Aired on October 25, 2001

Guests on this program were:

  Giselle Fernandez
Asma Hasan
Malcolm McDowell
Doug McIntyre


Panel Discussion

Bill: All right.
Let's introduce --

[ Panel laughing ]

Wait till we start this show and I've introduced you and save your applause for the end.
Let me introduce the panel tonight on "Politically Incorrect." First, we have, of course, Giselle Fernandez.
She's the co-anchor now of KTL morning news.
Thank you for being here.
Doug McIntyre, been with us many times.
Recently also, he's quite an expert in this area of the world.
Hosts Red-eye Radio on 790 Kabc.
Over here we have Asma Hasan.
Her book, I have it right here, is "American Muslims: A New Generation." She is also a graduate of NYU law school.
And, of course, over here, one of my favorite actors of all time, Malcolm McDowell, who'll be starring in an upcoming four-hour Steven King movie, "The Firestarter," on the Sci-fi Channel.
Now you can give them a hand.

[ Applause ]

And let me begin by saying, once again I think we need to put on our game face here in America, that we're under attack a little bit.
But I don't think there's a lot to be frightened about.
But I really do believe that the people sometimes who are supposed to be reassuring us are --
they scare me a little.

Malcolm: You mean like the Congress?

Bill: The Congress, that wasn't a good thing.

Malcolm: Head for cover.

Bill: Listen to this.
This was in the paper today.
The Pentagon appealed to Americans on Thursday to send in bright ideas on thwarting terrorism, announcing an unusual open competition.
To speed the winners, the Defense Department said it was looking for help in, "Defeating difficult targets, conducting protracted operations in remote areas." Something you're all an expert on.

[ Laughter ]

"And developing countermeasures to weapons of mass destruction." Now, you know, when I go to a concert and the band makes me sing along, I go, "You know what? That's what I'm paying you for."
[ Laughter ]

"You sing the hits, okay?" Isn't that what we're paying the Defense Department to do?

Doug: Well, it's a little alarming to think that they need --
I mean, let's call it temp service, you know? Kelly girl, and send over some assassins.

Giselle: Well, I think what you're asking, Bill, really is it ignorance or arrogance that we're experiencing right now? Are our leaders evoking a sense of confidence in the nation? And my sense is this.
President Clinton, when he was in office, we all embraced his humanity and said, "Look, he's a human being.
He eats McDonald's like the rest of us.
He's the first real President that's among us." And we accepted his humanity.
Here we are in crisis.
Bush, all of the leaders that he's put in place to attack this place, they're learning about anthrax and this new war and the new rules of engagement along with the American public.
So I think we have to embrace the same humanity that they are experiencing as they learn along with us.
And I do have confidence in our new government.
I have confidence that they're doing the best that they can, at least being honest.
They're saying, "It's gonna take a long time.
All of our successes are not gonna be" --

Malcolm: No, but you don't put in the newspapers and say, "Can anybody come up with any ideas?" I mean, how ridiculous is that? Excuse me.

[ Applause ]

Giselle: But that's the lowest common denominator.

Malcolm: Wait a minute.

Giselle: I don't wanna be the big defender of the administration either, but I am saying --

Malcolm: I am not saying the administration - look, bush as far as I'm concerned, he's our president.
We're in crisis.
We're standing behind him.
All of us.

Bill: Yeah, true.

Malcolm: We're right there behind the man, okay?

Giselle: I agree.

Malcolm: But let's please not put out these dumb things because, honestly, that can scare people.
And it's no good saying, "Everybody get back on jets.
Everybody get back to doing things normally." And then as soon as something like this anthrax thing happens, then the Congress, they write, "Let's pack up and go home." Whoo.

Asma: I think the Defense Department has been taking cues from the health and human services department, because it seems like they say, "Don't be scared.
But don't open your mail."
[ Laughter ]

[ Talking over each other ]

Giselle: Why don't they say it's weapons-grade anthrax or it's not weapons-grade anthrax?

Asma: Right.

Malcolm: Could this be a way to get rid of junk mail? That's all I wanna know.

[ Laughter ]

Doug: I agree with what you're saying.
I stopped --

[ Applause ]

Opening my mail years ago, and it had nothing to do with anthrax.

Bill: Yeah.

Malcolm: I think we should lace all junk mail with anthrax.
Maybe that's a way of getting rid of it.

[ Laughter ]

Giselle: I think we have to be really understanding right now of our leaders.
Listen, I'm a Democrat.
So it's not that --
I agree with you.
We actually stand behind our president.
But I also think we have to be very, very conscious of the fact that our administrators and our leaders are learning along with us.
And we have to have some patience.

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: Well, I'm sorry, but you know what? Terrorism has been around for a while.
They shouldn't be learning about terrorism.
This has been a problem for more than just since September 11th.

[ Applause ]

Giselle: Yes, I agree, but --
no, no, no.
I agree, however --
This is not the time though to do any kind of, you know, Monday morning quarterbacking, as the say.
We can't go back and say --

Bill: I disagree.

Giselle: --
"Listen, we should've had safer airports, safer airlines.
We should have known that bioterrorism was --

[ Talking over each other ]

Malcolm: Excuse me.
I have to say one thing.

Asma: Because right now we have to deal with the crisis.

Bill: That is dealing with it.

Malcolm: I do think, honestly, we in America are rather naive about things like terrorism or were naive, because people in Europe, and especially in England where I was from, now paying a lot of American taxes I'm glad to say.

[ Laughter ]

Asma: Do you have any idea who --

Malcolm: I have no idea, but I can tell you this.
Having lived under I.R.A. bomb threats for most of my life, you kind of get a sixth sense about where to go, what to do.
And the thing is I was brought up with it.
So when this happens here --
I mean, I can't --
I'm amazed that Americans say, "Why do people hate us?" You know? Because you're number one, that's why they hate you! They hate us --

Giselle: But then you know more than anyone that we are unsafe.
You want to look to our leaders like they're God or some patriarch to say, "You are safe, American public," and lie to us? We are not safe.

Malcolm: We want to feel confident! Look, did Winston Churchill know what the hell he was talking about in World War II.
Probably not.
And I'll tell you, I think Bush has done a remarkably good job.
I think that that speech that he gave --

Giselle: Yes, remarkable.

Malcolm: --
Was absolutely remarkable.
It was very reassuring.

Bill: But that's a speech.

[ Laughter ]

Malcolm: It's a speech.

Bill: It's a little different --
and I'm not --
it's a little different when he speaks off the cuff.

Asma: His leadership has been good as well.
I have a problem with the health department giving so many conflicting messages about anthrax this year.

Doug: But there's a learning curve here.
In the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the first six months of the U.S. and World War II was a catastrophe.
It was nothing but defeats all across the Pacific and it looked like we were gonna be eviscerated right off the bat.
And it took a while for the mighty engine of America to turn itself into a war machine.
And that's what's happening here.
And it's a particularly vicious enemy because they're using weapons of war that we're not acclimated to dealing with.
And, yes, the CDC screwed up.
And, yes, the post office screwed up.
I mean they're testing the dogs that were sniffing the mail before they tested the mailman.
I mean, it's laughable --

[ Talking over each other ]

They're gonna get their act together.
I think we have professional adults in charge who have an incredibly huge problem to deal with, from economic issues to civil liberties issues, to homeland security, to prosecuting awards, to stitching together alliances.

Bill: Right.

Doug: And they're doing a great job.

[ Applause ]

Giselle: I agree.

Malcolm: I agree with you.

Giselle: I agree.

Bill: That is a tepid round of applause for that, I must point out.

[ Talking over each other ]

Doug: Well, half the audience has anthrax.

[ Laughter ]

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: Tommy Thompson said the other day about the two dead postal workers --
he said, "My knowledge of the deaths came from CNN." Comforting.
He said, "I find it puzzling that the information doesn't flow better." Puzzling? How about unacceptable?

Doug: Well, it is --

Bill: How about he knows before he sees it on CNN.

Doug: It is unacceptable.

Bill: I'm sorry, but I do not have this kind of patience for our leaders to be doing a --
yes, they need to do a great job now.

Doug: This is the problem that Tom Ridge has, the former governor of Pennsylvania who is now the cabinet member in charge of homeland security.
We have to give him budget authority, because right now he doesn't have any cudgels to hang over their heads.
Until he has budget authority to whip the various governmental agencies into line, he's basically gonna be a drug Czar.
And we know how effective that's been.

Malcolm: I think --
yeah, there's just --

Giselle: We've known about this threat since '96 when the taliban went into Kabul.
We have known this now for such a long time.
The real question is, why didn't we better prepare for a threat of bioterrorism?

Malcolm: Yeah.

Asma: Right.

Giselle: Why didn't we put forth some kind of a homeland security? Our intelligence system was severely lacking, as we unfortunately found out in a most tragic way.

Bill: What if we have a better imagination? I was saying the other --

[ Laughter ]

Our leaders --
I mean rumsfeld I was quoting the other day on this show saying that, you know --
he said, "If anyone can imagine people taking over an airliner and flying into a building, I'd be amazed?" Well, you know what? Watch a movie, they have.

[ Laughter ]

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: We could not have imagined that anthrax would escape an envelope.
Well, you know, it is not that really inconceivable.
Put it through a mail-sorting machine with talcum powder, see what happens.

Giselle: But we have been totally spared until now.

Bill: Yeah, but we pay these guys to do this.

Doug: Yeah, but the thing is these guys can't operate in a vacuum.
In a free society, you have to have public support for these things.
And this goes back to our reaction over the last 10, 12 years to terrorism.
You know, I do a talk radio show and take live calls all night long.
I didn't get a single call from anyone three years ago saying we should go into Afghanistan and commit troops.
And would Americans have wanted to go through the hassle at the airports and all this stuff pre-September 11th? No!

Giselle: We don't wear seat belts until we get in an accident.

Doug: That's exactly right.

Giselle: And we smoke even though we know it causes cancer.

Doug: We don't care what happens in those other countries until it bites us in the ass.
I mean, read a paper from December 6th, 1941.

Bill: Right.

Doug: It's a different paper on December 8th.

Bill: Right.
You're right.
We gotta take a break.
We'll be back.

[ Applause ]

Bill: Okay, I want to talk a little about Ramadan.
Am I saying that correctly?

Asma: Yes.

Bill: I'm sure all the people who you write about in your book, "American Muslims," are aware that it starts November 17th.
For the rest of us, I'm sure you're thinkin', "It's earlier every year."

Doug: I got the house decorated already.

Malcolm: Presents, the whole thing and have a tree.

Asma: No, we don't have a tree.
But at the end of Ramadan is when our big holiday is.

Malcolm: When is the end of it?

Asma: On December 6th.

Malcolm: Such a long holiday.

Bill: What they're arguing about in our Defense Department, other than getting ideas from people, is whether we should continue our war in Afghanistan through this holy month.
And they keep saying this is not a war about religion.
And I say, if it's not, then let's keep the war going.
Plus, I think it's an example of only we, as usual, play by the rules.
Other armies take advantage of religion.
The tet offensive, the Yom Kippur war.
Only we, the nice guys, would say, "Oh, it's your religious holiday --
we'll take a break."

Doug: The idea of fighting a "humanitarian war" is jumbo shrimp.
It doesn't make any sense, it's completely ridiculous.
There's nothing humanitarian about war.
And we're trying very hard, which is the right thing to do, to limit civilian casualties.
But as you pointed out, the Yom Kippur war.
The Arab enemies of Israel certainly didn't respect the Jewish holidays.
When Iran and Iraq fought for ten years, they fought right threw their holidays.
George Washington attacked the hessians in Trenton on Christmas Day.

Malcolm: What about the first World War, though? They did pause for Christmas, to celebrate, came out of the trenches, with a bottle of nice German beer and they shared it, and then they shot each other in the back.
To give a little visual there.

Doug: No wonder you're working with Stephen King.

Asma: I think you all have a point.
And I think that's true to say that, you know, Muslims have fought during Ramadan.
And, you know, they fight each other, but when it's going to be a Muslim country --
a Non-Muslim country attacking a Muslim country during Ramadan, definitely Muslims are going to use it as an excuse to say, "All right, we don't support this so-called 'humanitarian war.'" It's going to be a reflection of deeper problems that Muslims are having, but they are going to use that as an excuse.

Doug: They have so many reasons to hate us --

Asma: If they want to keep the coalition together, keep Muslim countries in it, then they probably should not be bombing during Ram --

Doug: We have a better chance of keeping a Firestone tire together.
This coalition is going to collapse, it's going to collapse instantly.

[ Talking over each other ]

Giselle: I think it's a higher ethical issue.
And I really think --
I may be naive and idealistic, but we are the great United States of America.
We are civilized people, and it's not about being humanitarian.
This is not a war against Islam.
This is a war against terrorism and terrorists.
And to me, I think you do, out of respect, because we are a civilized people.
We do stop and honor these peoples' holiday --

[ Light applause ]

I don't want to lower ourselves to their level.

Malcolm: And the terrorists are going to stop? They're going to lay down their arms and just wait for us?

Giselle: I think we do honor rules of engagement.
Someone asked before, "Why should we if they're not?" Because we are the great United States of America.

Malcolm: The thing is, that is why they bombed the World Trade Center.
That is exactly why they did it.

Giselle: Why? What are you saying?

Malcolm: Wake up, and smell the coffee.
I'm sorry, but you can't go around giving the high ideals here.
You're dealing with murderers.

Asma: Bill, you said we play by the rules, and sometimes we covertly have not played by the rules.
In fact, when we were asking the Afghans to fight the cold war for us, we said "Fight in the name of Islam, you are freedom fighters for Islam." We should have said, "You're fighting for your independence and for your own land." But instead, we gave them all this rhetoric that now they're going to use against us.
And if we continue to bomb during Ramadan, it's just going to make them more and more upset.
And personally, as a Muslim, I mean, Ramadan is our holiest month.
It's the month that we believe Mohammed revealed "The Koran." So it's sad, because it shows that we failed as humankind, you know, where --

Bill: What would you say to some people who have said that anything they recovered from the terrorists who died in the attack, they should be buried according to Muslim tradition, which is facing East.
And you read Mohammed Atta's will.
He doesn't want any women near his grave, you know, no pregnant women.

Asma: This is odd, because Muslims don't have wills usually.

Giselle: They don't have lap dances, either.

Asma: Yeah, exactly.
A lot of those things they did weren't Muslim.

Bill: You cannot really scare people who want to die anyway.
But you actually could scare future terrorists from doing it by burying them wrong, because they are deathly afraid of not going to paradise.
So if we buried them facing West --

[ Light laughter ]

[ Scattered applause ]

Wrapped in a pigskin, holding a bottle of Jack Daniels --

[ Laughter ]

And with a dead hooker --

[ Laughter ]

I really think that that would deter future terrorists.

Malcolm: Bill, that's a great idea, I would send it in to the government.

[ Laughter ]

[ Applause ]

Doug: I don't think wrapping a dead taliban soldier in a football is an answer, because, as Giselle said, we all walk in this fine line, where they want it to be a holy war.
We don't want it to be a holy war.

Bill: Wait, wait, we're talking about a specific group of people who are dying to get to paradise.

Doug: So let's make them die, and they can worry about paradise.
We don't have to go into the religious thing.

Bill: You're not going to get to paradise --

Giselle: It's not a deterrent.

Asma: I don't think that's an effective way to deal with the problems they're having.

Giselle: The death penalty is not a deterrent to other murderers who continue on their rampages.

Bill: Yes, it is.

Giselle: No.

Bill: You don't know that.

Giselle: How did we bury Timothy McVeigh? We followed a certain criteria that is part of the law of this land, even for criminals.
Because we are the members of the United States of America.

Bill: But they use our civilization against us.
They use our high technology and our open society.
We should use their primitive ideology against them.
It's only fair.

[ Scattered applause ]

Giselle: I think we should bury them according to how we bury other criminals.
I don't think we go out of our way to go against their Muslim tradition in an act of vengeance.

Bill: Even if it would deter future terrorists?

Asma: I don't think it would deter future terrorists, though.
I mean, it might be fun to engage in a rhetoric, you know, war of words.

Bill: It worked before, you know.

Asma: But the thing is, the more we continue using those stereotypes and thinking about them in black-and-white, stark terms, we won't understand why they are attacking --

Bill: I'm sorry, but you know what, when general --

Asma: I'm talking about to use ideas that are going to exacerbate and enflame people and to be making jokes out of serious issues.

Bill: I'm not making a joke.
When general perishing was trying to subdue the Muslims in the Philippines --

Asma: Don't you think that Osama bin Laden would just say, "Look, it's okay if they bury you the wrong way, God'll understand"?

Doug: A bigger strategic problem is that they apparently are hiding assets in mosques.
And that's a real problem.
They've got troops hidden in mosques.
They've got equipment hidden in mosques.
And then what do we do? Do we attack a mosque? And then there goes more disastrous PR across that part of the world that's completely despotic with no free flow of information.
And these are difficult problems for us, because we can't turn it into a holy war.

Bill: I think we have to stop worrying about how the people who attacked us, how we're going to hurt their feelings.
They hurt our feelings.

[ Applause ]

Doug: It's not about hurting feelings.

Bill: Okay, I gotta take a break.

[ Applause ]

Bill: All right.
Let me ask you in the time we have left.
You mentioned stereotypes.
And we talked a lot about women in the Muslim world.
The stereotype is that they're second-class citizens in --

Giselle: Third.

Bill: In many places worse than that.
Is that a stereotype or is it true? And if it is true --

Asma: It's definitely just a stereotype.

Bill: --
Why don't we hear more speaking out against that in the Muslim world.

Asma: Well, you know, I'm speaking out against it a lot.
But if the media doesn't listen to us and cover us, what are we supposed to do? I mean, here I am, I've written a book about Islam in America and I'm on this national television show.

Bill: But we're not talking about in America.

Asma: Do I seem oppressed, you know? Okay, well, in Islamic countries, Islamic culture, a lot of people lump it together.
They call it Islamic culture, but really it's local culture that existed before Islam.
Islam is only 1,400 years old and the people in those countries --

Malcolm: That's all?

Bill: That's all.

Malcolm: Oh, man.

Bill: Okay, but it seems like it's moving backward.

Asma: No, it's not moving backward.

Bill: We had a reformation in Christianity that moved Christianity forward.

Asma: Everybody talks about Islam as having a reformation.
And I think that's just rhetoric to avoid us from asking, to keep us from asking the hard questions like, "What did we do that caused this?" You know, Islam has had reformations.
Most Muslims belong to the school of thought that the Koran is a living document to be updated with the times, reinterpreted with the times.
And the Koran and the holy --

Bill: But what about the women?

Asma: They're crystal clear on the status of women.

[ Talking over each other ]

Women are equal to men.
They have the right to vote.
They have the right to keep their maiden name, to choose whom they marry.

Giselle: To work.

Asma: To own property.
And at that time 1,400 years ago, women in the Western world, from your country of England, did not have the right to own property in their own day.

[ Talking over each other ]

Malcolm: Elizabeth the First owned it all.

[ Laughter ]

Giselle: People keep saying it's a cultural issue, that the United States doesn't have a right to go in and impose our value system on the taliban's treatment of women.
And I read that prior to '96, before the taliban regime went in, Muslim women there were working, they were being educated.

Asma: Yes, they were.

Giselle: They were engaging in society and life.

Asma: Lawyers, doctors, teachers.

Giselle: This is not part of their culture --

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: Please, if a women is being beaten by her husband and she calls the police and says, "My husband is beating me." Don't the police say, "And your point is what?"

Asma: Well, is that just in Muslim countries or all developing countries?

Bill: I don't know.
The other countries aren't bombing us.

[ Laughter ]

So I'm only asking about the Muslim countries now.

Asma: There's 1.2 billion Muslims in the world, and I think we're entitled to our fair share of whackos, extremists, you know --

Bill: Oh, come on.
I'm not talking about whackos and extremists, I'm saying in most homes in most Muslim countries.

Asma: If they do it it's not 'cause Islam says to them to do it, it's because they're doing interpretation of Islam that patriarchal --

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: All right.
We have to take a commercial.

[ Talking over each other ]

Bill: All right.

[ Applause ]

Bill: Okay.
Once again, your book, "American Muslims: The New Generation." Please, don't be mad at me.
Just doin' my job.

[ Laughter ]

[ Applause ]

Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher


Executive Producers
Bill Maher
Nancy Geller
Jerry Nachman
Marilyn Willson

Co-Executive Producer
Kevin Hamburger

Sheila Griffiths

Created By
Bill Maher

Directed By
Michael Dimich

Writing Supervised By
Billy Martin

Kevin Bleyer
Brian Jacobsmeyer
Bill Kelley
Bill Maher
Billy Martin
Jerry Nachman
Ned Rice
Danny Vermont
Eric Weinberg

Coordinating Producer
Joy Dolce

Associate Director
Bob Staley

Stage Manager
Patrick Whitney

John Cramer

Executive in Charge of Production
John Fisher

Brad Grey
Bernie Brillstein
Marc Gurvitz

© 2001 Follow Up Productions

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