DATE August 9, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Bill Maher discusses his new book and upcoming HBO
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest Bill Maher is a political satirist who doesn't pull his punches.
That's what his fans love him for and his detractors--well, let's just say
that one congressman described one of Maher's bits as bordering on treason.
We'll get to that controversy a little later. Maher is the host of "Real
Time," a weekly HBO series of political satire and debate. The new season
starts Friday, August 19th. He ends each program with a segment he calls New
Rules, which is basically his top 10 criticisms of politics and culture. His
new book, "New Rules," is a collection of his New Rules. I asked Bill Maher
to read a few from the book.
Mr. BILL MAHER (Host, "Real Time with Bill Maher"): (Reading) New Rule:
Stop calling the media elite and liberal and start calling it what it really
is: lazy. I came out recently that the Bush administration has been
producing its own `news' segments, complete with their own `correspondents,'
and sending them off to local news outlets who aired them untouched. No
wonder Hunter Thompson blew his brains out. I'm sorry, but the local news is
not the place for government propaganda. It's the place for car chases,
kittens caught in trees and a meteorologist whose previous job was at Hooters.
New Rule: Gay marriage won't lead to dog marriage. It's not a slippery slope
to a rampant interspecies coupling. When woman got the right to vote, it
didn't lead to hamsters voting. No court has extended the equal protection
clause to salmon. And for the record, all marriages are same sex marriages.
You get married and every night it's the same sex.
New Rule: Don't try to talk to me about desperate housewives. If I had the
slightest interest in other people's sex lives, I'd be a Republican.
New Rule: When you buy a country, get a receipt. The CPA, the American
agency that ran Iraq, can't account for $9 billion it spent there. If
Clinton's people had lost $9 billion, he would have been impeached underwater
while sharks gnawed his legs to stumps. Can we finally stop pretending that
Republicans are fiscally responsible. At least when Saddam Hussein stole the
taxpayers' money, he ended up with a nice palace to show for it.
GROSS: Bill Maher reading from his new book "New Rules." Bill Maher, welcome
back to FRESH AIR.
Mr. MAHER: Thanks, Terry. Hi.
GROSS: One of the things I love about New Rules when you do them on your
show, is that, like, some of them are just so funny that people--like your
guests, conservative guests who completely disagree with you and completely
disagree with the New Rule that you're reading--they still just like break up.
Mr. MAHER: That is the great thing about comedy, I have to say, is that
because it is a completely involuntary response, it does bring people together
because when someone laughs, somewhere inside of them says to them, `There's
some truth in that.' We all know that if it wasn't true, we wouldn't have
laughed in the first place.
GROSS: Well, here's another thing that I see with a lot of--some of your
conservative guests who I know would oppose the kind of language that we hear
on HBO, which is not censored for language.
Mr. MAHER: Right.
GROSS: When you use those words in your four rules, I see them, like, really
laughing but at the same time really looking uncomfortable about
laughing--kind of confused about how to respond.
Mr. MAHER: Yeah, politicians especially, people who...
GROSS: Yes, oh, exactly.
Mr. MAHER: ...have to respond...
Mr. MAHER: Yeah. That's why I love a panel without a politician on it, or
with a politician who's no longer running. There's no better guest than a
recently--someone who's left office recently because they kind of want to
talk, and they don't have to answer to anybody anymore, and you can tell that
they've got a lifetime of stories and feelings that have been built up inside
because, unfortunately, in this country for some reason, we want our
candidates to be what looks to me like soulless automatons who are so
righteous that they can't even laugh at something a little off-color. And
it's unfortunate that we don't want our politicians to be more human. But
that's--I gotta say that that's the fault of the voter. If the voter didn't
feel that way, I don't think the politicians would act that way.
GROSS: Do you think that some politicians before coming on your show hire a
joke writer to help them come up with some laugh lines, and if so is that a
good thing or a bad thing? 'Cause on the one hand, they're more likely to
get laughs; on the other hand, it's a laugh that somebody else wrote for them.
Mr. MAHER: Well, I don't think they do that anymore. Maybe on my old show
they did that. I certainly would strongly discourage that on this show. I
always tell the guests, `Be yourself,' so politicians--I don't think they ever
come off well when they recite canned lines. Again, like I was saying, these
are the kind of people we want for office for some reason who are
humorless--John Kerry, Al Gore--these kind of people--Bush--they don't remind
me of the Kennedy wit or Franklin Roosevelt. Or even Ronald Reagan had a
natural sense of humor. Clinton had a pretty good sense of humor. He never
really tried to make a joke. And when these guys try, you can just tell, oh,
this is something that Al Franken faxed to you last night and you tried to
memorize it and you mauled it in the delivery and now we're all suffering. So
why don't you shut up and get back to your policy-wonkness.
GROSS: Well, there's a congressman from Alabama, Spencer Bachus, who didn't
think something you said...
Mr. MAHER: Oh, yes.
GROSS: ...on your May 13th show was very funny. You were talking about how
the Army missed its recruiting goal by 42 percent in April, and you said that
more people had joined the Michael Jackson fan club, and then you said, `We've
done picked all the low-lying Lynndie England fruit, and now we need warm
bodies.' He said--this congressman said your comments `bordered on treason,'
and he said, `In treason, one definition is to undermine the effort or
national security of our country.' And he said, `I don't Maher prosecuted; I
want him off the air.' So how far did he get?
Mr. MAHER: Well, obviously not very far. He shut up real quick when I--I
mean, it was really not worth answering, but I did because my friend Arianna
Huffington said, `Bill, why don't you do a blog for my blogosphere?' So I
blogged and I wrote in the blog a few things that made him shut up rather
quickly. Number one on that list was, `Excuse me, I'm a comedian. If we're
talking about the troops here, I can't really affect the troops' lives. But
you are a congressman. You could affect the troops' lives. Why don't you
stop yelling at me, which is stupid and silly, and get to work in Congress
getting them the armor they need, for example, or any other of the hundred
desperate needs that these men have that are not being met in Iraq?' So I
think that took care of him.
And also I would like to say two other things. One, the term `treason'--boy,
the bar on that one has really been lowered. I could easily also say right
back to this congressman by suggesting that the troops are so fragile that the
comments of a comedian all the way back in America could serve to lower their
morale--that could be considered treasonous if that's where the bar is on
treason. And also, Barry McCaffrey, who was our former drug czar and who was
one of the lead generals in the first Gulf War, recently made a statement that
was almost exactly what I said. He was talking about recruitment, and he
said, `We've reached the bottom of the barrel.' Well, we've picked the
low-lying fruit, we've reached the bottom of the barrel. I don't see much of a
difference between those two comments, so if I'm a traitor, then I guess
General Barry McCaffrey's a traitor too.
GROSS: Nevertheless, did you take that line about the low-lying fruit out of
one of your New Rules?
Mr. MAHER: No, not at all.
GROSS: Oh, it's still in there? OK?
Mr. MAHER: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. It was an editorial that we do at
the end of the show every week, which starts out as a New Rule and then
expands to something a little more serious, and the--I can understand why this
Republican congressman was probably sensitive about this issue or this
editorial because the point of the editorial was now that we cannot reach our
recruiting goals, maybe the people who wanted this war to begin with should be
the ones who are first in line to volunteer and go fight for it. I think
there was a line in there something about the Bush twins have been out of
college for over a year, and they haven't been able to find work. What's
holding them back? Do they hate America specifically or just freedom in
general? So it was sort of a poke at the chicken hawk.
GROSS: My guest is political satirist Bill Maher. His new book is called
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Bill Maher, and he has a new
book called "New Rules" that collects his New Rules from his broadcasts, and
his HBO series begins again on Friday, August 19th.
One of your goals during the last season of your show was to get more
conservatives into your audience so that people...
Mr. MAHER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...couldn't accuse you of just have liberals in the audience and so
that you'd have people responding to both sides. So how successful was the
Mr. MAHER: Not very. Not for lack of trying.
GROSS: What did you do to try?
Mr. MAHER: Well, I'm not in the audience department so I personally didn't do
a heck of a lot. You know, I suppose I could have stood out on Venice
Boulevard and handed out the tickets to anyone who wearing a blue...
GROSS: I've seen people doing that on Times Square for some talk shows.
Mr. MAHER: Oh, yes, they do it for lots of shows. But it would be hard to
pick out who are the conservatives. I suppose I could have gone down to San
Clemente and tried to find anyone walking on the beach in a blue suit, like
Richard Nixon used to do, with wing tips. But no, we did everything we could.
I announced it on the air over and over again, and I know that we instructed
our crack staff in the audience department to call as many people as we could.
They were very resistant. We did achieve it for one show. There was one show
where we had an absolutely balanced audience, and I loved it. I thought it
was great. It kept everybody honest. And we tried to repeat it and, look,
we're redoubling our efforts. We want to do it again this year. I just
talked to Dennis Miller the other day, and I was telling him, `Hey, you know
what? I want you to come on, and I know you probably have concerns like every
other conservative that the audience is stacked against you, and I promise you
we will do everything we can to achieve some sort of parity.' And it's a
problem. The conservatives--I think they have to look in the mirror, though.
We're extending the hand; it's they who are not accepting.
GROSS: Tell Dennis to bring some of his people.
Mr. MAHER: Dennis doesn't have any people. Dennis's a lone wolf.
GROSS: Well, you have in one of your New Rules in the new book is about the
division between blue state and red state and your impressions of your
identity as a blue-state person. Would you read an excerpt of this for us?
Mr. MAHER: (Reading) New Rule: Stop saying that blue-state people are out
of touch with the values and morals of the red states. I'm not out of touch
with them; I just don't share them. In fact--and I know this is about 140
years late, but to the Southern states I would say upon further consideration,
`You can go.' I know that's what you've always wanted and we've reconsidered,
so go ahead and take Texas with you. You know what they say. `If at first
you don't secede, try, try again,' and give my regards to President Charlie
Oh, sorry. I almost forgot. We're trying to be at a time of healing. The
time when blue states and red states come together because we have so much to
offer each other. Spice rack, meet gun rack. Picky about bottled water? Say
hello to drinks from a garden hose. Bought an antique nightstand at an estate
sale? Meet uses a giant wooden spool he stole from the phone company as a
coffee table. Sorry. There I go again, kidding when I should be healing.
But sometimes I just don't understand this country. I don't get that your air
is poisoned and your job is gone and your son is scattered all over a desert
you can't find on a map, but what really matters is boys kissing.
Say what you will about the Republicans. They do stand for something. OK,
it's Armageddon, but it's something. Democrats, on the other hand, have been
coasting for years on Tom Daschle's charisma, but that's just not enough
GROSS: That's Bill Maher reading one of his New Rules from his new book "New
Mr. MAHER: Yeah.
GROSS: Well, OK. Tom Daschle's charisma is not relevant anymore. He's out.
What do you think of Harry Reid?
Mr. MAHER: Right. That was--I think that was the one we did right after the
election. Harry Reid? Well, I think that's emblematic of what's wrong with
the Democratic Party, not that I'm sure he's not a nice guy, but if the
Democratic Party, the party that's supposed to represent me, I guess, or at
least represents me more than the other party, and yet the face of that party
is a guy who's pro-life and pro-gun lobby, this is my problem with the
Democrats is they keep trying to be more like the Republicans, and I want a
party that represents me. And I don't feel I have that.
John Kerry--yes, I voted for him because I wasn't certainly going to vote for
the other guy, but does he represent me? Not very much. You can go down the
list of issues, and rarely does his point of view mirror my own, and even
worse, the issues that are most important to me--he didn't even bring up
during the campaign. He didn't even bring up the environment; didn't bring up
the drug war; didn't bring up the corporate stranglehold on this country.
These are the issues that are important to me, and the person who was supposed
to be my champion didn't reflect that. I don't think most Republicans would
say they have the same problem. I think they feel like George Bush represents
them a lot better, and he probably does.
GROSS: Is there anyone in the House or Senate or in the leadership of the
Democratic Party or any other party that you feel does reflect you?
Mr. MAHER: Well, I happen to li--you know, you can't tell until they get
into office because they're--if you told people what you thought, you'd never
get elected. But there are two senators--Biden and John Edwards--who I like a
lot. I think they're guys who are able to make the counterargument. It seems
to me that the biggest Democratic problem is that they live in trembling fear
of saying the right thing because they imagine what it will come out as after
it's been through the Republican slime machine. And that's why they don't
really make the counterargument. They're afraid of Karl Rove's brilliant
traps--evil but brilliant.
But I think guys like Biden and Edwards--these are guys who know how to play
that game, as Clinton knew how to play that game, and we haven't had a guy
like that since Bill Clinton, so--but do they represent my point of view? No,
I would say people like the third-party guys like Ralph Nader and Ross
Perot--what they were talking about, as I just mentioned, that stranglehold on
this country from corporations, which is the definition of fascism, by the
way, when corporations take over a government--that really is the right issue.
I know none of us could get behind Ralph this time because it was a lost
cause. But it doesn't mean that what he was saying was wrong or had become
wrong. It was right then. It's right now. Ross Perot had it right about
lobbyists. You know, lobbying is really the fourth branch of government now.
People talk about Tom DeLay and say he's a terrible guy. Well, of course, he
is, and they say he's what's wrong with Congress. Yeah, but he is what
Congress is. He's just representative of Congress, which is a place where if
you don't pay for influence, you don't get heard. And that's certainly not
the way this country was supposed to be.
GROSS: You know, a lot of people are concerned that the best talk show guests
are the ones who get voted into office 'cause so much of the campaigning is
done by being a good guest on interview shows. As the host of one of those
shows, do you ever feel like you measure somebody's political ability by their
performance on your show? I mean, does that affect your opinion of them as an
Mr. MAHER: Absolutely, but you're talking about my show, where they're asked
difficult questions and their feet are held to the fire, which is why a lot of
them won't do my show. If you're asking me if I'm impressed or not by their
appearance on the "Letterman" show or "The Daily Show" or "Leno" show or any
other show where they're just asked to show their human side, that I don't
care about. I don't care if a guy holds hands with his wife in the movies. I
don't. That's not--you know, I care about what sort of a leader he's going to
be and what his ideas are, not silly things that obviously are important to a
lot of other people.
GROSS: Are there any conservative or, you know, right-wing TV or radio shows
you feel like you have to pay attention to or you watch or, you know, listen
Mr. MAHER: I really don't. They're so predictable. You know, the people at
Fox News--here's a New Rule...
Mr. MAHER: ...that I thought of the other day that I think we'll try to get
into the new season. People at Fox News have to start referring to President
Bush as `my liege.'
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MAHER: They need to dress as a jester, just wear a powdered wig or
something if they're going to treat him like an infallible king, which is how
they treat him. Then the have to refer to him as `my liege'; that's my New
GROSS: On your recent HBO special, which was a video version of the stand-up
tour that you've been doing around the country, you said you don't hate your
cou--you're often accused of hating America. You said, `I don't hate my
country. I'm just often embarrassed by its leadership.'
Mr. MAHER: Right. Right.
GROSS: What embarrasses you about it?
Mr. MAHER: That's why the show is called "I'm Swiss"...
Mr. MAHER: ...and when the right wing hears me say, `I'm Swiss,' that's when
they say, `Oh, there you go, Bill Maher, hating America first.' And I always
say, `I don't hate America first. I have my coffee, and then I hate America,
and then I burn a flag, perform a few abortions and I'm good for the day.'
No, I--I love America, as do most of my liberal friends. And yes, I am
embarrassed by America. Good example, last week when President Bush once
again said, `Jury is out on evolution.' Things like that make me embarrassed
to be an American, that's it's the year 2005 and the leader of my country does
not recognize evolution. This nonsense that these right-wingers keep putting
forth that somehow we're being more evenhanded if we have creationism on the
one hand, which they now have a code word for, 'cause you know they wouldn't
be Republicans if they didn't have a code word for something--`intelligent
design'--and evolution. OK. Having two theories, one of which is nonsensical
and stupid and one of which is scientific--that's not being fair and balanced.
GROSS: Bill Maher will be back.
This is FRESH Air.
GROSS: Coming up, Bill Maher rewrites rap lyrics in standard English. Also
we talk about the July 20th fatwa condemning terrorism and religious extremism
with the chairman of the Islamic council that issued the edict. And Ken
Tucker reviews silver anniversary albums by two '80s bands, the Fleshtones and
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with political satirist Bill
His HBO series, "Real Time," returns Friday, August 19th. He ends each
edition with a segment he calls New Rules. He's collected his New Rules in a
new book of the same name. During the breaks between seasons of his HBO
series, Maher does stand-up. His latest stand-up show, "I'm Swiss," was taped
for HBO and premiered at the end of last month.
I have to ask you, one of the things you do in your HBO special, which is a
video of your stand-up show, is you do standard English reinterpretations of
rap lyrics, and it is so funny.
Mr. MAHER: Yeah.
GROSS: How did you start doing that?
Mr. MAHER: And actua...
GROSS: And why don't you explain the whole concept, too?
Mr. MAHER: OK. Yeah, and you know, I'm going to miss that. I mean, you say
it's a video version of my stand-up act, which is true, but now that it's--you
know, once I do it as a special, I kind of retire that. So, you know, when do
stand-up now, I'm putting together a new act and I won't be able to do the rap
lyrics anymore, and it's breaking my heart because it was always a favorite of
mine and the audience. And what it is, is--I wanted to get across the idea
that when I was a kid, my father, as most fathers did, hated rock 'n' roll,
but if you printed out rock lyrics, because they are hard to hear, he would
understand what the words were and they wouldn't have been that threatening.
About the most outrageous thing we ever heard was `Come on, baby, light my
But that's not true with rap lyrics. First of all, you could print out the
words--and by the way, you can find the words on the Internet to most
songs--but if you printed them out and showed them to middle-aged white
person, they would have no idea what the person is talking about because
they're written in a language that middle-aged white people don't speak, which
of course is Ebonics, but their kids speak it. Their kids know what the words
mean. So the bit is that I translate lyrics from rap into white, and then I
just read them; I read the literal translation--I don't read the rap version
because, as I say, the folks wouldn't understand it to begin with, but when
you just read the rap--when you read the white version, you can kind of get
the idea of what the original version was, and therein hilarity ensues.
GROSS: Would you do couple of lines for us?
Mr. MAHER: Oh, if I can remember them. I literally do read them. Well,
there's one song that I do from The Notorious B.I.G. for lyrics from R. Kelly,
and the title of the song is "I'm--and I'm not going to say this word because
it would have to be bleeped, but "I'm Blanking You Tonight." And the
translation is something like `Tonight, we won't be dining. We'll just be
GROSS: One of my favorite...
Mr. MAHER: Surely.
GROSS: Go ahead.
Mr. MAHER: `Surely, you'll appreciate my stamina and the fact that I own a
late-model European sports sedan. If you shifted position, you would have a
better view of our intercourse. I appreciate it when we have intercourse with
increased vigor and velocity. Tonight, we won't be dining. We'll just be
And I promise you that those are faithful, faithful translations of the lyrics
to that song.
GROSS: Oh, that is so funny. You know what it reminds me of a little bit?
Do you remember Steve Allen, back in the Steve Allen era, and he used to...
Mr. MAHER: Oh, my mentor.
GROSS: Yeah, he used to like read...
Mr. MAHER: Yes.
GROSS: ...the words to--like doo-wop lyrics with a very straight face?
Mr. MAHER: Yes. Oh, yes. Steve was one of my mentors, one of the people who
really helped me when I started.
GROSS: Oh, did he actually...
Mr. MAHER: He would...
GROSS: Yeah, really?
Mr. MAHER: Oh, yes. When I was still working in the clubs in New York, he
was doing a live show in off-Broadway called "Seymour Glick is Alive But
Sick," which was a bunch of silly songs that he had written that he had a few
talented cast members singing and performing. And there was a role that he
played off--on the off-Broadway version which was the emcee of the whole crazy
show. And he wanted to do it on the West Coast and he had me do his part at
the old Horn, which was one of the great old theaters out there. It's now a
honey baked ham, but it was a great theater at the time. And that was--that
was a great moment for me to be working with Steve Allen. I loved him.
Another bit that he used to do similar to the one that you just cited, he
would read editorials out of the daily news word for word, but he would just
read it with the anger with which the editorial was written. And it was just
hysterical. He was one of a kind and never really got the due he deserved. I
mean, he's still beloved, but I don't think the mainstream people, especially
the young people, understand what a debt the people that they're watching
today owe to Steve Allen. David Letterman, to his great credit, gives credit
to Steve Allen because a lot of the sensibility of the Letterman show, the man
on the street, the stuff they do outside the studio, some of the crazy stunts
they do, really owes its pedigree to the Steve Allen days.
GROSS: On the other hand, later in his life he became very culturally
conservative and just kind of...
Mr. MAHER: Very.
GROSS: ...like the opposite of you...
Mr. MAHER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...when it comes to culture. And he would take out ads in The New
Mr. MAHER: Yeah.
GROSS: ...saying that, you know, television had become a sewer...
Mr. MAHER: I remember.
GROSS: Yeah, so..
Mr. MAHER: I used to get letters from him where he would sort of carp at
something that I had said or something that was on the show. Yeah, he did
become--well, you know, he was from a different era...
Mr. MAHER: ...where you needed absolutely no profanity to get laughs. And I
think a lot of folks from his era--and there are a lot of folks who are still
around--Mel Brooks, for example, was from that era, Neil Simon, Larry
Gelbart--comedy writers who never had to resort to, you know, sexual innuendo
jokes. And I think they feel like they watch a sit com now at 8:00 at night
and, you know, they're not five minutes into it and there's been three penis
jokes. And I think they think that the folks today are cheating and that
they're taking the culture down a peg. And they're not entirely wrong.
GROSS: One more thing. In your show, you talk about how you smoke marijuana.
And I'm thinking, why not just give a map to narcotics agents directly to your
house and leave the door open.
Mr. MAHER: Well, you know, I'm playing a character, Terry...
GROSS: Oh, OK.
Mr. MAHER: ...in the show. I--the character Bill Maher smokes marijuana. I
personally--no. I have no idea what it's like. I have a Scotch and soda
perhaps at 6:30 at night, one or two, and then I'm good for the week.
GROSS: Bill Maher, a pleasure to talk with you again. Thank you so much.
Mr. MAHER: Always a pleasure, Terry. Thank you so much.
GROSS: Bill Maher's new book is called "New Rules." His HBO program, "Real
Time," returns Friday, August 19th.
Coming up, the head of the Islamic Council that issued a recent fatwa
condemning terrorism and religious extremism. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi discusses the fatwa by the Fiqh
Council of North America
TERRY GROSS, host:
After last month's attacks in London, an American Islamic council issued a
fatwa condemning terrorism and religious extremism. A fatwa is a religious
ruling based on the Koran. My guest Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is the president of
that council of 18 Islamic scholars, the Fiqh Council of North America. Dr.
Siddiqi is also the director of the Islamic Society of Orange County,
California, and the former president of the Islamic Society of North America.
Would you summarize for us what the fatwa says?
Dr. MUZAMMIL SIDDIQI (Chairman, Fiqh Council of North America): This fatwa
that was issued on July 28th was on the subject of terrorism based on Islamic
principles. And we mentioned that terrorism is against the teachings of
Islam, so it is haram, it is forbidden, to commit any acts of terrorism
against another people. It is also forbidden to cooperate with any individual
or group who are involved in the acts of terrorism, and it is also the civic
and religious duty of Muslims to cooperate with the law enforcement
authorities, to protect the lives of the Muslim people.
GROSS: Are there specific passages in the Koran that you would cite as the
basis for this fatwa?
Dr. SIDDIQI: Yes. We have used the passage from the chapter number five,
32, which says that killing any innocent person is like killing the whole
humanity. And saving one life is like saving the whole humanity. So this is
very important statement that comes after the Koran-related story of Abel and
Cain, the two sons of Adam, that one killed the other. After that, it says
that so that from the very beginning God forbid the killing of the people,
killing of the Muslim people. And there are a number of other places in the
Koran where it is forbidden to kill or take the life unjustly.
GROSS: What kind of teeth does a fatwa have? I mean, say you violate a
fatwa. What does that mean?
Dr. SIDDIQI: Well, it's--ours is a moral authority. We don't have any
police. We don't have anything else. We only have moral authority. So we
tell the people what is right and what is wrong. And those who care for their
religion, those who care about the issues of halal and haram, what is
permissible and what is forbidden, they will suddenly take it seriously. But,
again, like anybody else in any other religion, people listen; people don't
listen. Even in a party like Pope John Paul, made certain statements and many
Catholics did not listen to him. I mean, for example, the issue of abortion.
Catholic position is very clear on that, but some people don't follow that.
GROSS: Does the fatwa that your council issued--and this is a council of
North American Islamic leaders...
Dr. SIDDIQI: Yes.
GROSS: Does this fatwa extend to places outside of North America such as, you
know, Iraq or Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or any other countries?
Dr. SIDDIQI: Yes, we use this word `civilians' of any place, of any region.
It includes that. It is Muslims, non-Muslims, everybody. So it is not
limited to anyone particular area. Wherever the civilians are, for us
terrorism means targeting the non-combatants, targeting the civilians, for any
reason whether it is done by individual, by groups or states.
GROSS: Does your fatwa extend to attacks against soldiers, such as American
soldiers in Iraq or Israeli soldiers in the Middle East, or is the fatwa
limited to attacks against civilians?
Dr. SIDDIQI: Oh, no, fatwa is limited only to civilians. But, again, one
has to discuss other issues, but we did not discuss that in the fatwa.
GROSS: And how come?
Dr. SIDDIQI: Well, I mean, we are just discussing the civilian life.
Civilian life is the one that we are talking about at the moment.
Dr. SIDDIQI: Occupation--and how to deal with occupation, and all those
things--these are other issues that are broader issues. But--and that even
Islam--in the Islamic law--even in the state of war you are not supposed to
kill the civilians. Even Palestinians--they are not allowed to go and blow up
the cafes and buses and--where the common people are moving around, and
they're not involved in the war--men, women and children.
GROSS: You were one of 15 Islamic leaders who met with President Bush in the
White House after September 11th. And one of the things that you did there
was give him a copy of the Koran. What, if anything, do you think came out of
that meeting with the president?
Dr. SIDDIQI: I was very impressed with my meeting with the president, and I
gave him a copy of the Koran. I said to him that you can read the copy of the
Koran and you see that this Koran does not condone any of those acts that
people have done. And I told the president, `I heard that you read the Bible
every day. I hope someday you'll read also the Koran.' And he said, `I
will.' And he himself said that we should not use the word Islam for this
thing. We don't call Timothy McVeigh `Christian terrorist.' This is what
president said at that time. So we were very impressed, but unfortunately
after that the media took a different turn and everything became Islamic.
It is very unfortunate because it had nothing to do with Islam. Islam is
this--these--what--why these people are--terrorists are doing, they are really
violating Islam. So we should use some other term for that. Because when you
use the word Islamic, you are unfortunately creating sympathy for them in the
minds of many Muslims.
For example--I'll give you an example. If somebody comes to my home to attack
me or to steal, a robber comes, and I come out and say, `A robber came,' all
my neighbors are going to have sympathy with me. But if I say, `A Christian
came to attack me,' people not have that much sympathy. They may
change--their whole thinking will change. So in a similarly, if you're using
the `terrorists came,' and `terrorist did that,' people will support you. But
once you say, `Muslims came. Islamic people came.' Well, Muslims will have
nevermind. So you are changing that. So how to fight the terrorists? Not to
generalize them, not to make them as part of the broader community. Make them
GROSS: Let me quote something that you said in 2000, and this is quoted a
lot, like when people hear your name. And you said this at a rally outside
the White House, a rally protesting American support of Israel. And what you
said was, `America has to learn if you remain on the side of injustice, the
wrath of God will come. But we want blessings for America. That's why we
want the conscience of America to be awakened and the Americans to stand on
the side of justice.' I know people who were critical of what you said see it
as a kind of veiled ultimatum, like if America continues to support Israel the
wrath of God will come. Of course, that's not what we want. We want
America--we prefer America change its policy, but if it doesn't the wrath of
God will come. Is that an accurate interpretation and how would you like us
to interpret that statement?
Dr. SIDDIQI: It is a reminder. It is not a warning. It was not an invoking
of the wrath of God, as some people have said. If I say to somebody, don't
smoke because that will cause cancer, I'm not bringing a cancer on him. I'm
not invoking cancer on that person; I'm just simply reminding that person,
`Don't do that.' So this is what I meant, that this is a reminder for our
government and for everybody that we should remain always on the side of
justice. Don't do injustice to anyone, and indeed, injustice bring the wrath
of God, so we have to be very, very careful about that.
I did not mean by justice that do injustice to Israeli people. I did not mean
that. I did mean that do not let Israeli people do injustice to others, to
Palestinian people, and Palestinian people are suffering. So in that sense,
our government use its power, its authority, its influence to see that there
is fair game and there is equality, not one-sidedness; be on the side of
truth, be on the side of justice, not only on one side. Only that I meant,
and I meant it in a very good spirit, and in that speech I also said we want
to--I mean, it's--you should read the whole speech. I said we want that
Muslims, Christians and Jews live in peace in the Middle East. We want all
people to live in peace in the Middle East.
GROSS: Is it fair to say that you consider American support of Israel or
American policy in the Middle East to be sinful?
Dr. SIDDIQI: I want to see American foreign policy, American policy in the
Middle East more fair policy, more just policy. That policy, unfortunately,
is not just, is not fair. It's only one-sided. I would like to see it become
more fair. That doesn't mean that be against Jewish people, against the
security of Israel, no. Israelis have a right to live in peace; Israelis have
the right to live safe in that area. But Palestinians also have a right; they
are also human beings. They are not animals. They also have rights, and
their rights have to be recognized. That's what I meant.
GROSS: One of the things that I think has been very confusing to a lot of
people about the London attacks, at least the first set of bombings, is that
the people behind the bombings were born in England, and they became very
alienated from British society and Western society in general, so much so that
they attacked the country that they were born in and lived in. What advice do
you have for young Muslims whose own cultural values don't coincide with, you
know, the larger values of the West when it comes to things relating from food
to sex to music and entertainment and politics? I mean, what advice do you
have for them about how to live in a culture even though your religion's
values are different from the mainstream of that culture?
Dr. SIDDIQI: We have a whole subject called the jurisprudence for the
minority, and we speak about that--that is, when you are living in a country
where you are a minority, you must respect the laws of the country, and there
are certain matters in which you have to compromise. There are certain
matters in which you adapt--adapt--I mean, not adopt but adapt yourself. So
there are various levels. But we emphasize very much that the laws of the
land must be respected, and we are here, especially in United States, we are
very fortunate--I always emphasize that--that the United States--there is no
law that tells Muslims that they must do something that God said that they
should not do. Although there are things that are allowed here in the United
States that Islam says are forbidden, but there is nothing that is obligatory
upon us, according to the US law, that Islam said you must not do. So this
is--I always said this is a good thing for us, and we have to appreciate that.
GROSS: Thank you very much for talking with us.
Dr. SIDDIQI: Thank you.
GROSS: Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi is the president of the Fiqh Council of North
America, the group of Islamic scholars that issued a fatwa condemning
terrorism and religious extremism.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews albums by two '80s bands, the Fleshtones and The
This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Punk albums "Beachhead" by the Fleshtones and "OC
Confidential" by The Adolescents
TERRY GROSS, host:
In the early '80s, the Fleshtones, founded in Queens, New York, and The
Adolescents from across the country in LA's Orange County, made rough
punk-influenced music. Neither band became huge stars, although the
Fleshtones continued to tour in Europe. But both bands have just put out
silver anniversary albums that rock critic Ken Tucker says still instructively
demonstrate the opposite coasts' approach to punk rock. Here's the first
track of the Fleshtones' album, a song called "Bigger and Better."
(Soundbite of "Bigger and Better")
FLESHTONES: (Singing) Seems it always happens...
KEN TUCKER reporting:
On one level, the Fleshtones and The Adolescents aren't obviously comparable
bands. In the early '80s, the Fleshtones specialized in a pounding but
melodic garage rock that owed as much to The Troggs' "Wild Thing" as to any
song by a punk act. The Adolescents were Orange County malcontents 25 years
before malcontents became lovable on the TV show "The O.C." They made an
intentionally messy combination of hard-core punk and politics. It's a stance
they still take on their new album, "OC Confidential," which you can bet is
titled that to exploit the TV show--Why not?--but which is also loaded with
statements about war and death that no TV show would touch.
(Soundbite of "OC Confidential")
THE ADOLESCENTS: (Singing) Bombers in the sky, no one asking why. We act
just like the devil when the bullets start to fly. When they bullets start to
fly, we have to duck and hide. Such a game of cat and mouse.
(Unintelligible) protecting, mark, get set, annihilate ...(unintelligible) of
the US deficit. ...(Unintelligible) war ...(unintelligible) win the war.
It's such a game of cat and mouse. ...(Unintelligible). Still can't pay the
rent. ...(Unintelligible) my wages ...(unintelligible). Is that my money
spent? It's just a game of cat and mouse.
TUCKER: Both of these bands held the middle ground in their heyday. The
Fleshtones remained in the shadow of The Ramones and Blondie. The Adolescents
were never the media favorites that X or The Germs were. Both were solid,
dependable, workaday outfits with loyal cult followings who filled a need.
The Fleshtones provided party music that left dancers sweaty and grinning; The
Adolescents, as their name suggests, were moodier and brattier and, surrounded
by the Hollywood industry, more contemptuous and suspicious of the star-making
process--even, of course, as they lusted after it. The central problem of all
LA punk: How can you avoid selling out in a company town? The Adolescents'
answer has been to grow up--a little.
(Soundbite of song)
THE ADOLESCENTS: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible) 12:00. It's when the hammer
drops. ...(Unintelligible) until the hockey (unintelligible). The last
breath I draw I'm a dying democracy. Packed Americana from sea to shining
sea. Lock down, America. Lock down, America. Lock down, America. Lock
TUCKER: By contrast, the Fleshtones' new album goes out of its way to include
a song about being serious about not being serious.
(Soundbite of song)
FLESHTONES: (Singing) World's gotta know the problem. You see and hear it
all the time. Fleshtones are here to remind you it's sometimes best to leave
it. People working hard all of their lives, trying to earn a nickel or dime.
No time for relaxing--it's sometimes best to leave it. Let's get serious
about not being serious. Serious. About nothing. Let's get serious about
not being serious. Come on and give it a try. Let's try something
TUCKER: With a country separating them, The Adolescents and the Fleshtones
released their debut albums in 1981. Neither got much more than admiring
reviews in their hometowns. The Fleshtones featured better vocals and a sense
of history, evincing the influence of rockabilly and garage rock as well as
punk. The Adolescents were better at ranting. Like a lot of LA punk bands,
their way of rebelling against the LA rock establishment, like The Eagles and
Fleetwood Mac, was to scream over a few guitar chords. What's fascinating is
that 25 years later, their music sounds just as undercooked, overheated and
go-for-broke urgent as it did when they were bold kids. They worked in a
genre that was supposed to explode rock 'n' roll forever and ended up being
rock 'n' rollers forever.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is film critic for New York Magazine. He reviewed "OC
Confidential" by The Adolescents and "Beachhead" by the Fleshtones.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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