Mideast View On The Proposed Islamic Center
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
We wanted to know how people in the Middle East and elsewhere in the Muslim world are viewing the debate over the Islamic center in New York City. So we called Ramez Maluf, a professor of journalism at the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
Professor RAMEZ MALUF (Lebanese American University): Surprisingly, there hasn't been the amount of coverage that one would expect. There has been quite a few opinion pieces written in newspapers and so forth, but not really to the extent that I think most of us would have expected.
INSKEEP: So the first thing is is, it's not dominating the TV airwaves the way it did all summer here. But what are some of the opinion pieces that you've been reading?
Mr. MALUF: Most of them see the debate centering over what they perceive as the United States' uneasiness with its Muslim population. But also columnists have pointed to the - what they regard as very positive attitude of the mayor of New York and President Obama.
INSKEEP: Meaning that at least in the opinion columns there has been a nuanced view of this?
Mr. MALUF: Yes, indeed. I think the debate in the Arab press has been quite sober, not at all the kind of passionate debate that a lot of people, you know, might expect. But that's not an opinion that's necessarily shared by many other writers.
In Armadar(ph), an electronic newspaper, also very popular, he refers to the objections against the building of the mosque as just another reflection of Islamophobia. Most Americans, he says, have convicted their Muslim citizens of being terrorists. This, he says, has had the unfortunate consequence of further alienating recent immigrants and first-generation Muslims to the United States, many of whom are struggling with their identities, he says. Are they Muslims, or Americans first?
Another interesting article is by Taha Husayn writing in Lebanon's An-Nahar, who says that this will be a litmus test for the ideal of separation of church and state in the U.S.
INSKEEP: That's really interesting that you see commentary there about freedom of worship. When that issue comes up in the context of the United States, does it cause any commentators that you see to write or think about things that are happening in the Middle East or elsewhere in the Islamic world, where freedom of worship is a great problem - not only if you're not a Muslim, but if you're the wrong kind of Muslim?
Prof. MALUF: Yeah. Indeed. Indeed. Not as much as I think it should. But there is a commentary by Hani Nakshabandi writing in the very popular Saudi newspaper, Okaz, who says that the fact that the mayor of New York granted permission for the construction of the mosque should be held up as an example for Arab nations.
I find this particularly interesting because Saudi Arabia, for all Arab nations, is probably the least tolerant of other faiths. But I think that, you know, the expectations that people have of the United States and the Western democracies and so forth, by far supersede the expectations they have of their own societies. There is no real consciousness of minorities in the Arab world. It's not a subject that is widely discussed in the Arab world.
INSKEEP: Ramez Maluf, always a pleasure to talk with you.
Prof. MALUF: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: He's with the Lebanese American University in Beirut.
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