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CBS Analyst Marks 9/11 By Hoping for 'Backlash' Against Ground Zero Mosque Opponents

On the September 11th Saturday Early Show, CBS News Middle East analyst Reza Aslan slammed opponents of the Ground Zero mosque as having "unapologetically politicized" 9/11 and being part of a "whole wave of anti-Muslim sentiment."

While he denounced others for trying to "take advantage of this symbol for their own political purposes," Aslan made his comments only seconds after live coverage of the first moment of silence for victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. Co-host Chris Wragge accepted Aslan's characterization of the controversy and responded: "...this is not an opportunity to add controversy into the mix. If there's one day, you know what, to keep our mouths quiet and let's just reflect on the lives lost, today is it, you don't mess with that."

Aslan followed up by admitting: "I'll be honest with you, I hope that there is kind of a backlash against what's going on right now. As you know, at 1pm today there'll be a rally in support of the so-called Park 51 project, at 3pm there'll be this international rally against it. So, I'm hoping that Americans all over the country see these images and think we've gone too far."

He later specifically condemned mosque opponents: "...particularly in the case of this sort of international anti-Islam rally that's being brought by this group called Stop Islamization of America. And they're inviting all these European anti-Muslim politicians in to speak. I mean, that's really now taking this to a whole other level."

Wragge also brought up Florida Pastor Terry Jones's initial plans to burn the Koran on Saturday which were later cancelled: "It just seems as though we're kind of, I don't know, exacerbating some negative stereotypes that exist out there. I mean, can Muslims look at what's going on here and say we can take - we can maybe hopefully take a positive away from this at some point?" Aslan replied: "I think Muslims in the United States can....Now, if you're in Egypt or Syria, you don't see that part. As far as you're concerned, this isn't about a crazy pastor, this is about America and anti-Islam fervor in the United States."

At the top of the broadcast, Wragge interviewed Dr. Zuhdi Jassar, a Muslim scholar opposed to the Ground Zero mosque. Jasser proposed a very different course of action from Aslan: "...it's time for Muslims to look less about promoting ourselves, less about victimology, and more about feeling the pain of the families of 9/11 and understanding what we have to do to repair the house of Islam."

Wragge still attempted to mischaracterize mosque opposition: "Do you feel that - that since 9/11 America has become Islamophobic, so to speak?" Jasser replied: "I have to tell you absolutely not. I do think that we're becoming - we're getting a crash course on Islam and I we think we Muslims have to do more work to separate spiritual Islam of the faith that we love from political Islam that creates the Nidal Hasans, the Faisal Shahzads and has a continuum from moderate to radical.... It's a fight within the house of Islam that we need to focus in and not just focus on victimology."

Here is a full transcript of Aslan's rant:

8:46AM SEGMENT:

CHRIS WRAGGE: You're looking at live pictures of Ground Zero. Nine years ago today, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center right there. Every year on September 11th at this time we pause to reflect those who lost their lives at Ground Zero, this is the first of four moments of silence. The next will be at 9:03, when the second tower was struck and then again, the two later moments of silence will correspond with the times that the towers fell.

Reza Aslan is with us right now, our Middle East expert here at CBS, to talk a bit about the way the world has changed here the last nine years with what's been going on, especially here the last few weeks, with this controversy of the Islamic center downtown. And let's begin with that. Your thoughts on what's transpired and how now, you know, with this Pastor Jones, how it's really kind of taken on a life of its own here.

REZA ASLAN: Well, I think the thing that's most surprising to a lot of Americans is the way in which 9/11, and particularly Ground Zero, has become so unapologetically politicized in a way that, I think, is surprising to a lot of Americans. That would have been surprising even a year ago. Now, what is the cause for that? Some might say that the Islamic community center, you know, sparked this whole wave of anti-Muslim sentiment but I think maybe we're far enough away, nine years now, where people do feel like they can take advantage of this symbol for their own political purposes.

WRAGGE: You think, though, that's a big chance to take? Because the one thing that I'm hearing, especially talking from a lot of people not only down in the area, living here in the city, but also family members that say, you know, this is a day of remembrance, reflection, this is a day that changed the world as we know it now, this is not an opportunity to add controversy into the mix. If there's one day, you know what, to keep our mouths quiet and let's just reflect on the lives lost, today is it, you don't mess with that.

ASLAN: And you know I'll be honest with you, I hope that there is kind of a backlash against what's going on right now. As you know, at 1pm today there'll be a rally in support of the so-called Park 51 project, at 3pm there'll be this international rally against it. So, I'm hoping that Americans all over the country see these images and think we've gone too far. This is just too far now. No matter where you fit on this controversy.

REBECCA JARVIS: And what's the end game, then?

ASLAN: Well, I think, you know, people are just going to continue to use this to fuel their own political or economic, you know, ideologies, as it is. And I do believe that Mayor Bloomberg said something very interesting. He said that by this time next year, we'll have the memorial finished. And I do think that once that's done, then there will no longer be this void, this vacuum, this space that can be filled up with other people's notions and other people's ideas. Let's hope so, anyway.

WRAGGE: Today, with these protests that will be going on, those in support, those that are not in favor of this Islamic center downtown at 51 Park, do you think it takes away from what we're really supposed to be focusing our attention on here?

ASLAN: Most definitely. And, you know, particularly in the case of this sort of international anti-Islam rally that's being brought by this group called Stop Islamization of America. And they're inviting all these European anti-Muslim politicians in to speak. I mean, that's really now taking this to a whole other level. The point of this is remembrance, mourning, if anything, we should be coming together as different religions and different ethnicities.

JARVIS: I-

WRAGGE: I'm sorry. It just seems as though we're kind of, I don't know, exacerbating some negative stereotypes that exist out there. I mean, can Muslims look at what's going on here and say we can take - we can maybe hopefully take a positive away from this at some point?

ASLAN: I think Muslims in the United States can. In fact, one of the things that's most remarkable about this stunt with the Koran burning in Florida, is the enormous response of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders that have come together and really wanted to use this as a way of promoting interfaith cooperation. Now, if you're in Egypt or Syria, you don't see that part. As far as you're concerned, this isn't about a crazy pastor, this is about America and anti-Islam fervor in the United States. That's a real problem, we're engaged in two wars.

JARVIS: Reza, thank you. We appreciate you being with us and we will be right back.

Here is a full transcript of Wragge's interview with Jasser:

7:06AM ET SEGMENT:

CHRIS WRAGGE: One Muslim scholar is sharply critical of the planned Islamic Community Center and prayer room near Ground Zero. Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser is president of the Islamic Forum for Democracy in Phoenix. Dr. Jasser, thank you for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

ZUHDI JASSER [PRESIDENT, AMERICAN ISLAMIC FORUM FOR DEMOCRACY]: Thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.

Chris Wragge and Zuhdi Jasser, CBS WRAGGE: Let me ask you if you heard a second ago, in Elaine Quijano's piece, there are two competing rallies at Ground Zero today adding controversy to this - this sacred day. How do you feel that this situation can be calmed, if at all?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Ground Zero Divided; Rallies Planned For And Against Islamic Center]

JASSER: Yeah, I think today is - especially a day as we remember and reflect upon 9/11 and - and looking over that pit of devastation there and feeling that - and today, we look through that lens as Americans, not as a Muslim, not as of any faith. I - I don't look through this lens of trying to repair my - trying to promote Islam. It's about fighting the forces that caused this. And I think if we're able to unite under that. That's why 71% of Americans are against this. It's not because they don't want mosques there, there's even other mosques closer. Many of us have built over 2,000 mosques in the United States with very little problem. And - but I think what unites us is the freedoms and liberties that our Constitution gives us and it's time for Muslims to look less about promoting ourselves, less about victimology, and more about feeling the pain of the families of 9/11 and understanding what we have to do to repair the house of Islam.

WRAGGE: You're a Muslim. You've seen this controversy. Do you feel that - that since 9/11 America has become Islamophobic, so to speak?

JASSER: I have to tell you absolutely not. I do think that we're becoming - we're getting a crash course on Islam and I we think we Muslims have to do more work to separate spiritual Islam of the faith that we love from political Islam that creates the Nidal Hasans, the Faisal Shahzads and has a continuum from moderate to radical. That's what we have to do to separate them. And there's some confusion there, understandably, because it's not a binary equation of good Muslim non-violent, bad Muslim violent. There's a continuum that's confusing. But that is some part of the educational process, part of the war of ideas that we have to fight within. This isn't a fight between Islam and Christianity or Islam and the West. It's a fight within the house of Islam that we need to focus in and not just focus on victimology.

WRAGGE: Can I ask you your - your thoughts on why there was such a visceral reaction to - to Pastor Jones?

JASSER: Well, because, book burning has never been anything that's been followed by anything good in history. Book burning is something that is clearly against the Constitution and the First Amendment and shows a complete disrespect and he's a speck of humanity of just thirty congregants and doesn't represent America. But yet, he feeds into the Islamist narrative overseas, across the world, that America is against Islam, America is against Muslims. So he used it to have his fifteen minutes of fame-

WRAGGE: Yeah.

JASSER: -and it fed into that narrative.

WRAGGE: Alright. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, thank you very much for taking the time. We appreciate it.

JASSER: Thank you for having me.

WRAGGE: Alright.

-Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.