Former Giuliani Staffer Thinks We Need To Tone Down Partisan Rhetoric Over Islamic Center


CNN contributor and former Giuliani speechwriter and Deputy Communications Director John Avlon is back at his usual game of making false equivalencies and pretending all sides are equally extreme when it comes to this race-baiting and extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric that's been hyped by the media for the last month or so and that everyone just needs to tone it down and play nice with each other that are out there protesting. John, why don't you start by asking your former boss to lead the way and knock it off?

He also throws this nugget in there when asked about the wingnut pastor who wanted to burn the Quran on 9-11.

AVLON: It's a good example and a cautionary tale of the way that extremists are able to gain the system and hijack the media with deeply disproportionate, you know, unrepresentative statements. And that kind of ugliness too often occupies our attention. We need to push back on that.

Try starting with your own network John. All of the cable news networks have been nearly as bad as Fox when it comes to over-hyping these stories. Then they bring this guy on for some naval-gazing and to play the all-sides-have-crazies game.

LEMON: Yesterday, the nation remembered those lost on September 11, 2001. But some people say the anniversary this year was unlike the last eight. They feel the controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic center two blocks from Ground Zero turned a patriotic day of mourning into political football.

John Avlon, a regular contributor to CNN, says the anti-Islamic center rally he attended yesterday was a desecration to the meaning of September 11. He told me there's been a 9/11 amnesia in today's politics.

AVLON: You know, one of the things that came out of that awful day wasn't just the beginning of a wider war that we are still engaged in, but an awareness that what unites us is fundamentally more important than those things that divide us as Americans.

And what we're seeing with the rise of partisan politics and an ugliness at some of these rallies marks the fact that I think we're forgetting that again. The divisions that are deeply divisive to Americans, whether Democrat or Republican, completely unimportant under the wider lens of the war we're in. That was an awareness that really sunk into people after the attacks...


LEMON: What did you specifically see, John, at the rally -- at these rallies that made you use such harsh words?

AVLON: Just on both sides, a lot of politicization, harshly political rhetoric, and a lot of -- not just anger, but hate. Keep in mind, one of the organizers of the big rally in the afternoon is somebody who has referred to President Obama as the Muslim in the White House over 250 times on her blog.

There's an inherently partisan political nature of this. It's not about Democrat or Republican, but really a divisiveness. And that's what we need to push against. That's what we need to remember. In fact, on the day when McCain and Obama went to the Ground Zero ceremony in 2008 together, that is the spirit of this day. That's the spirit we need to keep in our minds and hearts. We're losing it.

LEMON: OK. You're talking about the politicization of this. And yesterday I had a conversation here and everyone agreed that everyone needs to take a step back and take a deep breath and not call people names and listen to both sides.

Now, in listening to both sides, that would mean that Muslims would have to listen to the people who, you know, don't want this proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero. And the same thing, the people who do want it would have to listen to the Muslim community.

I want you to take a listen to what Irshad Manji said this morning on "This Week" with Christiane Amanpour. Irshad is with the NYU School of Public Service. Take a listen to this, John, and we'll talk about it.


IRSHAD MANJI, NYU SCHOOL OF PUBLIC SERVICE: And one of the reasons that they do have those anxieties is, you know, over the last nine years, moderate Muslims have failed, moderate Muslims have failed to make the case for why there is nothing to fear about Islam.

When Major Nadal Hassan opens fires on a group of fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, shouting Allahu Akbar, God is great, and the first thing you hear out of the mouth of a moderate is please don't misunderstand, Islam has nothing to do with this. You can't blame ordinary Americans for scratching their heads and wondering what role does religion play here?


LEMON: Does she have a point? And can you view this as a reaching across the aisle of sorts to say that there are regular Americans, many of them who are not racist and who are not anti-Islam who have questions and concerns about Islam?

AVLON: Absolutely. And Irshad Manji makes an important point and a brave point. Look, we are in a war against radical jihadists, Islamist terrorists, but we are not and have never been in a war against Islam.

And if we're going to be a civil society, we need to -- and create an example for the world. We need to always remember that America's greatness flows from our goodness. And we need to be inclusive. Good people can disagree about the mosque and many other things.

That's the tone that we need to set. That's the example we need to set. And while recognizing the reality that we are still at war with Islamist terrorism, but we have not and have never been at war with Islam.

LEMON: I have to ask you this, and this leads me to the next question. Your book is called "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America." So I have to ask you about Pastor Terry Jones. Go.

AVLON: Well, look, I mean, that's a great example of the way that extremists have a disproportionate influence. But this guy is fairly insignificant figure, was able to hijack media and in fact hijack much of the media surrounding the ninth anniversary of 9/11 by going from 50 congregations to being on the cover of 50 newspapers simply by threatening to burn the Koran.

It's a good example and a cautionary tale of the way that extremists are able to gain the system and hijack the media with deeply disproportionate, you know, unrepresentative statements. And that kind of ugliness too often occupies our attention. We need to push back on that.

LEMON: Hey, John, I have to run and I'm really enjoying this conversation. You have some very, very smart points here. So then what do we do, besides from, you know, besides, you know, going to each and every person's door to try to explain, you know, to them about what Islam exactly is, what do we do in this situation then?

AVLON: I think we need to recognize that we are in a -- there's a wider war between freedom and fundamentalism around the world and each of us has an obligation as Americans to try to be the change we want to see and stand up to extremism wherever and whenever we see it.

If we Americans do that, beginning at their dinner table and extending to larger conversations, we can help turn the tide and stop these extremists from whatever form they might range in, from having this distorted thoughts, from hijacking our debates. And we need to recognize that this is a wider war, and it's the forces of freedom versus the forces of fundamentalism.

LEMON: Thanks to John Avlon.


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