Don Lemon surprisingly shot down a common moral equivalency argument in defense of the Islamic faith during a panel discussion on Wednesday's CNN Tonight. Lemon asked, "Is Islam a more violent religion than other faiths?" When CNN analyst Tom Fuentes answered, "Yes, it must be," guest Arsalan Iftikhar retorted by playing up that "Christian extremist organizations...have bombed gay nightclubs and...abortion clinics in the name of Christendom."
The CNN anchor interrupted Iftikhar as he made that talking point, and zeroed in on the vastly different death tolls between abortion clinic bombings and Islamist terrorist attacks: [MP3 audio available here; video below]
DON LEMON: By saying that Islam is more violent than any other religion, it doesn't mean that other religions aren't violent. We're talking about history and the reality here. If you're looking at the bombing of abortion clinics, you're not looking at the numbers of a 9/11. You're not looking at the numbers of a Boko Haram. You're not looking at the many people who are killed from ISIS, and then – and beheaded. People don't go into abortion clinics – yes, death is death – but people don't go into abortion clinics and behead people.
Lemon first turned to Iftikhar, 'Islamic Monthly' magazine's senior editor, and asked his "is Islam a more violent religion" question. The guest replied unequivocally, "Absolutely not, Don. In the history of humanity, every single religion on earth has been used by fringe extremists for violent purposes. And to isolate Islam – you know, outside of the history of 1,400 years, and over one billion people who practice it, is being disingenuous and dishonest."
Iftikhar continued by acknowledging that "there is a problem with Islamist extremists and terrorists like ISIS, al Qaeda, and Boko Haram." The CNN anchor interjected, "But those groups are – those are very, very violent groups." He then asked the same question of Dr. Tawfik Hamid, senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Dr. Hamid initially didn't give a direct answer, and Lemon actually hounded him for one:
DR. TAWFIK HAMID, AUTHOR, "INSIDE JIHAD: I believe there are certain areas in Islam that – needs to be reinterpreted. Otherwise, you will face violence again. Other religions have probably some texts that may lead to violence if you understood it literally. However, many of these religions have reformed it already. Islam has not reformed it yet. And the same anachronistic, old-fashioned ways of teaching are still today valid and taught-
LEMON: Is that a yes or a no? Is it more violent?
HAMID: I believe, with a literal understanding of it, it – and with its history as written in Sharia books today, it is more violent.
The remainder of the segment was dominated by the confrontation between Fuentes and Iftikhar, with Lemon twice indicating that Islam was currently the most violent religion on the planet. Fuentes also qualified his initial reply by spotlighting the violent past of other religions, but also seconded Lemon's contention:
TOM FUENTES, FORMER FBI ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Yes, it must be. Otherwise, how could all these groups take the name of Islam to become violent and do what they do? They're the ones that call themselves Islamists. They're the ones – you know, ISIS calling themselves the 'Islamic State.' We didn't pin that name on them. We didn't say, 'You're the non-Christian; you're the non-Jewish; the non-Buddhist; the non-Hindu; the non-Sikh.' They said, 'We're the Islamist State.'
So, they're interpreting the teachings of the prophet, the teachings of the Koran, and they're twisting it. They're putting it on it. But the fundamental basis, is that they're calling themselves Islam, and then cutting people's heads off.
ALISYN CAMEROTA: Go ahead, Mr. Iftikhar.
IFTIKHAR: Wait – Don. First of all, I find it absolutely astounding that a former assistant director of the FBI would say that Islam is a more violent religion than most other religions. If you look at the Lord's Resistance Army and Joseph Kony that was made famous in the Kony 2012 campaign, that is a Christianist organization. You look at – you look at Christian extremist organizations here in the United States that have bombed gay nightclubs and abortion nightclub – abortion clinics in the name of Christendom. But every mainstream Christian knows that these are completely outside of any normative understanding-
LEMON: But by saying – but by saying-
IFTIKHAR: Wait, hold on-
LEMON: By saying that Islam is more violent than any other religion, it doesn't mean that other religions aren't violent. We're talking about history and the reality here. If you're looking at the bombing of abortion clinics, you're not looking at the numbers of a 9/11. You're not looking at the numbers of a Boko Haram. You're not looking at the many people who are killed from ISIS, and then – and beheaded. People don't go into abortion clinics – yes, death is death – but people don't go into abortion clinics and behead people....
FUENTES: What he [Iftikhar] is saying is perfectly true. There was this level of violence in the other religions. The ancient Israelites did similar things in towns and killed everybody – man, women and children – into town thousands of years ago. The Catholics – you know, there were Catholic priests that accompanied the conquistadors on the ships back in the day when they landed in Mexico and landed in South America-
LEMON: We're talking about modern. We're talking about modern times now.
FUENTES: And they committed the Spanish Inquisition. That's what I'm trying to say. So, major religions have had that period of time where they were as violent – and, frankly, as horrible as could be – to try to convert people to their teachings. And if they didn't get converted by hearts and flowers, they were killed or convinced by persuasion and violence to do it.
So, what I'm trying to say is that, yes, in the modern era, here and now, those other religions have kind of moved on past that being their normal method of operating to convert people to believe their belief. These people like ISIS – al Baghdadi is basically saying – to moderate Sunnis; any Shia; any Yazidi; any Christian – anybody – 'I'm going to kill all of you. You need to convert or we're going to kill you.'
IFTIKHAR: You're going to take – you're going to take what one knucklehead says out of 1.6 billion of us. I mean, if you look at the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh's co-conspirator, Terry Nichols, was a self-professed member of the Christian Identity movement, which Syracuse University has found has over 250,000 followers here in the United States.
I mean, it is absolutely astonishing that people are going to be so reductive, and take isolated fringe extremists and – you know, extrapolate that to a religion of over one billion people. I mean, this – this goes into the whole narrative-
FUENTES: That's right, but take away the one billion....you're saying that these groups are so isolated on every continent-
IFTIKHAR: Listen, Tom – listen – President George – listen. President George W. Bush, after 9/11, said that the United States is not at war with Islam. President Barack Obama has said the same thing. But everything that is being said tonight feeds directly into this clash of civilizations mantra, where it's the West against Islam. And, you know, for the seven million American Muslims that live in the United States today – myself included – you know, you tend to forget that three out of the last 10 Nobel Peace Prize winners were Muslims; that the greatest athlete in America, Muhammad Ali – the funniest dude in America, Dave Chappelle – are Muslims. Muslims are as peace-loving and normal citizens of society as anyone else-
HAMID: I think we need to distinguish-
LEMON: Hang on, guys. We've just – we've got to get to a break-
FUENTES: That's not what – that's not what I'm saying.
LEMON: I want you to hold that thought. But I think that – I think that you are talking over each other. You're not necessarily listening to each other, and we're getting a little far afield here.