Smerconish: Public prayer by Muslims "wrong" and "a game" to remind audience of terrorist attacks

Video ››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

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On the November 23 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor, guest host Michael A. Smerconish took issue with a recent decision by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority to provide a designated prayer area at Giants Stadium. The decision was in response to a September 19 incident involving the FBI's detention and questioning of five Muslim men who were observed praying near the stadium's main air duct during a New York Giants football game. Smerconish stated: "I just think that's [the men's public praying] wrong. I just think they're playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from September 11."

In a November 2 article, the Associated Press reported that FBI spokesman, agent Steven Siegel, said the men had aroused suspicion because they were congregating near the main air intake duct. Also, security was on higher alert because former President George H. W. Bush was in the stadium that night as part of a fundraising campaign he and former President Clinton are leading for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The AP quoted Siegel as follows:

You had 80,000 people there, Bush 41 was there, and you had a group of gentlemen gathering in an area not normally used by the public right near the main air intake duct for the stadium, and a food preparation facility. It was where they were, not what they were doing.

The men were later released without charge and have since claimed that their detention was evidence of racial profiling. The FBI denies these charges.

Smerconish said that the Giants' designation of a new prayer area "just seems like a form of capitulation in this instance to -- well, frankly -- to the Arab community ... I think that it's fundamentally unfair that five Arab guys, Muslim men in their twenties, get together in full view of 80,000 folks and engage in prayer." Smerconish added:

SMERCONISH: Tolerance means I've gotta tolerate that -- the practitioners of the Muslim faith -- but they've gotta be tolerant of my reasonable concerns about terrorism four years post-9-11. And their tolerance of me necessitates that they not gather in prayer when there are 80,000 people in the house for a football game.

From the November 23 broadcast of Fox News' The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

SMERCONISH: September 19, the Giants hosted the New Orleans Saints. The game was also the site of a Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser. Did you hear about this? As a matter of fact, number 41 was in the house. Meaning George Herbert Walker Bush, past president and father, of course, of W [President Bush]. Eighty-thousand folks were in the house for the Giants and the Saints and the Katrina fund-raiser.

In an area near food preparation, in an area near air duct work and venting, folks saw five apparently Muslim men in their 20s praying. Let me just sort of freeze-frame right there and ask The Radio Factor audience: Had you been in Giants Stadium that day, you know that it's the Giants and the Saints, you know that it's a Hurricane Katrina fund-raiser, perhaps you know that number 41 is in the house, you certainly know that you're a stone's throw away from Ground Zero; what, if anything, would you have done if you had seen five apparently Muslim men in their 20s engaged in prayer?

Maybe you would do absolutely nothing. But you can call me on that issue as I tell you the rest of the story. It's 1-877-9-NOSPIN. Me, I'd drop the dime. And somebody in this case did drop the dime. And well, you can see, I'm sure, where this thing is headed.

Before long, it became a focal point in a civil liberties debate. The Council on American-Islamic Relations got involved -- CAIR -- C-A-I-R is their acronym. Turns out the guys were just five Giants fans, not up to anything terrorism-related, but that didn't quell the controversy.

And now, today, comes the news that at Giants Stadium, they will be setting aside an area for groups to pray. I wonder how you see this. See if you had told me -- in Philadelphia, we've got Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Eagles, home of the former, you know, National Football Conference champion Eagles, although I won't be able to say that this season. If you'd said to me in Lincoln Financial Field or in Giants Stadium, they have set aside an area -- you know, non-denominational area -- for prayer. You go in there and pray for [Eagles quarterback Donovan] McNabb and T.O. [Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens] to patch up their wounds or whatever the case might be, I would have no problem with it.

In much the same fashion that, in just about every hospital in which I have been, there is an area set aside for prayer. My beef in this particular case is knowing the history. I mean to me it just seems like a form of capitulation in this instance to -- well, frankly -- to the Arab community. I'm not afraid to say it.

And I have another thought. And the other thought is that I think it was fundamentally unfair, you're not going to believe I'm going to say this, but this is my view. I think that it's fundamentally unfair that five Arab guys, Muslim men in their 20s, get together in full view of 80,000 folks and engage in prayer. I just think that's wrong. I just think they're playing a game of, you know, mind blank with the audience. And that they should know better four years removed from September 11.

[...]

WISSAM NASR (Council on American-Islamic Relations): Well, you know, whether it is or isn't, it's up to the individual person's perception. I live around Muslims so it's not uncommon for me -- for me to see that. And you know we just want to basically -- the moral of this story is, is that we want people to take this as an opportunity to understand that, hey, this is the Muslim way of praying. We do it five times a day. It only takes a couple of minutes, but sometimes we have to pray just about -- you know -- wherever we are. Some people are just that devout.

SMERCONISH: See, I can't buy that. I think you can be devout at home, you know, on game day. You know I think that you ask too much in a post-9-11 world to expect non-Muslims to just walk on by with 80,000 folks around if five guys are engaged in prayer. That's my view. And now, you know the end of the story. The end of the story is that at Giants Stadium they will set aside an area for prayer, prayer of any kind. It will be non-denominational in focus and so forth. And as I said, I have no problem whatsoever with a non-denominational location for prayer. Frankly, I think it would be fine in a public school, that's my view of the world.

But I just don't like the way this one came about.

[...]

CALLER: From '92 to '93, I was in Denver, Colorado. And there's a heavy Muslim community there. And I transported people back and forth to the new airport out there when it opened up. And many, many, many cab drivers of -- Muslims would stop, put their rugs out, and would stop to pray. And I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. Their religious belief says that it needs to be done at a certain time and they shouldn't be held back from doing that.

And I think that we need to think back when this whole thing started. We were told to live our lives as we normally did. And they're living their lives as they normally do. And, yes, we should be more tolerant, a little more understanding. And I guess unless they've got a bomb wrapped around them, we need to just kind of look the other way and let them perform their duty. After all, isn't that what we do when we go to our services on Sundays?

SMERCONISH: Okay, but wait a minute. Just so I'm clear, because I think tolerance is a two-way street. Tolerance means I've gotta tolerate that -- the practitioners of the Muslim faith -- but they've gotta be tolerant of my reasonable concerns about terrorism four years post-9-11. And their tolerance of me necessitates that they not gather in prayer when there are 80,000 people in the house for a football game. Or you think I'm wrong?

[...]

CALLER: They set out to raise some questions. And I can understand the motivation, because there are Arab Americans who are absolutely, you know, pointed out and it's racial profiling. And there are bad things that happen to these people on a daily basis. But situations like this do not help the cause.

SMERCONISH: Agreed. And they had -- look, what you're saying is they had to know what they were doing.

CALLER: Exactly.

SMERCONISH: They had to know -- I can't say it on a family radio program, but they were -- they were fooling with folks, you know what I'm saying?

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Religion
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