King Discusses Mosques on CNN's State of the Union with Candy Crowley
August 15, 2010
CROWLEY: The controversy surrounding the mosque proposal resonates deeply with the men who join us now, Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler and Republican Congressman Peter King, both of New York. Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate it.
Congressman King, first to you. I want to be really clear here to our audience, and that is there does not seem to be anything legally that can be done. This is on private property. There are no laws being broken. It seems like all of the local -- the jurisdictions have spoken and given the green light to this. So, why protest it now? Because there really is nothing to stop it, and you would like to, yes?
KING: First of all, I do agree. The Muslims have, as everyone else says, the right to practice their religion and they have the right to construct a mosque at ground zero if they wish.
What I am saying, though, is that they should listen to public opinion, they should listen to the deep wounds and anguish that this is causing to so many good people. And if the imam and the Muslim leadership in that community is so intent on building bridges, then they should voluntarily move the mosque away from ground zero and move it whether it's uptown or somewhere else, but move it away from that area, the same as the pope directed the Carmelite nuns to move a convent away from Auschwitz. This is such a raw wound and they are just pouring salt into it. And that's my point.
I think the president, by the way, is trying to have it both ways, because I don't know of anyone who was saying that Muslims do not have the right to practice their religion, but with rights go responsibilities, and that's the part of it the president did not comment on.
CROWLEY: Congressman Nadler, I do want to talk to you about what you think the president is saying, but doesn't Congressman King have a point, and that is, this isn't about laws and freedom of religion? This is about sensitivities. A number of the 9/11 families that I listened to, said what about our sensitivities? We understand that there is sensitivity to the religion and to allowing freedom of religion, but what about the sensitivities of those who were primarily the injured ones on this?
NADLER: Well, first of all, it started off very much about law. I mean, Newt Gingrich said, for instance, a few days ago that no mosque should be built in the United States until churches and synagogues were permitted in Saudi Arabia. Now, we all desire that Saudi Arabia should have religious liberty, but American religious liberty should not be at Saudis -- at their level. We are better than Saudi Arabia, hopefully, and we are.
It is now finally being recognized that government, which is what I said initially, that government has no right and no business to comment one way or the other on whether a church or a synagogue or a mosque should be anywhere, so long as they meet the legal requirements. And frankly, if government tried in any way -- if the Landmarks Commission had ruled -- had landmarked that building for any -- for reasons of opposing the mosque, not for real landmark reasons, the courts would have offset it. There is no way for government to block this.
CROWLEY: Sure. But if I could just kind of -- I'm sorry. If I could just--
NADLER: Let me go to your second question--
CROWLEY: I think you are right. Yes, right. What about the sensitivities of this?
NADLER: Well, I certainly appreciate the sensitivities of some of the families of 9/11. There are others who have expressed support for it. The press has concentrated on those who have opposed it. But frankly, ground zero is hallowed ground. Two blocks away, first of all, is not so hallowed ground. Second of all, we should not -- government officials should not be in a position of pressuring people where to build their mosque or their church or whatever.
Third of all, as much as I respect the sensitivities of people, there is a fundamental mistake behind it, and that is how can you -- and I can quote any number of some of the people who have commented on it, and what they are saying essentially is how can you put a mosque there when, after all, Muslims attacked us on 9/11, and this is ripping open a wound? Well, the fallacy is that Al Qaida attacked us. Islam did not attack us. Islam, like Christianity, like Judaism, like other religions, has many different people, some of whom regard other adherents of the religion as heretics of one sort or another. It is only insensitive if you regard Islam as the culprit, as opposed to Al Qaida as the culprit. We were not attacked by all Muslims. And there were Muslims who were killed there, there were Muslims who were killed there. There were Muslims who ran in as first responders to help. And we cannot take any position like that.
CROWLEY: OK, let me put that to Congressman King. You know, the truth is, there was a great column today in one of your local papers up there that said if this is not built, if this mosque is blocked, then the terrorists do win. Do you worry, because there is a huge difference, which I imagine most people who are opposed to this understand, that we were not attacked by Islam, we were attacked by those who would twist Islam, perhaps, but not by the religion itself, and aren't we really going against a basic principle on which this country was founded?
KING: You know, I have a great respect for Jerry Nadler, but I really disagree with that opinion. And the reason I say this is, that they were -- the attack was carried out in the name of Islam. And I visited many mosques before September 11th, and I was one of the first to defend the Muslim community after September 11th.
But I was extremely disappointed since then by so many leaders in the Muslim community who do not denounce Al Qaida, who -- for instance, even this imam himself who wants to construct the mosque at ground zero, he says that the United States was an accessory to 9/11. He refuses to denounce Hamas as a terrorist organization. So the record is not that clear on this.
But there is no doubt that to have a 13-story, $100-million edifice within two blocks of ground zero -- in fact, parts of the jets which crashed into the World Trade Center actually crashed into this building as well, that's how close it is to it -- is -- it does open the wounds.
It does put salt in the wounds.
And, again, it's -- the fact that so many people who were involved with it, I would disagree with Jerry, I think the overwhelming majority of the 9/11 families are opposed to it, and these are good people, they are not bigoted and they are not biassed. But I am getting calls from people like Jimmy Boyle (ph) and Ernie Strata (ph), Rosemary Caine (ph), Frank Hast (ph), and I can down the list. These people, the wounds of this are being torn apart for them now, and they are heartbroken over this.
And that is what I think the imam and the Muslim leadership should take into account. And I do think, as government officials, we have the right to speak out. I agree with Jerry. I don't believe there is a role for the government as far as taking any administrative or executive or legislative action, I agree with that completely. But I do believe that is, as the president calls a teachable moment, and this is a teachable moment.
CROWLEY: Well, Congressman, how far away is far away enough? Three blocks? Four blocks? I mean, how do you -- you know, the sensitivities to 9/11 are not confined to a three-block area. They feel it in California. So, you know, how do you make that, you know, geographical decision?
KING: Well, if the president is going to get involved, one way I would suggest is to have the leaders, the developers, the builders and the Muslim community meet with people who feel aggrieved, who do feel anguish, and arrive at a common site. Governor Paterson suggested that he would make state land available in New York for the construction of the mosque, and that's what I would have -- one way to build a bridge is to sit down and get a consensus as to where it would be acceptable.
Because we do need mosques. I support mosques, obviously. We need churches, temples, mosques. Whatever people use to speak with their god or to receive spiritual inspiration is good for the country. But the symbolism of it at ground zero, within two blocks or three blocks, I believe is wrong. But let the Islamic leaders meet with those who feel aggrieved, and they can arrive at a common site.
CROWLEY: Congressman Nadler, do you think there is common ground?
I mean, it seems to me that there are people who are righteously aggrieved at what everyone in this country agrees was a horrible thing that took place on 9/11, and then there are the principles on which the country was founded. Is there space inside there to find something that would make most people happy?
NADLER: Well, that's really up to the imam and the people around him. They have to decide what they want to do.
CROWLEY: Would you like them to?
NADLER: I am not going to comment on that, because I don't think it's proper for any government official to pressure them in any way.
And if I were to say that I think it's a good idea for them to do it, since I am a government official, that would be government pressuring them.
But it's up to them. If they want to do that, they're certainly free to do it.
But I want to point out several things. One, there is a mosque in the Pentagon, which is also hallowed ground. No one objects to that.
Second, the people who want to build this facility, which is partially a mosque and partially a community center, have a mosque a few blocks away from there, which no one has objected to.
And thirdly, objecting to this mosque would be as objectionable if you wouldn't object to a church or a synagogue in the same place because that's blaming all Islam and you can't blame an entire religion.
And finally, I would take the sincerity of many of the Republican critics of this, Peter King very much accepted, much more -- I would understand the sincerity much more if they were supporting, as Peter is, but very few other Republicans are, the bill to give health care coverage to the 9/11 heroes and responders which all but 12 Republicans voted against in the House last week.
CROWLEY: Before we get--
NADLER: That shows sensitivity to the survivors.
CROWLEY: OK, before we get up on the rails then, I understand that it has been a huge thing in New York and continues to be on Capitol Hill. But before we get off on that, when we look at the polling on this, whether you are a Republican, a Democrat or an independent, the majority is opposed to doing this. So it cannot just be that Republicans are playing politics with this.
NADLER: Well, I did not say they were playing politics. I said I would respect their sincerity more.
But we do not put the Bill of Rights, we do not put the religious freedom to a vote. The reason we have a Bill of Rights is that you have your religious rights, your right to freedom of speech for the press et cetera, whether majorities like you or not, frankly.
I hope that people will understand that government has no role in this. Peter has now said this. Many of the people who have been saying this -- who have been on the other side have not been willing to say that. Peter has, I appreciate that.
As to whether the imam wants to have the mosque somewhere else, that's up to them, and government should not pressure them one way or the other.
CROWLEY: And Congressman King, and finally to you in the last minute I have here, and that is what do you make of the president's comments? It seemed at the White House on Friday night he was saying I am supporting this mosque being built here, and then questioned by our Ed Henry, he seemed to say, look, I am just saying we have a principle here and it's of religious freedom. I am not saying one way or another whether I support it. What does that -- does that seem like a change to you?
KING: Yes, it does. The president is a gifted speaker. He is a tremendous communicator. Obviously his words were carefully chosen on Friday night, and the inference or the current (ph) impression everyone came away with was that he was saying he was supporting the mosque at ground zero, and that he can parse it later on and sort of back away, but the fact is, that is clearly the impression I believe he wanted to leave.
All I can think is perhaps there was political pressure from people in his own party who urged him to walk back away from that on Saturday.
Let me just say, if Jerry Nadler had given a speech on this issue, nobody would have doubted where he stood and he would not be taking it back the next day. If the president was going to get into this, he should have been much more clear, much more precise, and you can't be changing your position from day to day on an issue which does go to our Constitution, and it also goes to extreme sensitivity. So that's where I am critical of the president, for not being clear.
CROWLEY: Congressman Peter King, Congressman Jerry Nadler, thank you both coming into New York to talk about what has been a really sensitive issue. Appreciate it