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Paula Zahn Now

President Bush to Meet With Iraqi Prime Minister; Search Continues For Missing U.S. Pilot in Iraq; Pope Benedict XVI Visits Turkey; Muslim Clerics Forced Off U.S. Airliner Speak Out

Aired November 28, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And you all for joining us tonight.
There is important news coming into us here all the time. Tonight, we are choosing these top stories for a more in-depth look.

The "Top Story" in the Iraq war: finishing the job. On the eve of a critical summit with Iraq's leader, President Bush says U.S. troops won't leave the battlefield until their mission is complete. But can they get the job done in time?

Then on to the "Top Story" in religion: "When Faiths Collide." In Turkey, Pope Benedict preaches mutual tolerance and respect. Tonight, for the first time, we bring together four Muslim cleric who found neither when they were thrown off a U.S. jet over fears they were terrorists.

Plus: keeping the faith in Sin City -- a surprising look at how Muslims manage to live and work under the glitz, greed and sex in Las Vegas.

Tonight, we are devoting much of this hour to the clash of values "When Faiths Collide."

But, before we get to Pope Benedict's visit to the Turkey and the very uneasy relationship between America's Christians and Muslims, we begin with our "Top Story" tonight, Iraq.

And the shadow of that war is following the president on an historic overseas trip. Today, he became the only sitting American president to visit Estonia. Then, Iraq quickly took center stage in his controversial speech to NATO leaders meeting in Latvia.

White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the deteriorating conditions on the ground in Iraq, President Bush refused to call the growing chaos and carnage between warring factions there civil war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's all kinds of speculation about what may be or not happening. What is -- what you're seeing on TV has started last February. It was an attempt by people to foment sectarian violence. And, no -- no -- no question, it's dangerous there, and violent.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush called the bombings in Iraq part of a nine- month pattern of violence fomented by al Qaeda. At his press conference in Estonia, Mr. Bush also continued to rule out direct talks with Iran about the situation in Iraq, until it abandons its nuclear ambitions.

BUSH: If they would like to be at the table discussing this issue with the United States, I have made it abundantly clear how that can do so, and that is verifiably suspend the enrichment program.

MALVEAUX: But Iraq has already reached out to its neighbor. Monday, its president visited Iran's leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

BUSH: I hope their talks yield results.

MALVEAUX: It's unclear what kind of results upcoming talks will yield between Mr. Bush and Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, hosted by Jordan's King Abdullah.

The three leaders will meet Wednesday evening. The following day, the president and the Iraqi prime minister will hold one-on-one talks to confront the Iraqi security crisis.

BUSH: My questions to him will be: What do we need to do to succeed? What is your strategy in dealing with the sectarian violence?

MALVEAUX: Pressure is growing on President Bush to come up with a working strategy of his own. At the opening of the NATO summit in Latvia, Mr. Bush drew his line in the sand.

BUSH: There's one thing I'm not going to do. I'm not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete.

MALVEAUX: Mr. Bush argued, that mission goes beyond Iraq; it is global, that the war on terrorism is an epic struggle involving numerous nations and spanning decades. He used that claim to implore European allies to increase their support for another battlefront, the war in Afghanistan.

(on camera): The success of both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will largely determine Mr. Bush's legacy. Right now, both are in trouble -- Paula.


ZAHN: White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, thanks.

The president's trip is just one part of an intense effort to revive diplomacy and ask other countries for help in stopping the increasing bloodshed sweeping Iraq. There is a lot at stake.

And the State Department correspondent, Zain Verjee, joins me now for more on this incredible challenge. Zain, we know the aggressive effort the administration is making throughout the Arab world. Give us a sense of exactly who is traveling where and what they hope to accomplish.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be going to the West Bank to meet with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Thursday.

She is really going to be going there to offer support to him, as he tries to battle and grapple and deal with the Islamic militants, and also tries to restart talks with Israel. She's then going to be heading to Jordan to meet with Arab leaders there.

Also, Vice President Dick Cheney was in Saudi Arabia to meet with Jordan's -- excuse me -- Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, to talk about Iraq, obviously, on top of the agenda.

But the goal really here, Paula, is twofold. The first is to enlist the moderate Arab leaders to get on board and help with the situation in Iraq. And, also, for the U.S., it's really to counter the growing influence of Iran and Syria.

ZAHN: And let's talk a little bit more about the challenges of what is going on in Iraq. You had King Abdullah saying that he feared there could be as many as three civil wars in the region next year. What can the -- this administration do to tamp down those concerns?

VERJEE: It's a really difficult situation, Paula, as you say, that there are fears that it could be ignited into civil wars in other regions, that it could become potentially dangerous.

The first place it could become dangerous is the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. There's been a -- a low-level, a low-intensity war going on in Gaza. That could become a major problem. And Arab leaders have been saying, look, if you really want to deal with the issues in the Arab world, you have got to deal with the core issue. And that's the Israeli-Palestinian issue. And you have to deal with that. And it is going to have, they say, an effect on the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Another potentially destabilizing situation is Lebanon -- the government there on the brink of collapse. They just need one Cabinet minister to resign or leave, and the government essentially collapses.

Lebanon is also recovering from its war between Hezbollah and Israel over the summer. It's also reeling from the assassination of a very popular cabinet minister. And, so, what the Bush administration is -- is really aiming for is to enlist support of Arab leaders to help them with Iraq.

ZAHN: Plenty of challenges ahead for all of them.

Zain Verjee, thanks.

Despite all of the diplomatic activity, the "Top Story" in Iraq itself is the bloody violence, whether you call it a civil war or not. Now, today, in Ramadi, U.S. soldiers discovered the bodies of a man and five girls inside a house that was captured after a firefight with insurgents. In the Iraqi capital itself, a car bomb went off outside a hospital, killing at least four people, wounding dozens. The tortured bodies of at least 50 Iraqis were simply dumped on the streets of Baghdad.

All this comes as an American general is warning that sectarian violence in Iraq may be about to get worse.

Our Michael Ware was at that briefing. He joins us now.

So, what was it that General Caldwell was suggesting? What is it they expect, if things are going to get worse before they get better?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, essentially, what General Caldwell was saying is that a whirlwind is more or less in effect.

This sectarian violence that the military can't bear to bring itself to call a civil war has its own momentum. It's perpetuating itself. And there's absolutely nothing right now that looks like it can act as a circuit breaker.

So, he is saying that all the portents are showing us that there's no sign of abatement. And, with tensions inflamed, in the wake of the Thanksgiving Day car-bombing massacre against the Shia population, and the retaliatory strikes we have seen going backwards and forwards ever since, it can only spiral downward.

ZAHN: Let's talk about some of the numbers he shared that show that there is some good news coming out of Iraq, pointing to the fact that the coalition had killed or captured 7,000 members of al Qaeda in Iraq since 2004, and that more than 30 senior members of the group had been killed or captured since July.

How realistic are those numbers?

WARE: Well, the numbers could be plausible. I mean, that -- that does account for al Qaeda's strength.

I mean, they're bringing anything between 50 and 100 foreign fighters across the western borders every month. That's at least the ones that the U.S. military thinks it can track. It is growing by the day, as it draws more and more Iraqi Sunnis to its ranks. The bulk of the suicide bombers almost completely come from the foreign fighters. So, the foot soldiers, more and more, are these Iraqis.

What percentage of the insurgency they make up in total is ill- determined, anything from 5 percent to 10 percent. But we now know that, as it's been for the last two years, the insurgents can put as many as 20,000 to 30,000 fighters in the field on any given day.

So, al Qaeda sends its people here, expecting to die. It's an organization built for regeneration. It knows it's going to lose people in martyrdom operations and in arrests. So, it's ready to replace them as soon as you take them away. Meanwhile, it has declared an Islamic state. So, the success has to be said to be marginal.

ZAHN: Michael Ware, thanks so much for the update.

Another "Top Story" coming out of Iraq is a mystery that may well end with a devastating news. Tonight, a U.S. pilot is still listed as missing, after his plane went down yesterday, and insurgents apparently got to the crash site first.

Here's senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By the time the U.S. military got to the scene, a farm field 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, all they found was the wreckage of the single- seat F-16 smoldering in the late-afternoon sun. The markings for the plane's home base, Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, could be seen on the tail fin.

Nearby was the intact canopy and a tangled parachute harness. But there was no sign of the pilot, who the military thinks was unable to eject and probably died in the crash.

MAJOR GENERAL WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN, COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ: It does not appear to have been shot down, but rather crashed into the ground. But there was no report of a parachute. The assumption is at this point that he probably crashed with his aircraft at that site.

MCINTYRE: The pilot's wingman, flying another F-16, reported, the plane went down in enemy territory in the insurgent stronghold of Al Anbar Province, after conducting a low-level strafing run to protect U.S. troops engaged in fierce ground combat. Overhead, U.S. planes could see insurgents swarming the crash site.

BRIGADIER GENERAL STEPHEN HOOG, AIR COMPONENT COORDINATION ELEMENT DIRECTOR, U.S. AIR FORCE: Immediately after the crash, we had both additional fighters overhead, as well as intelligence surveillance assets. Those assets did observe insurgents in the vicinity of the crash site.

CALDWELL: There was several major fights going on up there, all in the close proximity to each other. And the situation was very volatile.

MCINTYRE: It was several hours before the U.S. military could secure the area. Video aired by the Al-Jazeera network appeared to show a body before it was taken away. The U.S. military was able to collect DNA samples, and launched a search for the pilot, who is officially listed as missing.

Had the pilot ejected, it would have automatically activated an emergency beacon, even if the pilot was incapacitated. MAJOR GENERAL LARRY ARNOLD (RET.), U.S. AIR FORCE: In today's world, with our GPS locations, we know exactly where you are, within just meters.

MCINTYRE: But in this case, no beacon ever went off, another sign the pilot may have been unable to eject.

(on camera): When a pilot is down, the U.S. military insists it pulls out all the stops to get there first. But, in this case, all the U.S. technology was trumped by the simple fact that the insurgents were already there -- Paula.


ZAHN: Jamie McIntyre, thanks so much.

Now, tonight's "Top Story" in religion is Pope Benedict's uneasy day among Turkey's Muslims. Anderson Cooper is going to be joining me next to recap today's dramatic highlights of that papal visit.

Then, a little bit later on: the Muslim clerics who were kicked off a U.S. airliner last week, over fears that they were terrorists. They braved security again today to join me for an exclusive interview -- coming up next.


ZAHN: We have some very important top stories for the rest of the hour that you are not going to want to miss, part of our special coverage, "When Faiths Collide."

We begin with tonight's "Top Story" in religion, the incredibly tight security surrounding Pope Benedict's visits to the heavily Muslim nation of Turkey.

Think back just two months ago, when Muslims around the world were outraged over a quotation the pope used in a speech. It set off a firestorm. And some thought it would be suicidal for this pope to make a scheduled trip to Turkey. But he is there tonight.

And so, too, is our Anderson Cooper, who joins us with the latest details from Istanbul -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": Yes, Paula, very tight security for the pope in Ankara today, some 3,000 police protecting him, bomb-sniffing dogs, snipers on rooftops.

But today was really a day of diplomacy for this pope. We saw him not just as a religious figure, but as a -- really, as a diplomat, walking this delicate tightrope -- a lot of meetings behind closed doors. He met with Turkey's prime minister at the airport in Ankara when he first arrived. And he had a -- a real carrot for the prime minister, saying that he would support Turkey's entrance to the European Union.

Those negotiations have been stalled. That is a major turnaround for this pope. When he Cardinal Ratzinger, he spoke publicly against Turkey ever joining the E.U. -- so, this a major olive branch to Turkey, one that will no doubt be very well received here.

Today, he also spoke to Islamic leaders in Ankara, trying to smooth over some waters that were upset, as you mentioned, by that speech two months ago, when he equated Islam with violence, quoting a -- a former emperor.

Let's listen to some of what he said today.


POPE BENEDICT XVI: May we come to know one another better, strengthening the bonds of affection between us in our common wish to live together in harmony, peace and mutual trust.


COOPER: People listen very carefully to what this pontiff has to say about Islam. No doubt, he will be making further comments in the days ahead.

And -- and all of Turkey will be listening. As you said, Paula, this is a nation 99 percent Muslim, very -- a lot of people were very angered by the pope's comments before. He is working very hard, as much as he can, without stepping back from his principles, to -- to reach out to the Muslim community here -- Paula.

ZAHN: It's interesting that the massive protests that everybody was fearing never really materialized. How much attention are folks in Turkey really paying to the pope's visit, and -- and even in spite of all the security you are talking about?

COOPER: Yes. You know, it is getting a lot of coverage on the television.

But, if one was expecting to see hundreds of thousands of people lining the roads, as we often see on papal visits, that -- that's not going to happen here. This -- as we said, 99 percent Muslim in this country. There's not going to be these large crowds, not only for security reasons, but, certainly, a lot of people were very angry.

There was a major demonstration called for this past Sunday. Organizers, a local Islamist party, had called for, you know, hundreds of thousands of people to come to protest the pope. Only about 20,000, maybe 25,000, of them actually showed up.

So, really, that was probably the largest demonstration we're going to be seeing. There were some scattered demonstrations, small ones, in Ankara and Istanbul.

But, you know, the -- the prime minister of Turkey told people here that they want people to be hospitable to this pope. They want to show the -- the best face of Turkey possible.

And we have got to remember, this is a moderate Islamic nation. This is a secular nation officially. There is separation between religion and politics here. So, this is not a Pakistan, where -- where some of the most violent demonstrations that we saw actually took place -- Paula.

ZAHN: All right. Anderson, thank so much. And we will hear much more from you a little bit later on, on your own show, coming up at 10:00 here tonight.

Now, is there any hope that the pope's visit will bring two very different faiths closer together?

Let's call in our "Top Story" culture clash panel.

Imam Johari Abdul Malik, of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Washington joins us. Father Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and former editor in chief of the Catholic weekly "America," and Reza Safa, who was born Muslim, but converted to Christianity, and is the author of the book "Inside Islam."

Glad to have all three of you with us tonight.

Imam Johari, do you think the pope respects your religion?

IMAM JOHARI ABDUL MALIK, DAR AL-HIJRAH ISLAMIC CENTER: Paula, what I think we are learning now is that Pope Benedict is learning on the job.

He's made a sea change from his opinion about Turkey when he was Cardinal Ratzinger. Now, as Pope Benedict, he has a new attitude. He's made misstatements in the past -- let's call it a misstatement -- and has moved away from that.

ZAHN: All right. So, you sound to me like you are giving him the benefit of any doubts you might have had before. If he's learning on the job, do you think now he's grown to accept your religion and respect it?

MALIK: Well, I think, more -- more than that, I think that the Catholic Church itself, under some of the concepts that were developed under John Paul II, particularly this "Nostra Aetate" document, which Ratzinger himself was a part of writing, bespeaks the notion that the Catholic Church will reach out to the Islamic world.

And I think maybe the pope had some misgivings, and has now come in line. And I think it's not maybe a personal decision, but a decision that, being now head of the Catholic Church, that he's being advised and coached in a way to move in a direction that is different than he was moving in before.

What about that, Father Reese? Has this pope succumbed to any pressure, in the wake of this tremendous amount of criticism that he had backtracked from some of the gains his predecessor had made?

FATHER THOMAS REESE, FORMER EDITOR, "AMERICA": Well, I agree with what has just been said. Cardinal Ratzinger, as a German academic and as prefect of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith, was always paying much more attention to the internal life of the Catholic Church, as opposed to its relationship with the world and with other religious communities.

So, he's -- he's had to learn on the job that, whenever he says something now, the whole world is listening. So, I think that his coming to Turkey -- he's emphasized that he is coming -- come here to dialogue, to extend the hand of friendship, to seek better understanding -- and that means he needs to seek better understanding about Islam -- and to allow Muslims to get a better understanding of him.

So, I think...

ZAHN: Reza, do you -- do you have any sense of optimism that this will build a bridge that will bring Muslims and Christians any closer than they are today? You have a unique perspective. You -- you were born a Muslim, and you converted to Christianity.


I believe that, you know, from the standpoint of Christianity, 1 John Chapter 4, Verse 8, says, he who hates his brother is a murderer. And no murderer has eternal life.

From a Christian standpoint, we are commanded to love even our enemies. So, there is no confrontation from our side. The problem is, what we are facing is -- the radical Islam does not allow any other opinions. Of course, I do not believe that what pope did, what pope said was correct.

You have to respect other religions' sacred pillars. But what's important for us to realize, that this is a great move by -- by -- by a great man, taking a step toward reconciliation, and acknowledging that he made a mistake, and he wants to bring peace between these two religions.

ZAHN: Imam, do you think your religion has been hijacked by the extremists?

MALIK: You know, Paula, I -- I...

ZAHN: Are the moderate voices completely drowned out?

MALIK: Well, I think that, really, in the media, most people know that, if it bleeds, it leads.

And, so, for people like myself and so many others, who just want to say that the Koran's teaching is the middle path. It is the path of moderation. That is the real Islam. But, unfortunately, the extreme voices are the ones that get most of the media attention.

ZAHN: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there for the moment. Father Reese, Imam Johari Abdul Malik, and Reza Safa, please stand by, because we are going to come back to you a little bit later on in the show tonight.

And our special coverage, "When Faiths Collide," continues in just a minute with the Muslim clerics who were kicked off an airliner last week because their fellow passengers feared they were terrorists. Well, today, they flew right here to New York to join me for an exclusive interview. That's coming up. Let's hear their side of the story.




And this is Iqbal Khan. He is Muslim. He doesn't drink, smoke or gamble. So, what is he doing working and living in Las Vegas? We will have his story, and the story of other Muslims in Sin City -- as PAULA ZAHN NOW continues.



ZAHN: Our special hour tonight continues with a "Top Story" out of Las Vegas, where Muslim prayer rugs and the Las Vegas Strip collide, and collide in a big way.

Islam forbids Vegas standbys, like gambling, alcohol and strip shows. Yet, 14,000 Muslims live and work in Vegas. So, how do they all get along?

Let's turn to Ted Rowlands, who joins us from Vegas tonight. And he has the latest details for us.

Hi, Ted.

ROWLANDS: Hi, Paula.

Yes, it can be a bit of a delicate balance for some Muslims living in Vegas, and practicing Islam, especially for those that are working and living near the strip.


ROWLANDS: Mohammad Nawaz is a Muslim cab driver in Las Vegas. He's surrounded by the things his religion prohibits, gambling, alcohol, and public nudity.

(on camera): It's everywhere.

MOHAMMAD NAWAZ, CAB DRIVER: Everywhere. You can't stay away in this town. ROWLANDS (voice-over): Mohammad grew up in Pakistan, and moved to Vegas in 1993. He says the reason people, including Muslims, come here is simple: lots of jobs, lots of money, and the cost of living is cheap.

IQBAL KHAN, SECURITY GUARD: Yes, I don't drink. I don't gamble. I don't smoke.

ROWLANDS: Iqbal Khan, also from Pakistan and Muslim, is a security guard inside the Main Street Station Casino. He says, when he got here 17 years ago, it was hard working around so much sin.

I. KHAN: Slowly, slowly, it just got into my mind, it is not your business. It is your job.

ROWLANDS: The president of the Islamic Society here estimates, there are 14,000 Muslims living in Las Vegas, trying to follow the stringent rules of Islam in Sin City.

KHALID KHAN, PRESIDENT, ISLAMIC SOCIETY: It is a challenge to them. It is a challenge, that they see all these temptation around them, and, still, they just ignore them.

ROWLANDS: But some people think it's hypocritical for Muslims to profit from things prohibited by Islam.

Fateen Seifullah is an imam at a mosque close to the strip. He says it's up to the individual to juggle work and religion. He says, he tried driving a taxi, but quit after a few weeks, because he says he was so uncomfortable with the places he had to go.

FATEEN SEIFULLAH, IMAM: For me, it just was -- it was impossible and unthinkable for me to be the imam, the leader of the community, and also be seen at the strip club.

ROWLANDS: Mohammad, who actually has an ad for a strip joint on the back of his cab, says he likes taking passengers to those clubs, because cab drivers get kickbacks. But Mohammad admits that he sometimes goes into the clubs, and even has a drink now and then with some friends.

NAWAZ: I'm a little bit Americanized. I do these things very seldom. And God will forgive me.

ROWLANDS: Living up to the expectations of any religion over a lifetime can be a struggle, no matter where you live, including being a Muslim in Las Vegas.


ROWLANDS: And some Muslims we talked to that live here in Las Vegas say this is actually the best place to live, because it tests their faith on a basically continual basis -- Paula.

ZAHN: I think that's true of just about everybody that visits that place. Ted Rowlands, thanks so much.

Still ahead: Uncover or else. Age-old traditions of religious modesty come face to face with the fear of terrorism.


ZAHN: And we want to welcome you back to our special hour, "When Faiths Collide."

Our next "Top Story" may make you wonder if it could happen here. After a ritual murder, the normally tolerant people of the Netherlands may soon pass a new law, a law some call outrageously intolerant. It would ban something many Muslims consider essential to their faith.

Paula Newton reports.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amsterdam, Holland, one of the most liberal cities in the world, where anything goes, except when it comes to the all-covering veil worn by fewer than 100 Muslim women in the entire country. A ban on the burka here could be passed in a matter of weeks.

GEERT WILDERS, ANTI-ISLAM CAMPAIGNER: It is a medieval symbol of the worst culture ever. And, once again, it is a sign about how not to treat women. Women are second -- second-class beings.

NEWTON: Last June, half of the people questioned in a Dutch poll said they disliked Muslims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ban it at all. No burka.

NEWTON (on camera): Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because we live in the Netherlands.

NEWTON (voice-over): With her own online petition, Aisha Bayrak is fighting the ban and the stereotypes, she says, that go with it.

AISHA BAYRAK, CONVERT TO ISLAM: I'm a very emancipated woman. And I don't have an abusive husband.

NEWTON: She was born in Holland, converted to Islam when she married more than 20 years ago. Now a mother of five, she says she feels like an outcast in her own country.

BAYRAK: You can't say that one culture is the dominant culture. You can't say something from, we are the dominant culture, and we can put our finger in your face, and say, you must -- must do this, or you must not do that.

NEWTON: There is, at best, a religious truce here now, since the gruesome murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Two years ago, he was shot by a 26-year-old Muslim man, who wanted to silence one of the country's most vocal critics of Islam. He slit van Gogh's throat with a crude machete.

(on camera): The murder was so callous, the crime so calculated, that it forced many in this country to ask themselves, where have we gone wrong? Is immigration really undermining our liberal values?

(voice-over): One of van Gogh's friends says the burka ban is a protest of sorts.

GIJS VAN WESTERLAKEN, FRIEND OF THEO VAN GOGH: This undercurrent is a -- is a rather dangerous one, too, I guess. The country still hasn't come to terms with it. It's turned into a very volatile electorate, and -- and dangerous, even, I guess.

NEWTON: And the mayor of once tolerant Amsterdam is calling for calm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is more tension in the city, tension between different groups, between different cultures. Discuss it, and realize that -- that this religion is now, whether you like it or not, is part of our society.

NEWTON: Banning the burka would be a sign that even one of the world's most tolerant countries has to struggle to maintain religious harmony.

Paula Newton, CNN, Amsterdam.


ZAHN: We return to our "Top Story" panel right now, Imam Johari Abdul Malik of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Washington, Father Thomas Reese, a Catholic priest and a former editor of the Catholic weekly "America," and Reza Safa, who was born Muslim, converted to Christianity, and founded the Harvesters World Outreach, a worldwide evangelistic and healing ministry.

Welcome back to all three of you.

Reza, we mentioned that you grew up in Iran. How do you see this debate? Do you understand the Dutch government's point of view, that they're fearful that these women are concealing their identity, which raises security threats, or are they robbing these women of their religious freedom?

SAFA: You know, you have to understand that one of out of every 16 Dutch person is a Muslim.

I believe that the government of Holland is dealing with this issue on a wrong side of the track. I believe, you know, Surah, Chapter 33, Verse 59, commands -- it's a commandant within Islam for Muslim women to cover themselves.

But, you know, you have to understand that there is a clash of civilization, clash of ideology. Islam does not allow the -- the criticism of its faith, whereas the Judeo-Christian faith, it allows people -- you know, Paula, I believe personally that God is not intimidated by man's opinion about him. And I -- I believe, the way you go about it must be in accordance to the respect of each other's religion, the way...

ZAHN: So, what does that mean? So, you would never even consider a ban, then?

SAFA: I would not consider that ban, because you are prohibiting people to practice what they believe.

If you didn't want Muslim to come into your country, you shouldn't have allowed one million immigrants, Muslim, to come and immigrate to your country. Now, it's too late. You cannot stop that movement. That's not the way you stop it, by banning, just like France initiated in their school, public schools. So, I believe...

ZAHN: Father -- let me let Father Reese jump in here for a moment.

Do you see this as a slippery slope, where a government may some day consider outlawing wearing yarmulkes, wearing a crucifix around your neck?

REESE: Yes. I mean, what's...


REESE: That -- that, in fact, is what happened in France.

When the -- when the French government said that schoolgirls could not wear veils to school, they also had to ban yarmulkes and -- and large -- large crosses or things like that.

I -- I think it was a mistake. I think this is overreacting. I mean, I -- I speak as an American. I mean, we would never do anything like this in America. It just seems to me to be an overreaction against a -- a very small problem.

ZAHN: And...

REESE: I think we should bend over backwards to allow people to express their religious faith, as long as they do not try and impose that faith on other people.

ZAHN: And a final thought from you, Imam Johari, about a woman's right to defend her wearing of the burka, no matter what it may symbolize to -- to other folks out there watching her.

MALIK: Well, you know, Paula, I think we have a number of issues.

One, Europe is very different than America. We have the First Amendment to the Constitution, saying that the government shall make no law imposing religion. And, so, with that regard, in Europe, in Denmark, they don't -- they don't have that as a provision. And, so, they have to work out this issue. Perhaps, now what they're saying is that secularism is the state religion, and there is some restriction of those people who would like to practice a religion other than that sponsored by the state.

Having said that, I just want to be clear that, within the framework of Islam, the Koran says, (SPEAKING ARABIC) let there be no compulsion in religion. So, there should be an open dialogue. And Muslims, according to the Koran, should be open to that dialogue.

ZAHN: Gentlemen...

MALIK: Women -- I have to say, in closing, Paula, women should have the right to choose. Covering the face completely is not an injunction on every Muslim woman. That is -- that is a step further than what the Koran requires. The Koran only requires that a woman cover her hair and her bosom.

The Prophet Mohammed said that nothing should show except the hands, the feet, and the face. And, so, covering of the face is an extra injunction that people have placed -- women have placed on themselves.

ZAHN: All right.

MALIK: If they do that freely, then, I don't see why we should have a problem.

ZAHN: We have got to leave it there tonight.

Imam Johari, thank you.

Reza Safa and Father Reese, appreciate your time.

SAFA: Thank you.

ZAHN: We are going to move on to a quick business break right now.

And Wall Street stocks finally inched up, after a steep fall on Monday. The Dow closed up 14 points. The Nasdaq gained six points. The S&P picked up just four points.

Prices for existing homes got hit with the biggest drop on record in October, down 3.5 percent from a year ago. On the bright side, realtors now call it a buyer's market.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned today that the housing market is likely to stay weak into next year. Bernanke also said, the uncomfortably high rate of core inflation should slow down, but he said, there's still a risk of higher inflation. Economists are now saying that means no interest--rate cuts on the horizon any time soon.

In just a minute, we will continue tonight's "Top Story" coverage of what happens "When Faiths Collide" here in America. I will be joined by Muslim clerics who were kicked off a jet last week, over fears they were terrorists. They flew back here today for this exclusive interview.


ZAHN: Welcome back to our special hour, "When Faiths Collide," with the latest developments in a "Top Story" that's raising very raw emotions about religious tolerance and racial profiling.

You might remember, just last week, six Muslim clerics were forced off a U.S. Airways plane in handcuffs, suspected of terrorist intentions. Well, today, four of them boarded a plane to New York to tell their side of the story. They will join me in a moment for an exclusive interview.

First, though, Dan Simon has more on a story that's still raising uncomfortable questions tonight.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They called it a pray-in, a not-so-subtle jab yesterday directed at U.S. Airways, which removed six imams from a flight last week in Minneapolis, after three of them were seen praying in the airport terminal prior to boarding.

IBRAHIM RAMEY, MUSLIM AMERICAN SOCIETY: We are here simply to declare to you and to declare to the nation that prayer and religious identity are not sufficient grounds for removing individuals from aircraft.

SIMON: U.S. Airways says prayer had nothing to do with their removal. The question, though, did the airline have legitimate reasons to take them off, and prevent them from flying the following day?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm asking you to please leave our ticket counter right now.

OMAR SHAHIN, REMOVED FROM AIRLINER: I am going to leave. I am...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I have given you a number that you can contact.

SIMON: CNN has obtained the police report, which includes the handwritten note written by a fellow passenger, who claimed to have seen -- quote -- "six suspicious Arabic men on plane. All were together saying, Allah, Allah."

SHAHIN: We did not chanting "Allah, Allah," or anything else, while we are entering the plane or inside the plane.

SIMON: Omar Shahin, one of the six imams removed, handcuffed, and detained for several hours, says that's just one of the many misconceptions surrounding the incident.

For example, the complaining passenger also told police the imams -- quote -- "seemed angry, and mentioned U.S. and killing Saddam, and then swore slightly under their breath."

Shahin denied all of that and that three of the imams had one-way tickets. He says all the tickets were round-trip, and that he has the documentation to prove it.

SHAHIN: You cannot put in the police report that they have one- way ticket, while that's not true.

SIMON: The report also says that most of the six passengers requested seat belt extensions, which some on the plane found suspicious, because none of the imams appeared to need them.

One security expert defends the airline.

RICK SMITH, SECURITY EXPERT: But they have also got to understand, they have got to be sensitive to the fact that they happen to be Middle Eastern, and -- and that these type of things are going to happen to them. It doesn't mean they have to happen in a -- in an unprofessional way or they have to be treated badly.

SIMON: And the debate continues.

On Sunday, a Washington, D.C., deejay stirred the pot, by making what he characterized as intentionally sarcastic comments that Muslims should be forced to wear identifiers, like armbands.

And many callers piled on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead. You round them up, and then ship them out of this country, period.


SIMON: Shahin and the other imams are demanding an apology from U.S. Airways. Its response isn't exactly what they want to hear.

(on camera): An airline spokeswoman tells CNN, she is sorry the imams were inconvenienced, but not for its employees' actions. The one mistake she does concede, not allowing the imams to fly the following day, after they had been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Dan Simon, CNN, San Francisco.


ZAHN: So, after all the headlines and heated controversy, four of the six imams agreed to join us here in New York for this exclusive interview. It is their first live TV appearance together.

We want to welcome Imams Omar Shahin, Ahmad Shqeirat, Mohamed Ibrahim, and Marwan Sadeddin.

Great to have all of you with us tonight. (CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Imam Omar, let's go back and review some of the reports of witnesses and airline officials -- one, you were praying collectively loudly and repeatedly -- repeatedly saying, "Allah"; you were making anti-American comments, criticizing the Iraq war, talking about al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.

You switched seats, and then repositioned yourself to the front, middle, and rear of the plane. And you didn't check any baggage.

Do you -- do you see how any one of these things might have raised the suspicions of passengers and airline personnel?

SHAHIN: To be honest with you, this has hurt me more and more, because U.S. Airways should stop smearing our image in front of people. We did not do any or all of these. First of all...

ZAHN: Any -- any of them at all?

SHAHIN: Any of these. We did not enter the plane saying, chanting "Allah, Allah" first. We did not change our seats, except Imam Marwan Sadeddin, because he is blind. He needs help. We -- we did not ask them for not -- unnecessary extension belt. As you see, we need the extension belt. And we want to abide by the federal law. And we...

ZAHN: What about -- what about saying you were upgraded when you got on to the plane to first-class tickets, and even though you weren't ticketed with first-class tickets, two of you parked yourselves in the first-class section?

SHAHIN: They upgrade me, because I'm a (INAUDIBLE) member, and I have the right, privilege to upgrade one of my friends. So, I asked them if there is way to upgrade one of my friends, because he is an old man, blind, need help. That's all what I ask for.

ZAHN: So, Imam Ahmad, are you denying that you did anything that would have raised the suspicions of a passenger or someone working for the airline?

IMAM AHMAD SHQEIRAT, REMOVED FROM AIRLINER: We are actually, almost all of us, busy people, who travel all the time. This is not the first time we travel.

And we did not do in this trip anything that is unusual or un- normal. We did what we do all the time. We Muslims have to pray five times a day. Once in a while, when we have to pray in the airport, we take a quiet corner, and we do our -- our prayer.

If the prayer is night prayer, that would require that we say and done in congregation. That would require for the leader of the prayer only to say, when we bow down, when we move, to say "Allahu akbar," which is part of the prayer which was done in the terminal, not on the plane site. ZAHN: Imam Mohamed, do you think, in the wake of 9/11, it is the tendency of Americans to look at all Muslims as potential terrorists? Is that how you feel when you're out in public? Is that how you felt that day?

IMAM MOHAMED IBRAHIM, REMOVED FROM AIRLINER: I felt that after the incident, but I didn't -- I didn't realize that there is something abnormal that I took, because I -- all the time, I -- I practice my religion. I pray in the airports, or even in the airplane itself. Sometimes coming even from my country, I was praying in the -- in the airplane.


IBRAHIM: While seated.

Imam Marwan, how humiliating was this experience for you?

IMAM MARWAN SADEDDIN, REMOVED FROM AIRLINER: Well, I see that we did just normal things. We entered the plane normal way. We have been seated. And there's nothing unusual.

The seat belt extension is normal, to -- I wear eyeglasses, or sunglasses. As you see, it's for my blindness. And I ask to change seat to be next to one of the friends to be -- to be -- to get the help.

But -- and there's a lot of lies -- live -- stories that been created by the U.S. Air to have us look in a bad image to cover their mistake or mess -- when they find themselves messed up.

ZAHN: Imam Omar, then, why do you think so many passengers reported those observations that we included in the report that proceeded this interview and at the top of the interview?

SHAHIN: Me personally, I encourage everyone, my -- my community, Muslims' community, and other community, to report any suspicious activity.

But we -- we have to be realistic. We have -- it should be legitimate, suspicious. We should not let our imagination exaggerating and false statements, like U.S. Air did.

ZAHN: And you think you were targeted simply because you were praying, and -- and people jumped to a conclusion that potentially you were going to harm them?


SHAHIN: This is the only reason.

And, if you go back to our background, I am personally the chairperson for the police advisory board.

I did presentation for the FBI agent in Phoenix. I did presentation with CAIR-Arizona to Yuma Air Force Base for more than 600 Marines. So, they have to -- ]we have to have a system to handle this suspicious report before we humiliate people.

ZAHN: Well, we will be following this lawsuit you have filed against U.S. Air.

We appreciate your joining us tonight.

Imam Shahin, Sadeddin, Shqeirat, and Ibrahim, thank you...


ZAHN: ... all for traveling here for us tonight.

And we are going to take a short break. We will be right back.


ZAHN: And that wraps it up for all of us here tonight.

Tomorrow, as the president talks with the leaders of Iraq, should the U.S. be talking with Iran? We will debate that.

Thanks again for dropping by tonight. Have a good night.