesn't seem to me we should punish innocent people for what radicals in their religion do.
KING: All right. We'll have more with the panel right after these words. Don't go away.
KING: David Webb, aren't we a country that's based on, as Peter pointed out, that Nazis can march in Skoki, an anti-gay church can be built in San Francisco? That's what we are as Americans.
WEBB: We absolutely are, Larry. And, again, there are many examples out there that you can cite. But, again, we're not talking about the issue of what we're allowed to do or not allowed to do. That is legal. We don't have to prove our religious tolerance. We have that. It's constitutional.
No one, by the way, to Peter's point, has said you can't build this mosque. What the community and what the survivors and what many Muslims around the world, including the director general of al Arabiya Television and its former editor spoke in his column -- or wrote in his column is that there are many Muslims who feel this is also not a good idea. This is a geographic issue. There isn't a Muslim community near there. The closest Muslim community, there's a travel path of six mosques just to get there.
And, by the way, if Imam Rauf were to do something very simple, I think it would go a long way. If he were to stand up and denounce Hamas, no longer support jihad, or no longer be a purveyor of sharia law, which in its most violent form resulted in the stoning deaths of a man and woman two days ago in Afghanistan -- if he were to denounce those things and say I'm a moderate Muslim, I think that would go a long way.
But he hasn't done that. Matter of fact, he supports sharia and he supports Hamas.
KING: Marc, is there a solution? Behind the obvious that it's constitutional?
HILL: Right. There is. What we need is a deeper, more complex and I think humanistic approach to understanding world religions here. As long as we continue to see Islam as the purveyor of terrorism and violence, then we're going to continue to have these problems. We need to get to a more deep and substantive understanding of what religion of Islam is about. Then we wouldn't have these problems.
We don't blame Christianity when a Christian does something out of order. When you look at, for example, Timothy McVeigh, when you look at the Branch Davidians in Waco, which were Christian fanatical groups, we never had this type of outrage There's never been a more organized and efficient and dangerous terrorist organized than the Ku Klux Klan, which has its routes in Christianity. Yet no one would be outraged if we built a Klan -- excuse me, if we built a church where the Ku Klux Klan once operated.
We have to have the same temperament and the same sensibility towards Islam, not because it's politically wise, but because it's the right thing to do, because it treats Muslims as full human beings.
KING: Susan, isn't that a good argument?
MOLINARI: Yes, of course we want to respect everyone's religion and everyone's rights. When it is 500 feet from the greatest tragedy that any of us have ever lived through on American soil, I do think that as Americans, we can also have a conversation. As people who can honor the religious freedoms of Muslims in this country, who can honor the United States Constitution and can also honor the wishes of the people who lost their loved ones on 9/11. I just don't see why this has to be so different.
And the fact that we have to view it as such, that it's either us against them, is making this a more difficult conversation, that we can't follow what Governor Paterson said and said can't we sit down and move it a few blocks, so that the footprint of 9/11 isn't impacted by this, but, in fact, Muslims get to worship wherever they want to in lower Manhattan? I don't understand why it has to be such a big issue.
And I don't understand why people like the imam wouldn't want to say, if this is so much a concern to you, let me move it. You come when we open this four more blocks down and let's hold hands and let's show the world that we can negotiate our differences, our concerns and our fears.
HILL: Because the problem is that people are offering something that's not just hypothetical, but also counter-factual. The fact is that Muslims didn't -- it's not as if Muslims were terrorists and Christians died on 9/11. Muslims and Christians died on the 9/11 tragedy.
MOLINARI: Of course. Of course.
HILL: Exactly. Again, it wasn't Islam that caused the towers to fall. It was a few fanatics who happen to be Muslim. There's a very big difference. So the very idea that somehow we should be offended at Islam --
MOLINARI: The very idea that in this United States we should be afraid to have this conversation between the two parties is something that concerns me and should concern you, too.
KING: We're having the conversation. Let me get a break. We'll have more coming up. Don't go away. We'll be right back.
KING: David Webb, the question has come up as to how the movement against the building has been financed. Do you know?
WEBB: Well, that is a very good question. Look, this has been -- the people that are against this are Americans. They're not financed. They're not funded in any way. It's Americans, New Yorkers who have spoken, 63-28 in the last poll against this. What's really wrong about this argument, about this debate, in some degree is it's this us versus them idea. Marc references that Muslims were killed. Muslims are also against the mosque. This is about --
WEBB: -- appropriateness.
KING: Peter, how would you respond to that?
BEINART: I think the main -- look, I think we could probably take a pretty good guess that the vast, vast majority of Muslims, in fact, are for this and probably actually pretty frightened about a situation where you now have, in communities across America, people opposing the building of mosques in places that have nothing to do with Ground Zero.
I think the basic point is that we don't effectively correctly honor the sensitivities of people who have been victimized by repeating the victimization against others. There are lots of people who have suffered traumas; Jews who have been victimized by non-Jews; African-Americans who have been victimized by white people, who then come to hate all members of those groups, even if they had nothing to do with it.
It seems to me we do not actually help those people in coming to some kind of overcoming of their trauma by, in fact, encouraging them to perpetuate the cycle of hatred.
WEBB: You're not being factual on this.
BEINART: Tell me how, sir, please.
WEBB: This is not about fostering hate against Muslims.
BEINART: I'm afraid I think it is.
WEBB: You're completely wrong about that. There are plenty of Muslims who said they don't agree with this.
HILL: Were they at your Tea Party rallies, David?
KING: Isn't there a danger in this that you're a Muslim watching this, you live in Des Moines, and wouldn't you be offended?
MOLINARI: I would hope that Muslims throughout the country or throughout the world who are watching LARRY KING LIVE right now understand that, for goodness sakes, America has been in wars, you know, helping to protect and save and stabilize areas for Muslims throughout the world. And so, clearly, I don't think that's an issue. I think, you know, mosques have been built throughout the United States and in New York. I don't think there's anybody who is saying don't build 100 more in New York City. Don't build ten more in lower Manhattan.
It is just this one area, this one place that is in the footprint that suffered damage from Mohammad Atta's plane, that is a little more sensitive than the rest of the buildings. Why has that building taken on such an importance to the imam and the people who want to foster understanding in this world and in this community?
KING: Marc, surely you understand that, right? You understand the sensitivity?
HILL: I understand the sensitivity. My heart goes out to everyone who lost someone in 9/11, the Christians and the Muslims. If Islam were responsible for this, I would totally understand. But the reality here is that this is about al Qaeda. This is not about Islam. Islam did not cause this. Why are we going to single them out and say that you cannot have a mosque there? If a church were being built there, there would be no public conversation. If a synagogue were there, there would be no public conversation.
Somehow, we've decided since 9/11 that we're going to prosecute a war on terror that has really become a proxy for a war on Islam. To say that we would allow hundreds of mosques all around the country is simply untrue. There have been attempts to block the building of mosques all around this nation, not just in New York.
KING: Thank you all very much. This is a discussion that deserves a lot of attention and we intend to give it a lot of attention in the nights and weeks ahead. We thank Peter Beinart, Marc Lamont Hill, David Webb and Susan Molinari. Thank the governor for being with us earlier, as well as the two congressmen.
Right now, it's time for John Roberts, sitting in for Anderson Cooper, and "AC 360." John?