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CNN CROSSFIRE

Is Islam Religion of Violence?; Should Government Increase Regulations on Funeral Business?

Aired February 25, 2002 - 19:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT ROBERTSON: Well, but you can't say the religion is a religion of peace. It's not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: But is Islam a religion of violence? Or did Pat Robertson go too far?

And as more bodies are found at a Georgia crematory, is it time for more government regulation of the funeral business?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, Reverend Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University and Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on Arab Islamic Relations. And later, Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

PRESS: It's a whole new week of CROSSFIRE. Thanks for joining us. Ever since September 11, President Bush has insisted that America is not waging war on Islam. But some Americans apparently are

On his "700 CLUB" broadcast last week, the Reverend Pat Robertson said, in fact, he disagreed with Bush. "I have taken issue with our esteemed president in regard to his stand in saying Islam is a peaceful religion. It's just not. And the Korean makes it very clear, if you see an infidel, you are to kill him."

Robertson's remark echo earlier remarks by the Reverend Franklin Graham, calling Islam a very evil and wicked religion. So what's the truth? Is Islam a peaceful or a violent religion? Are Christians like Robertson and Graham preaching love or hate -- Bob Novak.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Dr. Falwell, just a few days after the terrorist attacks, President Bush went to the mosque in Washington and this is what he said. Let's listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The face of terrorist is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don't represent peace. They represent evil and war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Just the other day, Dr. Falwell, the president of the United States directly disagreed with Pat Robertson. He said Islam is religion of peace. Now sir, I would like you to tell us which side you're on? No kidding around. Either for -- do you agree with George W. Bush or Pat Robertson?

JERRY FALWELL, CHANCELLOR, LIBERTY UNIV.: Well, I don't kid around, Bob. You know that. I'm a strong supporter of President Bush, and he is doing exactly the right thing in singling out his enemy and not putting America at war with over a billion persons.

I also agree with Pat Robertson. I'm not a student of the Koran, I must be honest. I also agree with Pat Robertson that there's evidence worldwide that some bad things are coming out of the world of Islam right now. And I would just give two examples.

One, in the 30 or more Islamic nations in which the -- Islam is in the majority and control of the government, there is zero religious liberty there. Zero. And you let a Catholic priest, a Jewish rabbi, an evangelical minister go there, prosthelitize, preach the gospel, share Jesus, unlike America, Europe, Asian, he will pay terribly.

Secondly, I have not seen in the headlines of America's major newspapers a single, not one single significant American Muslim organization condemn what happened to Daniel Pearl at the hand of some of these Islamic crazies. So if you really want to get off that reputation, give us freedom in your countries and start condemning these nuts. If an American Christian did that to a Muslim, you know we'd stand up and condemn it.

NOVAK: All right. Jerry Falwell, you're drifting us away from my question, as I'm afraid you would. But I just want to give you another quote. We're going to put it up on the screen from Dr. Franklin Graham last November 19th. He said of Islam, "It's a different God and I believe it's a very evil and wicked religion."

Now we're not talking right now about whether somebody made a statement here or made a statement there. I just can't believe you, Jerry Falwell, are agreeing with your friend Pat Robertson that it's a violent religion, and with your friend Franklin Graham that it's an evil religion. Do you or don't you?

FALWELL: First of all, Franklin a little later modified what he was saying there. But I just believe that we have to look at the facts. I don't believe that all Muslims are violent people. Like you, I have many Islamic friends, who are just the opposite. But I am saying that the evidence on the international scene, that is, Islamic countries where they control the government, zero religious freedom and very few, if any, Islamic organizations in America are condemning these damnable things they're doing around the world. PRESS: Ibrahim Hooper, this is one of those rare nights where Bob Novak and I agree that Pat Robertson's remarks were obnoxious, but I do have to ask you this question. If you look at the history of Christianity, and I'm a Christian, there's a lot of ugly stuff that went on in the name of Jesus. I mean, you talk about the Crusades, you talk about the inquisition, you talk about the holy wars, killing for Jesus. People went into battle, citing passages of the Bible.

But Christianity has put that violence behind them. Why is it that Islam has not? That even today, there are still people who take the most primitive passages out of the Koran and use them as their motivation?

IBRAHIM HOOPER, COUNCIL ON ARAB-ISLAMIC RELATIONS: Well, it's true, obviously, that Muslims need reform. Islam doesn't need reform, but Muslims do. And I wanted to correct a couple things that Reverend Falwell said. First of all, religious freedom in the Muslim world, it varies widely from place to place. To lump every Muslim government...

FALWELL: Not where they control the government.

HOOPER: 10 percent of Christian population in Egypt, 15 percent of Palestinians are Christian. In Iraq, major Christian populations. Where did the Jewish community in Europe go to flee persecution? It went to the Muslim world. As far as Mr. Pearl, our organization condemned his kidnapping, called for his release. And we condemn this killing.

FALWELL: What's the name of your organization, sir?

HOOPER: Council on American Islamic Relations.

FALWELL: Yes. I just hadn't seen that in the headlines of "The New York Times" or "The Washington Post," nor have I seen you on 6:30 news.

HOOPER: Well, it was on "The Washington Times" on Saturday.

FALWELL: Well, I said "The Washington Post". And I haven't heard you condemning Osama bin Laden. I haven't heard you...

HOOPER: We condemn Osama bin Laden. We condemn terrorism. We condemn it 100 times. And I can't help what you don't hear.

FALWELL: Then I admire you and I commend you. But I want to tell you the Louis Farrakhans, who seem to get the headlines...

HOOPER: Louis Farrakhan has nothing to do with the American Muslim community.

FALWELL: You better watch your back going home tonight.

PRESS: Let me ask you this about the Koran though. I mean, I was -- in our research today, there was a quote from a Web site called "The Voice of the Martyrs" Web site. It's a Christian Web site that points out that in the Koran, the words "fight" and the words "kill" appear many, many more times than love or peace.

HOOPER: Anybody can -- and during World War II, they said the Japanese had no word for love. You know, and you know, any religion is subject to this kind of distortion and misinterpretation. I mean, look at here, in Matthew, it says "Do not think I have come to bring peace on earth. I have come to bring -- not come to bring peace, but a sword." Does that mean Christianity is a violent faith? Reverend Falwell would go, well, yes he said it but. Well, Muslims have a lot of yes buts, too, that aren't going to be addressed by this kind of...

FALWELL: Well, sir, I would like to take you with me, if I could, to Iraq. And I would like for to you to stand by my side and allege to be my friend, while I pass out gospel tracks in Baghdad and preach the gospel on a street corner.

HOOPER: The vice president of Iraq is a Christian.

FALWELL: You and I both would be corpses.

HOOPER: Tariq Azziz is a Christian.

FALWELL: You know and I know that what I just said is true. There is no opportunity in Islamic countries, where they control the government, for religious freedom or for an evangelical to preach the gospel or a Jew to share Judaism.

HOOPER: Saddam Hussein is a Muslim leader? Come on, give me a break. This is the kind of misinformation that I'm talking about.

FALWELL: I should just go with you then.

HOOPER: All of these widely varying -- parachute me into Baghdad. I'll go after Saddam Hussein myself.

FALWELL: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

NOVAK: I think you were trying to make the point when he was talking that Tariq Azziz, who is one of the closest advisers to Saddam Hussein, is indeed a Christian and a practicing Christian. But I want you to listen, Dr. Falwell, to something that the foreign policy adviser of the Saudi Arabian kingdom, Adel Al-Jubeir, said just yesterday about Daniel Miller (sic). Let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADEL AL-JUBEIR, SAUDI FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: The taking of an innocent life in Islam is as if you took the life of all of humanity. It's cold blooded murder. And people who commit murder in Islam are punished by death.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Yes, this -- because I meant Daniel -- yes, I meant Daniel Pearl, of course. But the question is, that's what really bothers me, Dr. Falwell, when you smear that broad brush. You say there's no Muslim organization condemned it. the Muslims did not condemn it.

FALWELL: I said no significant American Muslim organization.

HOOPER: That is not true. Absolutely not true.

FALWELL: Now this gentleman says he didn't condemn it. Who are the rest of them?

HOOPER: And others. Muslim Public Affairs Counsel, American Muslim Counsel, Islamic Society of North America, Islamic Circle of North America, Ministry of Amam W.D. Muhammad. Can I go on or?

NOVAK: No, you can't go on, because we're out of time. Thank you very much.

FALWELL: I still want to take you to Iraq to preach the gospel and see if we come home alive.

NOVAK: OK. All right, maybe you'll take me with you, too. Thank you very much, Jerry Falwell.

Coming up next on CROSSFIRE, those hundreds of bodies in Georgia that were never cremated, just buried by the crematory operator. Does this fraud show the need for intervention by the federal government?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The count of uncremated bodies found buried near the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia is now 331; 70 of them positively identified.

The survivors of the dead are outraged that their loved ones never were cremated. And they want something done about it. Crematory operator Ray Brent Marsh is charged with 16 counts of theft by deception and is being held without bail. But to nobody's surprise, there's a demand for federal regulation.

Advocating regulation is Lisa Carlson, executive director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance. She's in Burlington, Vermont. And on the other side, as always against more federal regulation is Fred Smith, president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He's here in Washington -- Bill.

PRESS: Fred, it's good to see you tonight, because I think we're going to make history. I mean, as bob said, the count is now 331. 331 cases where families have committed their loved ones to funeral homes. They sent them to these -- to this crematorium, rather. The family gets a bag of gravel back, if they were luck to get that.

FRED SMITH, COMPETITIVE ENTERPRISE INST.: Concrete, I think.

PRESS: Meanwhile, or concrete. Meanwhile, the bodies rotting in the woods. I mean, and there are cases like this all over the country. Wouldn't you, even you Fred Smith, have to agree that we have finally found the one area where there is a crying need for more government regulation? Even at the state level, if necessary? SMITH: Well, that's one good point to make, that basically not everything that's good to do has to be done by government. And not everything done by government has to be federal. We've got a federal system.

There is regulation at the state level. It obviously didn't work here, which suggests we need to think more carefully about the ways markets regulate behavior. Go to reputable dealers, make sure that you know what you're doing.

This is a family loyalty business. And the people who were -- who got caught up in this trap, not just the families, but the funeral homes that were using this guy, those homes are going to lose reputation. They're going to lose business. And that is part of the corrective we're seeing happening now.

NOVAK: Lisa Carlson, when I first learned about this story by watching television, either late at night or early in the morning, I can't remember which, I saw reports of all these bodies. And I said my God, they've a mass killing right in Georgia. But you know, those bodies were already dead. And let's listen to what the lawyer for the defense said about this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCRACKEN POSTEN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: In all due respect to their concerns, nobody got killed up at that Tri-State Crematorium.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: I hope not to be indelicate, Miss Carlson, but these people are just as dead as they were before. And if the fact is that they were buried instead of cremated upsets their survivors, is this something we should really be talking about bringing the long arm of the federal government in to regulate?

LISA CARLSON, FUNERAL CONSUMERS ALLIANCE: We definitely need more regulation. And Fred Smith is wrong if he says trust is the only thing. The Marshes were very well respected and very well liked. And that's part of what happened. People weren't checking on a regular basis. More regulation would bring more inspection.

SMITH: Not necessarily, Lisa. One of the things is we already have federal law in this area, as you know well. The FTC Funeral Rule went in in '84. Do we really believe that if there were federal regulations, an FTC inspector would have somehow found out what was going on in rural Georgia? I don't think so.

CARLSON: No, you're right. But the federal regulation creates a climate. Many of the states adopted the FTC Funeral Rule and started paying more attention to what's going on at the funeral homes. And it's a Catch-22. Most state bureaucracies are overworked, underfunded. People complain about their taxes. We have to be willing to spend the tax dollars to inspect.

PRESS: Well, Fred, you say that all these states have these regulations. That's just simply not true. One-half of the states have no regulations regarding crematoriums. So you have a situation like this...

CARLSON: We need...

PRESS: ...if I may finish, Lisa, just a second please. You know, in Maryland and Virginia and the District of Columbia, you don't need a license to open a crematorium. You need a license to burn tires. You need a license to burn leaves, for God's sake. You don't need a listen to burn bodies. This is ridiculous. Come on.

SMITH: We don't have a license to breathe either. Look, this is a function that is a very personal decision. It's a very important decision. And it's one that has a tremendous brand loyalty. The person who buried your grandfather, if you stay in the same location, is likely to bury your grandson. The challenge is to find out how did the safeguards break down in this case.

PRESS: They're dumping the bodies in the woods, Fred.

SMITH: They are -- one crematorium, and there's others of course, out of the thousands exist in this country, committed fraud. We don't need laws anymore. We've got laws against this kind of behavior. Enforce them.

NOVAK: Lisa Carlson, aren't we talking here about a wholesale problem? I mean, the ordinary person who has a death in the family doesn't deal with the crematory. He goes to a funeral home. And the funeral director then goes to the crematory. So the problem they're having down in Georgia was the fault of the funeral homes. I mean, they should have been more on the outlook, to find out whether this process was being handled correctly. Isn't that correct?

CARLSON: If Fred wants to help get rid of unneeded laws, fix the laws in five states, where families can't care for their own dead. New York, Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana and Nebraska. If a family is going drive the body to the crematory, they're going to see what is going on. They should be allowed.

NOVAK: But in Georgia, wasn't this the fault of the funeral homes that they didn't know what was going on? I mean, this was a wholesale business, wasn't it?

CARLSON: Yes, but it should have been regulated by the state of Georgia, according to their own laws. The statute says nobody will be cremated without a licensed crematory.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: They didn't enforce the law that was there. If anything good comes out of this tragedy, the media and the public will now start paying attention.

SMITH: They're going to ask more questions. I agree with that totally. PRESS: All right, Fred, we're not talking about massive regulation. Let me suggest one thing that might help. Is it annual inspection. In the state of Missouri, they have a law that says a crematorium is inspected once a year. This would not have happened in Missouri, had that been in place. Wouldn't you at least agree with that one regulation at the state level, you, Fred Smith?

SMITH: If the states and Georgia had been doing what they were supposed to be, this wouldn't have happened in the first place.

PRESS: Georgia had no regulation on crematoriums. I'm saying it didn't happen in Missouri. It would never happen in Missouri. It happened in Georgia because that was...

SMITH: Well, the fact that we don't -- the SEC was regulating Enron and it happened. Look, the fact that we pass the laws doesn't necessarily mean that the regulators enforce them. It didn't happen as it should have in Georgia. It might happen. Look, after 9-11, we have to prioritize.

CARLSON: At least a concern.

SMITH: Death is not a federal issue.

PRESS: Go ahead, Lisa.

CARLSON: In Hawaii, they don't have a regulatory board. And it's taken two years to get the attorney general to investigate a funeral home that's burying bodies in body bags and reselling the caskets. If they had a funeral board, then they could have yanked the license and done something about it.

SMITH: But let me make an argument. Lisa, I looked at your Web site. It's got -- I think I've got it right. Family -- Funeral Alliance. What's the middle term?

PRESS: Your Web site, Lisa?

CARLSON: Oh, Funerals.org.

SMITH: Yes, and your Web site has some tremendously valuable information. I think there's a tendency to underestimate the value of what groups like yours are doing. You're basically going out and trying to provide advice to something most of us don't like to deal with. It's like the old question about Woody Allen said, "I don't mind yet, but I still want to be there when it happens."

PRESS: All right on that note.

CARLSON: One of the reasons -- one of the reasons...

PRESS: Thanks very much, Frank Smith. Lisa, I'm sorry, I have to interrupt you again. We are out of time. Thanks so much for joining us, Lisa Carlson up there in Burlington, Vermont. Fred Smith, one of these days we'll find a regulation you like, but I won't hold my breath. CARLSON: (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

PRESS: When we come back, thank you, Lisa. When we come back, up next your e-mails, when you get to jump all over Bob Novak. Unfortunately, you get to jump all over me, too. So when we come back, it's fire back. You're up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Now it's "Fire Back" time, your opportunity each week for viewers to zing Bill and me with poison tipped e-mails. Last week, I said I'd like to see the Mike Tyson fight here in D.C. So we get an e-mail from Wanda Pender who says, "If they're going to allow Mike Tyson to fight, they need to pull his teeth! My personal opinion is they need to pull his license while they're at it."

Well, Wanda looks like one of those feminists who just don't like boxing. Of course, I think she'd be just as unhappy if he was only fighting with his fists.

PRESS: All right, and after I defended Al Gore's beard, this e- mail from Daryl Barker from Newark, Delaware, who says, "Please do us all a favor and never mention Al Gore and Abraham Lincoln in the same breath. Nothing personal against Al Gore but it takes more than nice whiskers to be a great leader as history proves Lincoln was."

Well, Daryl, the only point I was trying to make is that in wearing a beard, Al Gore joins a great group of distinguished historical figures, who include, of course, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Jesus Christ, Kenny Rodgers, Santa Clause and Wolf Blitzer. Great company.

NOVAK: Wolf Blitzer, ditto. We are talking about school choice last week. So C.E. Pringle of Denver, Pennsylvania says, "If vouchers should be given to taxpayers who choose not to use public schools, shouldn't travelers be given vouchers who choose not to use public transport?"

C.E. Pringle, I think some idiot is using your name, because that is really ridiculous to compare public transit with the desire to give a decent education to poor kids in the inner city.

PRESS: It was a perfect analogy. I'm sorry you didn't see it, Bob. But okay. And you know, I've been inflicting my sore throat on all of you for the last few weeks. I apologize for that. I know I sounded like a frog. But now comes this advice from Janice Speth who says, "Gargle with hydrogen peroxide for your sore throat. Just don't swallow it. Also try vitamins to help your immune system. And don't get too close to the poisonous Novak."

All right. I'll try not to get too close to Novak. Just stay away. Janice, I want to say, I will take your advice. I will gargle with hydrogen peroxide. I will take my vitamins. I will not kiss Bob Novak. Aren't you happy?

We want to hear e-mails. Send it in to crossfire@cnn.com. E- mail for Bill, Bob, and Tucker. Thanks guys for tonight. Good-night for CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Press.

NOVAK: I hope you swallow that stuff. From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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