Daisy Khan Interview Transcript

MATT JACOBSON: OK, so as a start if you don't mind, can you just say and spell your name? DAISY KHAN: Daisy Khan. That's K-H-A-N. DAISY, D-A-I-S-Y. MJ: Great. And if you could, just as a start, give me just a brief kind of autobiographical sketch. Where you're from, what you've done, what you're doing now. DK: I was born in Kashmir, India. And for the first 15 years of my life I lived there. I was born in a Muslim home, went to Catholic school, had Sikh friends. My professors were Hindu. You know, I bought fresh water pearls from Buddhists and then landed in America at the age of 15 in a Jewish neighborhood. So my earlier life, my childhood was shaped by a multi-religious, multicultural experience. Highly pluralistic, very respectful and tolerant kind of society. And so, I was sent to America by my grandfather and my parents to pursue education in the arts because I was artistically inclined. And then in America I began my sort of higher education. Went to high school, then went to college, then went to design school. And got an architectural degree in interior architecture, mostly commercial design. And then my career path began. So for the first 25 years of my life I had a corporate interiors career, architectural design in Fortune 500 companies, Wall Street. And then during that time, I actually worked at the World Trade Center Towers. I was on the top most-- it was actually in the Guinness Book of World Records, the highest office space in the world with the fireplace that was at the highest level. So I worked there for about five years and was very intimate with lower Manhattan. And subsequent to that, I got married to an Imam in 1996 and his mosque was only 12 blocks from Ground Zero. We kind of took a look at our community, the Muslim community and its growth and its evolution and what would we need to do and how could be help the Muslim community? He was in a leadership role, I had sort of a very strong activist streak in me. I was always involved in doing volunteer work and extracurricular activities. And I had gone through kind of a religious struggle myself trying to define myself in America with all the multiple identities I juggled. MJ: How old were you when you came to the United States? DK: 15. MJ: 15. DK: But I saw the Iranian revolution and I was the solo Muslim here. And I always felt the burden of having to explain to others what Islam was, who Muslims were, even though I was just a lay person. Very tough questions were always asked of me. And so that desire forced me to learn more about my faith because in order for me to explain to others, I would have to know the basics about my own religion. You know, I went through the Rushdie affair and that was difficult for me because on the one hand I was very, supported freedom of expression and speech. The artist in me always wanted to be free. And on the other hand, it was something against my religion. A prophet that I loved and adored and so I was kind of very troubled by that whole experience. And that forced me to sort of reconcile in myself what I really was. Was I a Muslim? Was I going to be a practicing Muslim? And in that process I went through my own sort of search, search for God, on my own terms. And I met my husband during that time. And so, shortly after that we had this idea that the evolution of a religious community really comes with certain kind of institution building, or religion's Americanize through institution building. And we looked at the Christian community and the Jewish community and realized that they had built certain institutions that intersect between their religious community, but also intersect with a public. And so the model of the YMCA, the model of the JCC's for the Jewish community, so an equivalent of that would have to be also established for the Muslim community. So the genesis of the idea had emerged from that. MJ: And over what period of time? DK: This would be from 1997 to just before 9/11. In fact we tried to purchase a building near another YMCA a year before 9/11 happened. We didn't succeed because of lack of funding; somebody else bought it faster. And then we shelved the whole plan when 9/11 happened. Our work pretty much got redefined for us. MJ: Can you say more about redefined in what particular ways? DK: Well, when we had started the organization American Society for Muslim Advancement, our emphasis was what I called “in-reach,” reaching within the community, teaching younger Muslim's because I had had to struggle. So had my husband. So we both knew that people were struggling with how to balance faith and modernity. You know, this is the biggest challenge of the day for every person who was a person of faith. And how do you live a life of faith and how do you intersect with the challenges of the modern life? We had found a way and there were many people attracted to that message. There were many people attracted to that model. You know, I was a working woman, but I was also very religiously engaged, and so people saw that. How were they doing it? So our work was primarily to teach other Muslims, younger Muslims, on how to not have to choose between being a citizen and being a person of faith. And that in America, America allows you that space. You can be both. MJ: I would love to hear more if you can articulate it, I'm not sure how much that is possible. To kind of narrate your own consciousness is actually what I'm going to ask you to do. But I'm really interested in that process that you went through and how you arrived at a place that seems very settled with that question. Can you describe the process of wrestling with the question of faith and modernity and maybe certain points that you can recognize as turning points in your own path as you were struggling with that? DK: Well identities can be alter identities and I think that when people wrap their identities around what I call the outer forms of an identity rather than the essence of what you are, I think it becomes problematic. So for instance, defining Muslim from the standpoint of the parochial sense. You know, I do this. I do that. I pray this way or I-- you know. And not the ethical dimension. Ethical dimension is where we kind of dissolve and our commonalities come in. Do unto others as you want unto yourself. And really, even going even deeper than that and deeper into yourself and looking at the core of your essence. Who are you? Where does your consciousness come from? You know, for instance. And I realized-- this was of course, with my husband helping me because he was a spiritual leader and I asked many questions. And he ultimately taught me that you can have multiple, multiple identities and people can actually take those away from you. Like somebody can challenge your Muslim-ness or somebody-- but if your identity is really one that nobody can take away from you, that is an identity you can latch onto. And that is really defined from an Islamic perspective and I think from all monotheistic faith traditions, which is that each and every one of us has is us, a spark of the divine. You know, what we call the breath of the divine or God's light and that's what makes us human and that's what set us apart from the animal kingdom and all the other kingdoms that exists out there. And that's also what is common in all of us, all six billion of us. And this, nobody can take away from you. This kind of relationship that you have with God, no one can take away from you. And you can do it quietly and you can do it outwardly. You know, you can profess it outwardly, but really inwardly if your connection with God is so strong. And then you find ways to navigate that relationship. How do you navigate that within the rules and the boundaries of that society? So for instance, I loved God so much I wanted to do everything that God told me to do. You know, fast for a whole month. And I was working at Wall Street at that time and I remember how difficult it was to not go to lunch with people and to not tell people that I'm fasting for a whole month. What were they going to think? I mean I was the solo Muslim. It wasn't like it is now when there are many Muslims out there and for a couple of weeks I hid it. I said, oh no, I'm on a diet. I would go through that whole process. And then I started looking around and then one of my friends who was a person of faith, also a very devout, Christian came to me. And he was gay and he'd never told me this before. He said you're not by any chance doing that Ramadan thing are you? I said, yes, but I didn't want to tell anybody. He says, oh, you can confide in me. I'm your friend. And he said, I can cover you and I can go to lunch and we won't do anything during that lunch time. So for another week I did that. And then other people started wondering. There was a Jewish guy there and he was from an Orthodox family even though he was not a practicing Jew himself. And he looked at me and he said, you're not waiting for sundown are you? I've noticed you eat at sundown. Because he was very keyed into the Jewish sundown thing. And I said, yeah. I think it was like I was maybe 20 days into Ramadan and everybody had discovered that I was fasting. And then the tradition began. They all came to me one day and cornered me in my cubicle and said, what's going on here? How come you haven't told us? And then I had a Catholic secretary. She said, I'm so embarrassed because you starve for the whole day and I'm a devout Catholic and I only give up one thing for Lent, so I'm really impressed with your devotion. And then people said, well, what can we do for you? I said, well, there is a tradition that if you feed a fasting person, you get the blessing of their fast. So you can imagine, next day, mountains of food awaiting at my desk. A muffin, a piece of chocolate, something. And on the last day there was like a whole thing that everybody was celebrating Ramadan with me. Now, this is the way-- then I got bolder next time and I started telling people ahead of time. Because I realized that actually people appreciate it. MJ: Right. Can you remember before that moment that you just described, what you thought was at stake in people or not knowing? DK: Oh, at that point my career was at stake. MJ: You really felt that? DK: Of course, because I felt that people might-- maybe I might get discriminated against. Maybe people will think that she belongs to the same religion that the terrorists belong to. Because you know, there had been previous attacks [...inaudible...]. We had a bunch of characters before and then there was a hostage crisis and the hostage crisis, I really internalized that because I saw that unfold. And it was very traumatic for me because I had never seen images of that associated with Islam before. Because I came from a very loving, peaceful, tolerant Muslim society. And hostage taking was something so alien, and that I began to think people are going to think I'm that kind of a Muslim. And I was young. And I had no guides and I had no people to tell me how to-- I didn't have a civil liberties organization and I just was concerned. And so I chose that it's best for me to keep it private. So people come to us, for instance, younger Muslims come to us and say, what should we do in the workspace when we can't pray? How should we deal with the situation? You know, I'm in Wall Street. I'm on the trading floor, I can't go and pray. What should I do? These are the kinds of questions that people have. And so we give them various different-- understanding their predicament. And I've been in corporate America and I know what the predicament is. You ultimately have to make a livelihood. You can't come in there and roll out your rug in the middle of a trading floor and expect everybody to start clapping. Things have to be gradually done as I did myself until people really like you, trust you as a person, and respect your ethics. So I always tell people, I said the most important thing is you have to be the most ethical person around. Once you're ethical, people will give you a lot of rope, you know? And so focus on the ethics first. Then share your situation with a few people, maybe a boss, maybe somebody who's-- we Muslims practice our faith openly. It's not a faith that you can keep private. It's kind of like a little bit more like the Jewish faith. I mean we pray, we roll out a rug. You know, it's a big thing. We fast, we're starving the whole thing for 30 days. It's not just a one day thing. So it's a faith that has a lot of outward expressions. So how to kind of navigate that in the American cultural expression is very exciting work, but it's also challenging. But I say exciting because you're creating a new path. You're creating history. You're creating kind of a new way of being without having to give up the essential core values of your faith. MJ: Just to back up a bit, you were talking or you were beginning to talk, I think I derailed you, but you were talking about kind of pre-9/11 in-reach and post-9/11 outreach. DK: Yeah so the in-reach was more about kind of getting to know your own relationship and your own faith. And what I was talking about was not only just myself, but really the people that we catering to, which were the younger, the next generation of Muslims. And what was it that they needed and kind of being their mentors. And then, overnight our kind of audience changed. Instead of our audience being this young group of Muslims who would come and say, tell us how to deal with this verse of the Koran or what should we do here, how should be pray, what should we do this? The questions were almost the opposite, which is who are you? Why are you here? Why do you hate us? Why do they hate us? You know, why is your religion so violent? Why do you treat women so badly? And like a whole range of almost 130 questions that people have asked over time. And the frequency of these questions and these lectures and this outreach was so huge that it actually defined our life work. And in that process I could not commit myself to doing both. I could no longer commit myself. I was distracted at my job. I was thinking about, how am I going to do this? And I felt that it was time for me to focus on my-- instead of building buildings, really build community. And I'd like to focus on human development and community building. So I shifted gears and left my corporate career. MJ: And when was that? What year was that? DK: I think it was 2005. MJ: OK. And then you had talked about, even in the late '90s, already you were beginning to come to some kind of vision that it if it wasn't the Cordoba initiative, it kind of was the start of that idea. DK: It was definitely the start of that idea because both my husband and I had been very comfortable with the pluralism that exists within Islam and the pluralism that exists even in all religions. We fundamentally believe that all people are created equal, that part of the divine plan is to create different religions and to test humanity through getting to know one another. So both of us had been very committed to that from the onset. And I think this is why when 9/11 happened we were really equipped to go and speak to the audiences. And both of us had straddled two cultures, so-- MJ: Your husband is from where? DK: He's of Egyptian origin, but he lived in London and Malaysia and gone to Egypt. His parents are Egyptian. And then when he came to the states, his father was Imam here at 72nd Street and then the Imam for the 96th Street Mosque. So he was steeped in a religious family. And he saw his father build a whole community here when there was nothing. And so he had kind of seen the evolution of how communities get developed and he had also interacted with Jewish leaders at a very young age when he was going with his father everywhere. And I had also seen a community being built because when I went to Long Island and I kind of landed in Long Island in Jericho where my uncle lived and I stayed with him. MJ: That was the first place that you-- DK: That was the first place, yeah. That my uncle had started the beginnings, the seed of creating a new first mosque, really the first big mosque in Long Island was created by my family. And a handful of other doctors. And that mosque is right now flourishing. And I had my footprint in that, literally. I designed the carpet and I helped the architect with some of the design elements. So I had seen the community develop and my husband had already been part of it, so when we came together we kind of like said, OK, how do we take a community to the next level? Instead of just a mosque, what do we need to do? We need to engage people in the athletic area. We need to engage people socially. We need to engage them through culture and arts and the kind of stuff that everybody else has done before us. MJ: Can you describe the immediate aftermath of 9/11 then? You were talking about-- well, I'll just leave it open. DK: Media was very different after 9/11 than it is now. Media itself has changed a lot. For instance after 9/11 there were no blogs, no internet. I mean it was very limited. You're as old as I am probably. You remember what only a 10 year difference, just in the last 10 years how much things have changed. So it was really traditional media. And we didn't have the kind of vitriol. They would spend a lot of their time, majority of the time, on the acts of the terrorists and very little time on the responses that the Muslim community was giving. Or, in other words, the portrayal was very imbalanced. So there was a lot of emphasis on who did it and who the people are and what did they do, and not how do Muslims feel about it. So we felt that we were shut out of the whole tragedy. Because we had to be on the defensive. We were always defending our faith and we were always having to explain the actions of somebody else whose ideology neither we shared nor we endorsed. And in fact, we abhorred. MJ: One of the things that struck me in that immediate year or two, there were-- occasionally video tapes would surface with Osama bin Laden and on those tapes he was always talking in terms that were more about political economy than about religion. And yet, the kind of dominant reaction in the U.S., among non-Muslims in the U.S., was that it was all about Islam, it was all about religion. How do you understand that? How do you understand the ways in which non Muslim Americans have so kind of confused the relationship between the politics of terrorists and the religion of several billion people in the world? DK: Yeah. I mean the conflation of-- conflating Islam with the actions of terrorism and not being able to delink them is at the core of what the problem is right now. Because by doing that, a, they put the rest of the Muslim community on the defensive, so Muslim community cannot really come forward and roll up their sleeves and be part of the solution. Because we're always on the defensive. And on the other hand, what they do is they empower the extremists by doing that. Because now they say, “You're the real Muslim. You're the authentic Muslim because you're upholding the banner of Islam.” If we neutralized them and said, “Oh they're really terrorists or they're really murderers, “and call them for what they are rather than give them this veneer, this Islamic veneer that they used-- they craft so well because it's a recruiting tool and it has been done by other religions before. And so not kind of understanding the history of how people have abused religion is what's puzzling to me. Why do you not understand when the Crusades went in the name of Christianity and went and did the horrible things that they did, Why do you not understand that the same thing is happening now? These people have a political end and they're using Islam as a veneer, as a recruiting tool. Islam is very simple. The messaging is very simple. You know, seek justice. And they have a lot of causes that they can rally people around them. So, instead of focusing on their message, focus on the heinous acts that they do, which are an affront to Islam. Or which is an absolute distortion of the Islamic scripture. Let's focus on that. You see, the Muslim community would rally around that. We would all be delighted to engage in that. And that is that part I do not understand. I'm still puzzled by that, even with every terrorist attack that happens here. It's always that label, Muslim terrorists instead of calling them what they are, and then letting the Muslim community come in and say, these people are committing an act that is an affront to my religion or to our religion or the religion of 1.6 billion people. And then let that be the dominant discourse rather than the other way around. Now, our way of tackling with that was to create a center that would become a counter momentum to that ideology by promoting the voices of the moderates or the mainstream Muslim community. This is why this center would be dedicated to empowering the Muslims who hardly ever get heard. And then we see an attack on us as if we are linked with the extremists. MJ: What were the first signs that you got that that was going to be the case? I mean this has been kind of all over the newspapers for the last four to six months, but I'm sure that you were-- I mean it was on your horizon much earlier than that. Can you describe the genesis of this current moment that you find yourself in, and what were some of the early warning signs that your project was being misunderstood or slandered or was going to be? DK: Well, the project actually did come out in the news in early December. There was a wonderful article in The New York Times. Very thoughtful article about prayer and renewal at Ground Zero. And the gentleman who wrote the article talked about how, what Muslims were doing, their responsibility. It was the kind of article that-- or the kind of story that should have been told all along, even post, after that. But what happened was nobody paid any attention to that. It was a lovely article. People called us and congratulated us and said we can't wait for you to build a center. It sounds like such a wonderful place. You know, there were interfaith people who talked about it, there were 9/11 families who endorsed it. It was a whole range of people. And then we took our cue and we said,  “Wow. This is wonderful. So many people are so appreciative of what we're doing.” And so we kind of moved on from that. We had our landmark. The attorney who was representing the building said there might be a slight landmark issue. Before you guys pursue with the full thing, make sure that that gets ironed out and speak to the community board. So we went to the community board and the community board was very, very appreciative of the center. And then that evening there was a reporter there from Daily News who then wrote an article the next day and on the page the first article, it said 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. And I said, well, it's not a 13-story mosque at Ground Zero. It's a community center. MJ: It's not at Ground Zero. DK: It's not at Ground Zero and it's not a 13-story mosque. And that was fine because it wasn't so damaging. But what happened after that was when New York Post picked it up. And we started getting phone calls from investigative reporters who were investigating terrorism and who were investigating our funding. And we realized that we have a big problem on our hands. MJ: And this was last spring or when did that start? DK: May. MJ: May, yeah. DK: May of this year. And then we started seeing certain people come out against the project through blogs and certain opposition groups come out right away and we knew that we were done because-- done with-- because the opposition had done this before to other people. They had already gone through a dry run with another person when the Khalil Jabran Academy was being established. And they had done another dry run when they tried to promote this film called Obsession. 30 million households, they distributed this horrendous film. It's the same set of people that were dedicated-- MJ and DK: Pamela Geller. DK: I mean, it's a group of people that have resources and then they used New York Post and Fox to kind of be their channel. And they became full time dedicated to it. MJ: And they became stars. DK: Well they became stars, but the news outlets basically dedicated their full time to this. So every day we would see something new and different about us. A new accusation, a new something. So we knew that there was a opposition. Of course, then politicians jumped in because it was election cycle. So they thought, oh, this is great. This is great to continue the fear, keep the fear alive. MJ: Right. Rick Lazio. DK: Rick Lazio. You know, Newt Gingrich. The republican establishment jumped in, created an ad and it was-- MJ: Can you talk about your own strategic position over-- I mean, how have you dealt with this over the months? What were your initial thoughts about how you could combat this? And where do you find yourself now in terms of turning back this vitriol? DK: Well, the only way to combat this was to let people know who we really are and what we stand for. And we knew that we could not necessarily do that through the media. The media would not listen to us because, especially the media that mattered. The media that was continuing to promote this, almost this grotesque image of us. We couldn't even recognize ourselves after a while. I would be afraid to turn on the TV because I'm like, oh my God. That's me? That can't be me. Are you talking about me? I mean I'd always be fighting to the TV. You're not talking about me! We decided that our best defense was to reach out to all our interfaith partners that we had worked with. And in fact, we hardly had to do anything. They rushed to us. They said, you guys aren't going to be-- nobody's going to do this to you while we're alive. Because we had built such strong alliances from this earliest of times when we started that we just called a couple of meetings, called people and everybody started writing on blogs. Everybody started calling, going on the media, being surrogates. And because they felt that our fight is a fight that they had fought before or their predecessors had fought before against somebody else. The Jewish community was very instrumental. The Rabbinical community of New York pretty much-- MJ: Gary Bretton-Granatoor. DK: Yeah, went in full force against their own. Against the ADL. And so those were the major defining moments for us because we knew that even though we were at the front line of the battle, we had a whole army behind us. And it was a very strong army. Just knowing that there are supporters behind you was enough for us to be able to withstand this pressure. I think by ourselves it would have been a very difficult thing to continue to fight this way. MJ: One of the things that struck me, I was at the Historic Preservation Board hearing downtown in August or so, whenever that was. And when the nine members, they-- DK: Oh, you came to Landmark Preservation. MJ: Exactly, the Landmark right. They announced their positions and-- DK: That was quite a beautiful ceremony. MJ: Well it was beautiful and the thing that struck me was-- well, there were a couple things that stuck me. One was I could only count a tiny, tiny handful of people in the room who were visibly against the project. Pam Geller was one of them. But there were not many people there. I mean, there were not that many people there anyway. DK: Not at that one. Because they had already heard that it was going to go in our favor. MJ: Is that what it was? DK: And they had decided to stay away. MJ: OK, because the thing that struck me was that the largest single constituency in the room was probably the media. And then the second largest was Jews for Peace who had an enormous presence there. DK: Yeah, J. Street. MJ: So when the decision was handed down there was this amazing kind of collective sigh of relief and the right thing has happened. And so it was almost shocking two days later to see these screaming headlines on Newsweek. But you already knew that that was going to be kind of the case at that point? DK: Well we weren't privy to what was going to happen that day. But the fact that the community board systematically approved this project over and over again overwhelmingly. You know, the first vote, the second vote, the third vote. How many votes do you have to have? And the community wanted us. The irony is all the opposition was coming from outside New York City. You know, Pam Geller-- I mean, Spencer and Gingrich, and all these other people who don't even live in New York, who don't have a stake in New York and are speaking on behalf of the 9/11 families as if they represent the 9/11 families. So we knew that there was something more to this. It wasn't just the 9/11 families opposing this on the basis of the sensitivity issue. We knew that we had become an election issue. The only way we could combat this was to get our grassroots galvanized with us and create these big vigils and you saw, like 6,000 people went to a vigil. I mean that doesn't happen without people really believing what they believe in. So many people came forward because each person had their own cause. It was like everybody who had a cause kind of came together, all kinds of disparate groups were coming together to fight the fight for us. Because they saw in our cause their cause. MJ: Right. One of the questions I had and I wonder how you see this. My own historian's sense of this is that it's really important that Obama is the president. That part of the opposition and part of the vitriol that you all are getting is this kind of pervasive sense of white Christian displacement on the part of a certain-- I don't have to know how numerically significant they are, but there's a group of people out there who are just plain mad that there's a black man in the White House. And I wonder if you could talk about both, first of all, what his election meant to you when that happened and maybe if that was a particular moment of hope for the kind of pluralistic vision you've described? But then also, how you see the vitriol against him as being of a piece with what you all have faced in the last year? DK: Yeah. Well I think that one of the things that I have seen through this whole crisis is that I believe as a nation we have not dealt with the whole tragedy of 9/11. I think it's a conversation we never really had. What did it mean for America and its mainland to be attacked by a group of people sitting in a cave in Afghanistan? We've never been vulnerable as a nation, we've never been vulnerable as a people. We think that we are, you know, no one can attack us. You know, strong, we're the mightiest nation. And I think we are, as a nation, suffering on many fronts. Sort of the decline of our economic power as China emerges and India emerges. Loss of jobs and there's just a lot of unmanaged anger. And then we come along, this whatever-- 3% of the Muslim community that's going to topple over America. And then there's a minority president. And it's as if America has, you know, reversed its course and is no longer white and is no longer Christian. There's a lot of angst about a much ado about nothing because the reality is America is a nation of immigrants and has always had new people come and integrate and make it what it is. So I think that we're just going through the pains of what is inevitably a change for America. You know, the browning of America, America is changing as a nation. But the difficulty is that the changes that used to happen before happened over generations and happened without all this extra media and without the blogs and the information highway. But now everything is magnified so much more that people have become much more perceptive. You know, what's happening? What happens in New York is inevitably a story wherever you go in the world. I mean I travel and recently, wherever I've traveled, everybody knows about the story. Everybody has seen me on the Town Hall with Christiane Amanpour. I said, in Egypt? She said, oh yeah, it was on Egypt TV. And I'm like, OK, this is the problem we have now. On the one hand we are so local. On the other hand, we're so globalized with the information that is being spread out there that the information itself is creating an angst because people then don't know how to deal with it. They see images, they see things, they hear things, and then they don't have anybody to go to and say, well, I didn't know that. So we're discovering that everywhere we go, if we sit down with a group of people to do a dialogue, after we sit down with them and tell them who we are and what we're about and what the center was all about: “Nobody ever told me that. I have no problem with what you're doing now.” But that's the problem, is that media has become so powerful. And I'm not just talking about mainstream media. I'm talking about alternative media, has become so powerful. And each person, whatever their own sort of ideology is, tends to lean towards a certain media. The country gets very decided along certain ideological lines. And there is no kind of-- MJ: There's no common. DK: There's no common anymore. MJ: How do we tend this world? Both from a spiritual point of view, but also from a political point of view? What are the things that we can do to foster the kinds of exchange and communication that seems so imperiled at this moment? DK: The one thing I think, you're always going to have these kinds of issues. The question is, who's magnifying it, and who's not magnifying it? News by its nature was always news and there were newspapers that would report the news and it was in a certain context, right? It would have, “Man bites dog.” It was news. And we understand that people who are normal are not news and we know that when something happens abnormal, that's news. But when you magnify that abnormal to such an extent that that becomes the dominant frame and the dominant discourse, then that's a problem because all you're doing is giving a platform to that abnormal. And to some extent, the media has given Osama bin Laden a platform, a free television. Anytime he wants to do a videotape it's out there. He doesn't need a PR company, he just does it. MJ: Right, or a record label. DK: Yeah. And all you've done is given him his platform. He can recruit people. There's always somebody who's going to fall for his ideology. I mean people are different by nature. On the other hand, there's nothing sexy about the work that Muslims are doing who are rolling up their sleeves every single day. And what has happened now is that the extremists are defining the agenda for the rest of us. And as they have done let's say with the Tea Party movement here, they got so much coverage, so much coverage all the time that people rally around them. Because their message is very simple, it's provocative, it's obnoxious, whatever it is that they're using. And meanwhile, you have majority of people who don't think that way, the majority of people are centrist, majority of people don't want to hate. They want to be polite and respectful. But that majority does not have a voice anymore. And that I think is what John Stewart was trying to do with rally, when he created his rally, was to bring all the rest of us together. MJ: Yeah, Perin [DK's colleague, MJ's former student] told me you were there. DK: I have never gone to a rally in my life because I have to admit, I'm not a rally person. MJ: I was there as well. DK: You were? MJ: Yeah. What was your sense of it? Did you think it was a significant event or was it just a kind of quirky thing that happened and will come and go? DK: No, I don't think it was quirky. I think it was a significant event because a comedian had to step into the role of what politicians are supposed to do. Politicians are supposed to rally people. Either religious people have rallied people or politicians have rallied people. This is the role that, you know, and all of a sudden you have a comedian, or comedians, come out and restore sanity to the world. To say, wait a minute, there is a centrist. This is how people in the middle think. So I think it was significant from that standpoint. That when comedians have to step into this role, then you know that society is-- that we have to take pause. MJ: In your analysis, what is the root of the problem? Is it just the volume of hatred that's out there that finds an outlet? Or is it just that there's so much money to be made in amplifying and magnifying extreme views? Or are those things separable? DK: Well, if there was no media there would be none of the this angst because we would not know about it. Everybody would be within their own sort of network of people and all the problems would be local. You know, and we would be resolving conflict in this thing. But now news outlets-- I mean as I see news and as I see-- you know, journalism has shifted in this country. A lot of it is about the bottom line. And it is run by mega corporations and so I think a lot of stress is being put on good journalists to do more sensational media. To do more provocative media. To look for that abnormal. To amplify that abnormal because that's what's going to get the ratings. And I think certain kind of impoliteness has crept in as a result of that. And I feel bad because I see a lot of really good journalists having to do things that they themselves don't want to do. They themselves feel that they have to be much ruder to you and ask you rude questions. And it's not in their nature. It's not part of their training, but they have to make the show exciting or make the story more exciting to the reader. I think that just like anything else, a lot of it is just very profit driven now. MJ: We've seen certainly that the new media, especially the internet, can be part of the problem. Do you think they can be part of the solution as well? DK: Well, I was glad to see that YouTube finally pulled down these videos, these recruiting videos from YouTube. Today we heard the news. This is the best news of my-- I'm like, why didn't we do this before? We've been asking why do we allow recruiting tools that invite people to come to Jihad and to fight these kind of crazy wars? Why do we allow this stuff to be on the internet? I mean we're talking about pornography, which doesn't really-- you know, it's harmful, but doesn't kill people. But yet, we allow people to have these videos where anybody from anywhere in the world can come and see and download and get inspired by this. There's always a bunch of angry people. There's always a couple of people who are rebellious and there are always a couple of people who want to do justice and find this. And so I think that we really have to look at the internet and see how-- what is the right, delicate balance to providing information? But do we have a responsibility to take down information that promotes hate and war and uglyness? Should we not be considering that? It's a balance. It's something that we have to look at. MJ: So the outlook from here, 2010, two days after what was to many of us a very distressing election. Are you basically optimistic or basically pessimistic about what's coming down the road for us? DK: I think that we are in a change mode. I have never seen America like this before. I haven't lived here long enough. I'm not old enough or I don't have parents that lived here, so there's no one who can tell me the history of America before. I only landed here in 1974. So I see an America that has constantly been changing. And it's the first time that I have now experienced a different kind of America than I experienced before. I think we're still going to change as a nation and we're going to continue to change as a nation. If we hold onto our fundamental values that defined this nation-- religious freedoms and treating everybody as an equal, then I think we will prevail. And I'm confident we'll prevail. I think Americans are by nature, a very fair people. So we go through these moments of doubt, but that fairness always prevails. And we almost always seem to correct ourselves. And there is a corrective measure in this country and the corrective measure is the very robust and healthy civil society that we have in this country. And I think it's a civil society that reigns in and comes in and corrects whatever that needs to be corrected. So I'm confident because there are mechanisms in place that can bring us back from the brink of whatever that we're about to go into. And our own experience, had it not been for the work of all the faith communities and the various civil society organizations that came to our aid, had it not been for that, for that force to unleash itself in our favor, then surely, I'm sure we would have been in the same situation as the Japanese were. You know, because it doesn't take very little to defame or demonize someone. MJ: Have there been moments, either after 9/11 or in the midst of this more recent Cordoba Initiative controversy, have there been times when you have been viscerally afraid? DK: Well, I have too much faith in God and I believe fundamentally that whatever's going to happen is going to happen. And so, I operate from this that I'm protected from above. That I have faith in God. And I am fundamentally, an optimist. I don't believe anybody would ever do anything harmful to anyone. And I'm happy that I'm that way because to be any other way would have probably put me in a lot of despair. So I personally never was afraid for myself, but when I speak to law enforcement people and they give us stories of other people who have had challenges and the types of situations that have happened with other people, who has killed who and for what reason and how can people do harm to you and that is when I began to get nervous, was the first time that I said, oh my goodness. This is real. People could actually do this. But my nature tends to be a very optimist nature, and I thrive on that and that's what keeps me hopeful. MJ: I just ran across this reference the other day. There's an African American writer named Chester Himes who apparently in the 1940s wrote an essay. The title was "Democracy is for the Unafraid." Those are words to live by. DK: Yes, absolutely. MJ: Well this has been wonderful. I really am grateful for your time. Is there anything that you feel that we should have talked about that we didn't, or anything that you'd like to say that you haven't? DK: I think the untold story in all of this is how-- you know, you said, what else can we do? If the interfaith communities truly come together and they truly work on the foundations of the common ground that they share, that we will be able to rally a lot of people together across faiths and across ideologies. And we would be able to also fight the extremists. Because the extremism is all about the exclusive ideology. It's my way or the highway. And the rest of us are all about inclusivity. We're all in it together. We're all God's children. Kumbaya, let's come together and let's not be afraid of one another. All of this journey is about getting to know each other. And to be the best person that you can be. I mean that's one way. And that's where majority of people are. And the problem is the majority is sandwiched between the extremists of this religion and extremists of that religion. And I think the moderates have to rise up and all religions have to rise up and neutralize the extremists. Because if we don't do it actively, they will dominate. As they have done in the past histories. MJ: Right. DK: That's it. MJ: OK, well thank you so much. DK: Thank you.

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