Know Thy Neighbor: An Imam in Controversy in Cleveland

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Are Americans divided in their loyalties between their faith and country? Do Muslims in America believe they pray to a god of love or a god of hate? Is public interest or corporate greed driving America’s legislative agenda on energy? Reported in conjunction with NPR News, the inaugural NOW with Bill Moyers episode explored the complex and perplexing new dynamic facing Muslims in America and reported on how the energy industry exerted undue influence in shaping legislation that could lead to huge profits.


MOYERS: Good evening and welcome to a work in progress. We’re calling our program “NOW” because we want to take on issues and report stories that are urgent to people right now.

First up, in the months since Sept. 11, most of us have been wrestling with the fact that we really don’t know much about Islam.

We’ve learned that Muslims too can pray to a god of love or a god of hate and this has left people uneasy about their neighbors.

NOW’s Juan Williams went to Cleveland, where residents were suddenly asking questions about Imam Fawaz Damra.

JUAN WILLIAMS: He’s the spiritual leader to some 5,000 Muslims at the Islamic Center of Greater Cleveland, and over the last ten years, Imam Fawaz Damra was known as a voice of peace and moderation, honored for encouraging interfaith tolerance.

When terrorists struck on Sept. 11, Fawaz Damra says he was as shocked as any other American.

IMAM FAWAZ DAMRA: I did not think for a minute that it was something coming out of the Middle East because this country has seen atrocities and terrorism like this before. But then, a couple of days later when talk started about Middle Eastern people that were engaged in this incident, I was terrified.

WILLIAMS: Within days of the 9/11 attacks, the backlash literally landed on his front door.

A driver plowed deliberately into the mosque.

DAMRA: Thank God he could not go any further because this is concrete. Otherwise he could have killed the caretaker along with his wife and two children who were living behind the mosque.

WILLIAMS: The Cleveland community rallied behind Damra and his fellow Muslims.

DAMRA: They said an attack on the mosque is an attack on the American liberties and American values.

WILLIAMS: Jews and Christians alike stood in solidarity with the Imam in front of the gaping hole in the mosque.

MARTIN PLAX: Perhaps some of the talk about unity and understanding will actually take place. Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Martin Plax heads the Cleveland chapter of the American Jewish Committee.

He was one of the leaders at the Imam’s side.

PLAX: I said, “The good news here is that, in fact, there are a lot of people who are standing with you.”

WERNER LANGE: The depth of outrage and sorrow at the terrible attack was very evident in the eyes and the words of everybody at the prayer service.

WILLIAMS: For many, the response was a testament to Damra’s work.

WERNER LANGE: He has pioneered like no one else I know of, certainly within the Muslim community, building bridges — interfaith bridges — between his community and the Christian and Jewish community.

WILLIAMS: But just two days later, Cleveland saw a different Damra delivering a very different message.

TRANSLATION FROM TAPE: Donate to the Islamic Jihad. . . $500. Who would add $500, who would add $500?

WILLIAMS: It was on a 10-year-old videotape, images of Damra raising money for a radical Palestinian organization in 1991, espousing words of hatred and violence towards Jews. Listen:

TRANSLATION FROM TAPE: “Directing all rifles at the first and last enemies of the Islamic nation and that is the sons of monkeys and pigs…the Jews.”

REV. KENNETH CHALKER: It is just vicious.

WILLIAMS: This tape surfaced in an unrelated investigation in Florida. It was leaked to a local TV station in Cleveland.

CHALKER: The vehemence and anger of his statements, the choice of his words that he uses are just so strident and vicious that it’s difficult to imagine that just completely evaporates, and not telling people how he’s changed, but under the controversy of being exposed.

WILLIAMS: You mean to say that you don’t believe that he would have dealt with this if he had not been exposed, if the tape had not been released?

KENNETH CHALKER: Absolutely. We would have never known a thing about this.

WILLIAMS: The statements on the tape raised disturbing questions for even some of those who once supported him.

Does Imam Damra harbor hatred?

Support terrorism?

Is his public moderation a cover that allowed Islamic radicalism to flourish inside his mosque?

KENNETH CHALKER: He came to Cleveland. He started his work here at the mosque at the time he had just made those tapes, so he came with that vehemence, with that anger.

DAMRA: Was I right when I made those statements? Absolutely not.

My religion does not teach me to use such racial slurs, but I did not know any better at that time.

WILLIAMS: Now, in the immediate aftermath of the release of this tape, you did not offer an apology.

Instead you said you were speaking about a specific segment of the Jewish community.

DAMRA: Indeed, my first reaction was — which is true — I was referring to the Israelis, I was not referring to all Jews. I was referring to the israelis who are killing innocent people and so forth.

WILLIAMS: Now a naturalized American, Damra came here from a Palestinian village in the West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel. He says when he arrived in America he was full of rage at the hardship inflicted on his people by the Israeli government.

DAMRA: The tape shows an angry man who is frustrated because of what’s happening in his homeland.

Anybody who knows the situation there would expect somebody who’s coming from a ghetto in a Palestinian city have no contact whatsoever with people of different faith, knowing, seeing the humanity in people of different faith, be it Jews or Christians or others — somebody who was living in isolation; somebody who is coming new to this country wanting to express his anger.

Nevertheless, I think those statements are indefensible, and I regret saying what I said in that tape because that is not what my faith teaches me, not what civilized society stands for.

WILLIAMS: A few days later Damra publicly apologized for his words, explaining that his life was transformed while attending Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, an institution renowned for its multi-faith environment.

That was the turning point in my life because that is where I became more mature about life and about what America stands for.

WILLIAMS: Still, not everyone was satisfied.

Seeing this kind of rage coming from a man of God deepened their suspicion.

PLAX: What bothers me about the thing to this day is that he was basically raising money for murder.

DAMRA: I never raise money to any terrorist organization. I never raised money to any organization that is listed in the United States as organizations support terrorism.

Back then, ten years ago, I raised money to the Palestinian orphans and to the Palestinians whose homes were damaged and destroyed.

WILLIAMS: In 1991, the year the tape was recorded, neither Islamic Jihad, Hamas, nor Hezbollah were classified by the State Department as terrorist organizations. Damra says, if so, he would have never supported them.

DAMRA: Any organization that’s suspected of supporting terrorism, I always speak against this type of organization. Anyone who suggests otherwise, he does not know me.

CHALKER: How do you raise money for a benevolent cause by speaking words of hatred, anger, and vengeance? I don’t understand that.

WILLIAMS: Damra was still reeling from disclosure of the video when the CLEVELAND PLAIN DEALER hit him with another blow: investigative front page stories tying him to a radical Brooklyn, New York, mosque and terrorist in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Several of the men responsible for this damage worshiped at the Al-Farooq mosque in Brooklyn. In fact, Imam Damra was its spiritual leader in 1991. That’s where he met the men later convicted in the ’93 bombing.

DAMRA: They were raising money for the Alkifah center, a group operating out of the storefront mosque to support relief efforts in Afghanistan.

I found out that this money is not being given to the people of Afghanistan, but rather is being abused and misused here in America.

So I alarm the board of the mosque and the community that “Your money is not being directed towards what it is intended for.” These guys were strong and influential, and they started mobilizing the community against me and finally threw me out of the mosque.

WILLIAMS: After Damra was ousted in 1991, Sheik Omar Abdel Rachman, the blind sheik convicted in the plot to blow up the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, took over.

Still Damra ended up on a list of people whom federal prosecutors called “unindicted persons who may be alleged as co-conspirators in the ’93 World Trade Center bombing.”

DAMRA: So they did call and name over 170 or 60 individuals, mainly people who happened to be in the mosque at that time, and imams who basically knew these individuals.

I happened to be in that mosque where those radical elements were there.

WILLIAMS: Now, if you were sitting in my seat as a journalist and you’re hearing someone say, “Well, I was surrounded by all of these people who were radical elements, involved not only in raising money for terrorist activities, but in plotting to bomb buildings, but I knew nothing about it, I had no idea.”

Again, you might be very suspicious.

DAMRA: In 1993, after this bombing, I was investigated by the FBI and I sat with them for hours and explained my role as an imam, a religious leader there.

WILLIAMS: The FBI confirms Damra’s account and says he was never charged. Yet trust remains an issue for some in Cleveland.

PLAX: For me, it is the question: so what’s the truth? And I guess the ambiguity of “I don’t know that I can trust him any longer.”

WILLIAMS: So what is it you are not trusting? Are you worried that he may be raising money there for terrorist activities?

PLAX: Sure.

WILLIAMS: Are you worried that he may be, in fact, a sleeper cell encouraging young people to commit acts of terror?

PLAX: “Worried” might be the right word. It is not knowing. It’s not having some sense of confidence that, in fact, when he speaks, he speaks the truth.

WILLIAMS: Other people in Cleveland say since Damra has not been charged with a crime, he should be judged by the work he’s done while in Cleveland.

LANGE: We all make mistakes. I know what he has done. I know what he has said for some ten years. This was highly uncharacteristic. Obviously there has been some type of transformation that has taken place within his life.

WILLIAMS: Imam Damra says that in the ten years that he’s been in Cleveland, he has a record of reaching out to people of all faiths. Is that true?

CHALKER: Folks have spoken very highly of the things he has done in public. That’s true.

But the issue isn’t what we do in public, it is what we are doing with all of our lives, and it is the whole issue of perhaps hiding in plain sight.

WILLIAMS: “Hiding in plain sight.”

CHALKER: Until Imam Damra is willing to place himself in a public forum with the Jewish rabbis of this community, persons of various faiths and persuasions, and answer directly the questions put to him in such a forum, I continue to have serious questions and doubts.

WILLIAMS: Damra says he’s always been willing to answer any lingering questions. He believes the scrutiny he now faces is part of a campaign to discredit Muslim clerics nationwide.

DAMRA: These allegations come at a time that makes one wonder what is the motive behind bringing these allegations at this time when the Muslim community is becoming a target of hate and suspicion and fear.

LANGE: One of the best places for religious fundamentalism to work its extremism in all aspects is either the church, the mosque, or the synagogue.

People would think that why would anybody that’s doing hurtful, evil things be associated with those kinds of groups that we associate with doing good deeds.

It is a perfect hiding place to hide your efforts.

DAMRA: There is no radical elements in this mosque.

There might be political views that people have, but I have no control of individuals who have different political views.

After all, what makes this country the greatest is people can express their views whenever they want, and you find this in a mosque or a church or an synagogue or an institution.

WILLIAMS: Damra says his mosque is open and that Christians as well as Jews have been invited to attend services, something he says an Islamic extremist would never do.

He also claims his stance against terrorism has been consistent, even before September 11.

DAMRA: Terrorism is terrorism whether it is carried out by an individual or a state, and therefore it is wrong.

Again and again, any time civilians are killed, it’s wrong and should be stopped.

WILLIAMS: The United States government has expressed great concern about the existence of terrorist cells and has been very concerted in looking at the Arab community.

Have they come to you?

DAMRA: No. They never came to me and asked me anything.

WILLIAMS: And if you knew of such a sleeper cell of a future Mohammed Atta…

DAMRA: If I know any radical in our community here — be it Palestinian or otherwise — trying to harm my country which I am proud of that gave me so much, I would be the first one to hand in those individual to this country, to the government.

WILLIAMS: I think many Americans would ask you: is this a case of divided loyalties, that people who are Muslim and American somehow feel divided in terms of their emotional attachment to possibly events in the Middle East, even Osama bin Laden?

DAMRA: I don’t think so. We do not support oppressive regimes in the Middle East because we happen to be Arab or Muslim.

Muslims are like most Americans. Come to our mosque. Come see what people are doing. They are like any other church trying to deal with how to integrate their life and children into American society. So anybody who suggests they are a division of loyalty, they are not telling the truth.

WILLIAMS: No dilution in terms of patriotism…

DAMRA: Absolutely not.

WILLIAMS: …in the Muslim community?

DAMRA: Absolutely not.

We are patriotic as any other American. The fellow who ran into our mosque, I mean, this is an example of what ignorance can be. And I was an ignorant person one time, and I know what ignorance can do. Ignorance can breed prejudice and all types of hatred.

AL BRAND: I hold that very close to myself that I’m an American and a Christian and I, I guess I’d lay down my life for either one.

MOYERS: This week we’re at the Bethesda Christian Church in Fort Worth, Texas, where we asked the question: “Which one’s first in your life, religion or country?”

SERENA CLAVER: I consider myself a Christian first.

RAY HERVEY: Well, I consider myself a Christian first and then an American second.

CALEB COLSON: Christian first.

LINDA HERVEY: I consider myself a Christian first.

MARY BUTCHER: I’m a Christian first.

JOSHUA COLSON: I’m a Christian first and–and then an American second.

MOYERS: We then asked: What if Muslims gave the very same answer?

SERENA CLAVER: They have the right to say they’re a Muslim first, an American second just as much as I have to say I’m a Christian first and an American second. That is the beauty of being an American, is that we have those freedoms and, and the right to practice whatever faith we want.

JOSHUA COLSON: The thing that would anger me about that is the Koran specifically targets Christians and Jews for hate crimes.

LINDA HERVEY: I might be a little apprehensive at first, but I would consider the fact that — they’ve chosen their religion first and then their citizenship second, the same as I have.

CALEB COLSON: For the sake of the country, I would worry.

AL BRAND: It doesn’t really bother me.

EDNA CALDERONE: It’s the same choice that I have made and expressed. I would not be worried or concerned that they’re a Muslim first and an American second.

MARK BARRY: But if their faith teaches or they interpret their faith to teach that that means jihad, I think — that, that does present a problem.

RAY HERVEY: They probably wouldn’t hold it against me, since my religion is first, and then my faith’s — I mean, American second. So I don’t hold that against them.

MICHAEL WEBER: And so, a Muslim saying that I am a Muslim, then I’m an American, I would put my arms around that person and say I’m glad you’re an American, let’s talk, tell me about being a Muslim — because I want to know.

MOYERS: With us now is Imam Zaid Shakir. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut, where he’s the spiritual leader of his mosque, and where Yale University lists him as a spiritual resource for students.

He travels widely and has become a national and forceful voice for the Islamic faith in this country.

Listen to what he said to the Islamic Society of North America a couple of years ago.

EXCERPT OF SHAKIR ON TAPE: One of the miraculous things associated with Islam is that this civilizational genus in Islam can manifest itself anywhere. And we can make this Islam manifest itself right here in the United States of America so that when people look back in history, they can talk about the Islamic civilization of America.


You recognize that man?

ZAID SHAKIR: Yeah, I do.

MOYERS: You were born in Berkeley, California, grew up in Michigan, Georgia, Connecticut…


MOYERS: Served four and a half years in the United States Army.


MOYERS: Air Force.

Became a Muslim in 1977.

ZAID SHAKIR: It was a very good year.

MOYERS: What led you to accept Islam as your faith?

ZAID SHAKIR: Well, I grew up, as you mentioned, in Georgia, Atlanta, and Connecticut. We were in public housing projects. And growing up in those environments, there are a lot of good things, a lot of wholesome things. But you see a lot of negative things.

And as I matured towards the end of high school — 12th grade, specifically — I began to think about how we could possibly change these things.

And as I began to study religion — I was a Baptist so I studied Christianity, I studied eastern religions.

And I was a Communist for a brief period of time, and I felt that a Communist revolution would bring about change. But I eventually was led back to belief in God, and that rediscovery of God led me to examine religion more closely. And that examination culminated with my becoming a Muslim.

MOYERS: What was it about Islam that in particular said, this is the way I want to go?

ZAID SHAKIR: I think it was the structured nature of worship in Islam, as Islam has a set of moral teachings, Islam has an ethical code. But it also has a day-to-day program for living your life from sun up to sun down in terms of prayers, in terms of certain devotions. And a person who’s looking for religion, this is the first way that usually religion impresses itself on a person.

MOYERS: When you heard that the terrorists on 9/11 did their violence in the name of Allah, did you feel betrayed?

ZAID SHAKIR: I didn’t feel betrayed because I don’t think that anyone who understands Islam could do such a thing in the name of Allah. Islam doesn’t encourage nor endorse indiscriminate, insane murder.

MOYERS: Have you ever felt any divided loyalties between your faith in Allah and your values as an American?


I think that I definitely have gone through a phase of very strong Anti-American sentiment, but I think it was more dissent as opposed to a desire to bring harm to anyone or encourage harming anyone.

There’s no divided loyalty because a lot of core… The core values of Islam are very much compatible with the core values that this country was founded on and the values which continue, even if at a philosophical or idealistic level, to inform what it means to be an American.

MOYERS: Do you resent that question?

ZAID SHAKIR: No, not at all.

I mean, what’s happened, a lot of things that have happened in the aftermath, they’re valid. Searches at the airport are valid.

When I go to the airport and only my shoes are being checked, that’s a valid thing. I can’t object to that, and I have to understand it. If I failed to understand it, I think I would be quite ignorant.

MOYERS: You do understand that people are scared because the terrorists use their religion as a call to martyrdom?

And people are saying, “How do I know that the young man down the street, the young men down the street, the people in your mosque, are… Wouldn’t do the same thing if called several years from now to repeat that terrorism?” You understand that.

ZAID SHAKIR: I can understand it to a point, but I think that we really… Human beings are more complex than that, that indeed in any religious faith you have extremists, you have fanatics, you have people that are outright nuts. And Muslims, as Muslims, we haven’t cornered the market on these categories of human beings. I think the fact that Islam is largely unknown sort of creates a bit of apprehension.

MOYERS: Well, what do you say, Imam, to people who do fear that extremists are hiding in plain sight?

ZAID SHAKIR: I would say that… Look at history.

We’ve been in this country as Muslims, even before the country a few. And during the slavery period, and some areas of this country, upwards of 50 percent of the slave population was Muslim off the coast of Carolina and the Mississippi Delta area, upwards to 30 percent of the slaves were Muslims.

A random African American who chooses to trace his roots, Alex Haley, ends up in a Muslim village in West Africa.

So Muslims have been here in this country. So Muslims have been here for a long time, and we haven’t been involved in the sort of thing that happened September 11.

So Muslims have been in this country, we haven’t been involved in this sort of thing, despite the fact that indeed some of us — I put myself on the list — at times have involved in… been involved in very provocative rhetoric.

MOYERS: You say in one of your essays, “Allah tells us in unambiguous terms, fight them on until there is no more.”

Now, before you answer that, let me say, I grew up singing “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus, going on before.”

I mean, that’s a pretty militant hymn.

You say, “fight them on until there’s no more.” Is that just a metaphor?

ZAID SHAKIR: This is a general instruction for those people or groups of people, particularly in the time of the prophet, he was told, “I’ve been sent to fight the people until they testify that there’s no God but Allah and Mohammed is the messenger.”

But we are told and taught as Muslims that that was specific to the people of the Arabian Peninsula, that particular command.

And so this, this statement came from an essay in which a lot of things were said, and… but the main point was that in the context of Muslims being involved in the political system here in this country that we have to look at a full range of political options.

And one of those is not guerilla war, as some people have tried to make out from this essay.

MOYERS: You say in that same essay, that Islam presents an absolutist political agenda, one which doesn’t lend itself to compromise nor to coalition building.


MOYERS: Are you saying that Islam cannot be a part of democracy…


MOYERS: …but not stand apart…

ZAID SHAKIR: I said… I said…

MOYERS: …from democracy?

ZAID SHAKIR: I said that ten years ago. That essay was written over… over ten years ago.

MOYERS: Would you say it now?

ZAID SHAKIR: I would not say it now.

MOYERS: You would say that Islam is compatible with coalition building, with compromise, with democracy?

ZAID SHAKIR: No, but I would say Islam is compatible with working together with decent people at various social, political, and cultural levels to make the world a better place.

MOYERS: All right, let me just do one more that I found in one of your essays. Let me put this on the screen so our viewers can see it and read this…

ZAID SHAKIR: I’d like to see it also.

MOYERS: Well, I’ll read it to you directly.

“The orientation of the Koran pushes us in the exact opposite direction.”

MOYERS: I’d like to know a serious question: what is it that Allah might find illegitimate about America?

ZAID SHAKIR: I think that as a Muslim, I would say the — and it might not be to a negative consequence — but the ability ultimately to enact strictures and legislation that might be inconsistent with what we have generally…

MOYERS: With Islamic law?

ZAID SHAKIR: As general religious law, would be objectionable.

But having said that, that does not mean that as a Muslim I am not obligated to work for the betterment of this country and the betterment of the world and the citizens of this country.

But I am bound by that same Islamic law to not do anything to work against the public safety and well-being of this country or its citizens. I am… I have implicitly entered into a covenant of protection, and part of that covenant dictates that I remain here in a law-abiding fashion.

MOYERS: Tell me something about what you’ve gone through since September 11 as an American and as a Muslim.

ZAID SHAKIR: I think that there’s been a lot of introspection in terms of coming to grips with ultimately what Islam stands for and what we as Muslims have to offer this country and the world at large.

As an American, you feel the pain of the innocent people being lost by the senseless acts that were perpetrated.

And as a Muslim, you feel the pain not only knowing a lot of those people killed there were Muslims, but that now your religion is put in a position where really you have to explain yourself where you haven’t done anything as an individual nor as a community. American Muslims haven’t been involved in this sort of thing in the past, nor in this terrible situation which took place.

MOYERS: You studied several years, and serious, in Islamic science, studied a number of subjects.

What did you learn there about why so many Muslims see America as the enemy of Islam?

ZAID SHAKIR: I think that this is an inaccurate statement.

I don’t think many Muslims see America as the enemy.

I think many Muslims become angered by things that this country does periodically in the Middle East.

MOYERS: Such as?

ZAID SHAKIR: Indiscriminate, I would say, fairly indiscriminate support for Israel to the detriment of the Palestinians, even though there have been efforts to broker a fair peace. But in the final analysis, the bombs and the napalm and the tanks and jets and planes generally have “Made in America”

On them when they fall into the refugee camps. The Iraqi situation, as Muslims we see this as literally genocide.

MOYERS: So there’s nothing in Islam that says America is the enemy.

It’s in politics.

ZAID SHAKIR: It’s political, primarily. And an indication of that, just see how long the lines are outside of the American Embassy in any Middle Eastern country.

So if people hated the country so much, there wouldn’t be such a fervor to come here. And most of the people standing in lines have on blue jeans and “I heart America T-shirts.”

MOYERS: And they want McDonald’s hamburgers.

ZAID SHAKIR: So I think it’s… I think it’s a severe exaggeration to say Muslims hate America and they’re out to get us…

MOYERS: But some do.

ZAID SHAKIR: …they resent our way of life.

MOYERS: But some do.

ZAID SHAKIR: Some do, but they’re a small minority. You can find a minority in any religion that hate a lot of things.

MOYERS: So what…

ZAID SHAKIR: But to extrapolate from the sentiments of that minority and to taint an entire class of a group of people, I think that’s not accurate nor is it proper.

MOYERS: So what is your interpretation, as a student of the Koran, of a jihad?

ZAID SHAKIR: Jihad is two levels. One is a general struggle to improve oneself, improve society, and one is a struggle against forces that are antagonistic to Islam and the Muslim community, but in accordance to very well-defined rules.

And those rules aren’t honored by people who slam jet planes into air… into buildings, if that’s where this question is leading to. So there’s no way the Islamic concept or idea of jihad supports the kind of actions that were undertaken September 11 allegedly in the name of Islam.

MOYERS: I appreciate very much your coming here and dealing with these questions. And I wish you well.

ZAID SHAKIR: I wish you well, and I thank you for this opportunity.

JOHN STANMEYER: Afghanistan has had to live in a complete landscape of destroyed society, like the women walking through the ruins. This woman, she might have been heading back from the market, she might have been coming or going visiting a friend.

The hospital is a maternity hospital. The walls, the doors, the windows, floors are all decaying and dirty, often there’s no electricity in the hospital. A woman in there died from bleeding during childbirth, the body had probably at this point been in the hallway for the better part of a day. And they were too poor to move the body.

The school room where the 20 children and a very, very small room, it’s in the home of a the former college professor.

She taught philosophy at the university in Kabul.

So for these past five or six years, she’s been teaching children in her home.

There must have been 200 people gathered around this guy selling these little dolls, and they were all men.

To live that long in a Fellini set like that, you would have to become no different than everything that surrounds you, but still with a sense of hope and pride, and I think that’s what’s going to propel Afghani society, hopefully forward.

MOYERS: Congress returns to Washington next week, and one of the first priorities for the Senate is to consider the President’s energy program.

In both the President’s plan and the bill that’s already passed the house — H.R. 4 — the fossil fuel industry is sitting pretty, with the promise of more than $35 billion in tax breaks and subsidies for some of America’s richest and most polluting companies.

For the environment, it’s a different story.

The beauty and health of our environment matters to most of us.

We know our dependence on oil, coal, and gas drives global climate change.

We know that moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy would serve our needs forever.

But the President’s energy plan is all about fossil fuel and the industries that helped elect him.

PRESIDENT BUSH: America will need between 1,300 and 1,900 new power plants over the next two decades.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: For the natural gas we need, we must lay more pipelines, at least 38,000 miles more.

PRESIDENT BUSH: ANWAR can produce 600,000 barrels of oil a day over the next 40 years.

VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY: The reality is that fossil fuels supply virtually 100% our transportation needs and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements.

DAN BECKER (Sierra Club): This administration was elected with massive campaign contributions from the Exxons and Mobils and G.M.s of the world.

They made an investment in electing this administration, and they’re getting their money’s worth.

This administration is delivering to the auto and coal and nuclear and utility and oil and gas industries just what has been on their wish list for years.

(Bush inauguration clip)

MOYERS: From the beginning, it’s been a happy marriage of money and politics.

The fossil fuel interests spent $55 million to help elect candidates to advance their goals, and the Bush administration became practically a mirror image of the energy industry.

It’s that old fraternity of oil and gas men, automotive and utility interests.

There were no strangers here.

ECKER: So you had a procession of big polluting companies coming before a series of officials in the bush administration, drawn from the big polluting companies, asking the big polluting companies, alumnae in the administration, for the special favors, and then they got them.

MOYERS: Those who knew Bush as Governor of Texas knew exactly what to expect.

TOM SMITH: The past is often a prologue to the future, and what we are seeing here is a man whose experience and background has been in oil and gas industries.

When time after time, when push came to shove, he invited those guys back into the inner chambers here in the Capitol.

MOYERS: Tom Smith lobbies for environmental issues in the Texas state legislature.

SMITH: When deciding how to clean up the grandfathered pollution problem we had here in Texas, who did he invite in?

Exxon and Marathon, to sit down and help him write the policy.

They didn’t invite any of the environmentalists to come in and sit down.

The documents that we were able to obtain under the Freedom of Information Act clearly indicated that the oil, gas, and chemical lobbies wrote that policy.

PRESIDENT BUSH: My plan helps people in the short-term and long-term by recognizing the problem.

MOYERS: The pattern set in Austin played out in Washington.

To develop a new energy policy, President Bush appointed a task force headed by Vice President Cheney, who in turn asked executives from Enron Energy, Anadarko, and Peabody Coal to help him write the report, plus other industry insiders whom Cheney refuses to identify.

Even some Washington conservatives are outraged at his adamant secrecy.

KLAYMAN: My name is Larry Klayman.

I am Chairman and General Counsel of Judicial Watch, a public interest law firm that investigates and prosecutes government abuse and corruption.

MOYERS: Larry Klayman supported George W. Bush in the last election.

He’s a staunch conservative and often went after Bill and Hillary Clinton for ethical improprieties.

KLAYMAN: As all of you know, Judicial Watch was founded several years ago on the ethic that nobody is above the law.

The Government has an obligation to let the people know what it’s doing behind closed doors, particularly in an environment like Washington, where money passes hands from lobbyists to the administration to presidential candidates, and the potential for undue influence exists if you can do these meetings in secret and formulate policy in secret.

That’s what happened with the Hillary Clinton health care task force.

She was doing it in secret, side deals were being cut.

She got caught doing it, and it was the end of her task force.

Now Cheney is running a tremendous risk by doing the same thing behind closed doors.

MOYERS: Klayman’s Judicial Watch contends these secret meetings with anonymous advisors are illegal, and has gone to court to force Cheney to turn over a complete list of industry insiders who advised the task force.

Cheney has also been sued by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, after repeatedly refusing to provide the secret information to lawmakers.

KLAYMAN: The Vice President is currently living in a bunker with regard to the terrorist attack, and that’s his mentality: that everything must be done secretly, clandestinely; and, of course, all governments are that way.

They don’t want the American people knowing what they’re doing, because it raises more and more questions.

The issue is not whether he can do business that way, the issue is whether the law requires him to open it up to the public.

MOYERS: The President’s energy plan went to Capitol Hill last summer.

The House majority provided House Bill H.R. 4 with an icing of incentives, credits, and subsidies, blessings only Congress can bestow.

DAN BECKER: The administration’s energy plan gave the industries the special gifts that they always wanted.

What the House of Representatives added was greasing of the skids.

They gave them the money, the extra income, the tax subsidies to be able to make more money doing these activities and to make more money doing some of the environmentally destructive activities that they’re already engaged in.

MOYERS: The oil and gas industries spent $43 million lobbying the last congress.

If passed by the Senate, the energy bill would give them $21 billion in tax subsidies.

Four of those companies spent over $16 million lobbying congress.

They are first in line to lease the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The energy bill would give them the right to begin exploration there.

The automotive industry spent $33 million lobbying congress.

The energy bill would give them a seven-year holiday from new fuel efficiency standards.

KLAYMAN: These companies have lined the pockets of both major political parties, and consequently the potential for abuse is great, not just in the Executive Branch, but in the Legislative Branch of government and throughout the governorships of this country.

They have bought and paid for energy policy.

MOYERS: Klayman’s criticism doesn’t sit well in a town where it’s not considered cricket to challenge a wartime commander-in-chief.

LARRY KLAYMAN: There is a tendency in times of war for the American people, unfortunately, to become yes men, to say, “well, I’m a patriot. I can’t question the government. I put my faith in that government.”

In the current time, when we’re all under the threat of nuclear terrorism and bioterrorism, there’s even a greater tendency for that, to look at the government as your savior, but we can’t do that.

To be patriotic is to ask questions and to find out what’s going on.

We can still support President Bush and his government in the fight against terrorism, but also make sure that that fight is done honestly as the fight to conserve energy and to create more resources in energy is also done honestly. So the two are not mutually exclusive.

MOYERS: Securing our freedom from terrorism and from reliance on fossil fuels may not be mutually exclusive either.

There are renewable energy alternatives that could move us beyond the polluting consequences of oil, coal, and gas, if only our political and corporate leaders embraced the future as fervently as they are repeating the past.

Hunter Lovins has some different ideas about energy, and she’s spent a lifetime developing them.

The editors of TIME magazine picked her as one of their heroes of the planet for her work in support of alternative sources for our country’s energy requirement.

Her most recent of many books written with her colleague at the Rocky Mountain Institute, Amory Lovins, is MOBILIZING ENERGY SOLUTIONS.


What is the energy problem?

Is it our dependence on foreign oil?

Is it that we don’t have enough energy?

HUNTER LOVINS: People tend to define the energy problem as we’re running out.

And therefore we have to get more energy of any type from any source. In fact, the world is awash in energy.

As Pogo once said “we’re confronted by insurmountable opportunities.”

What we really ought to be doing is choosing the best technologies to meal our needs for energy services at the least cost, in the ways that are most benign.

And when you ask the question that way, the answer comes up energy efficiency and the various diverse renewable supplies of energy, which are what’s winning in the marketplace today.

MOYERS: The marketplace?

You think the market can get us there?

HUNTER LOVINS: The market will absolutely get us there.

Markets do work, but it will take a while.

And if we care about getting off of imported oil, there are ways to do that.

For example, just increasing the efficiency with which our cars burn gasoline by about three miles a gallon would eliminate our need to import any oil from the Mideast.

MOYERS: But you hear all this talk in Washington about the answer to getting off dependent oil is to develop fossil, fossil… Overseas oil; is to develop fossil fuels at home.

We’ll use our oil to be free of foreign oil.

HUNTER LOVINS: The United States uses about 25 percent of the world’s oil.

We have reserves of about three percent or less.

You do the math.

What has been proposed, for example, of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — assume that all the oil that the proponents hope is there is, in fact, there and it can be lifted economically.

Those are two big assumptions that are probably not true.

Assume they’re true.

It would provide about 1% of the oil that this country needs.

MOYERS: For how long?

HUNTER LOVINS: For maybe a decade or so.

Not very long.

MOYERS: So it’s not going to really liberate us from Middle Eastern oil.


Now maybe the Gulf War in the early ’90s was fought for other reasons.

But myself, I think if Kuwait only grew broccoli, we would not have had our young men and women there in 0.7-mile-per-gallon tanks and 17-feet-per-gallon aircraft carriers.

And if we had put our people in 32-mile-a-gallon cars, we wouldn’t have needed any oil from the Middle East at all.

MOYERS: And you immediately, after 9/11, someone I respect very much in the environmental community called and said, “You know, this proves that our dependence on foreign oil, fossil fuels, is the Achilles Heel of American foreign policy.”

Do you think that’s true?

HUNTER LOVINS: Clearly, our dependence on imported oil is costing us a lot of money; and it certainly contributed to that.

And it’s unnecessary.

Communities across the country have demonstrated alternatives.

About ten years ago, Sacramento, California, voted to shut down its then-operating nuclear plant because it wasn’t operating very well and it was costing a lot.

That cut off about half the capacity to that community.

Instead, the utility invested in efficiency and in a diverse array of supply — solar, a little bit of wind, fuel cells, co-generation — all of this was relatively small scale, but collectively it made up all the energy they needed.

Ten years later, the economics are in; the community is healthier.

It has generated about $185 million, just this investment in efficiency and new supply.

And it has generated hundreds of new jobs.

MOYERS: But you don’t find those proposals in this energy plan in Washington.

They talk about the market, but it’s really using subsidies and tax breaks to promote inefficient markets.

HUNTER LOVINS:: Well, and it won’t work for exactly that reason.

MOYERS: But they’ll do it anyway.

HUNTER LOVINS: Well, they’re going to try.

Come on, they’ve got to pay off their campaign contributors.

But it’s going to train wreck in the Senate.

And then people are going to say, “Right, we still have the energy problem, now what do we do?”

MOYERS: But isn’t part of the problem that the people we saw in our earlier piece, the energy industry and the administration.

I mean, they fairly… They hardly conceal their contempt for the kinds of things that you’re talking about, for renewable energies, for solar panels, for wind turbines, for fuel.

HUNTER LOVINS: Well, yes and no.

Some of the American companies do, but take a look at Shell Oil, which recently created Shell Hydrogen.

And as the head of it, Don Hubert, said the Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones; the Oil Age won’t end because we ran out of oil.

And Shell recently announced the end of oil and the beginning of the transition to Shell being an energy company supplying renewable energy — there’s Shell renewables — and to ultimately an economy based on hydrogen.

This would be a much more benign economy to have.

Hydrogen is the most plentiful element in the universe other than perhaps stupidity.

Now, suppose you drove a car, like our hypercar that’s powered by hydrogen.

And most of the big car companies have hydrogen car programs already well in development.

You will start to see hydrogen cars on the road within the next three to four years.

So you drive your hydrogen car up to the building that has the fuel cell in it and the reformer making hydrogen.

You plug your car into the reformer to get your hydrogen and into the grid.

Your car, which has previously been an idle large asset, is now making electricity and selling it to the grid at the real time price, making you money.

If… Well, see, the car fleet running around on the road is probably about ten times the generating capacity of all of the power plants of the electric utilities.

You could displace all fossil plants just with this one measure.

And these technologies exist and they’re entering the marketplace.

MOYERS: So the answer, as I read you, is not to hug a tree if you want to save the environment, but to hug an economist.

An economist who will tell you that it is possible to…

HUNTER LOVINS: Hug an entrepreneur.

Hug somebody who’s bringing these technologies into the marketplace and making money doing it.

James Branch Cabell said, “The optimist proclaims we live in the best of all possible worlds; the pessimist fears this is true.”

JOHN RIDLEY: Post September 11 — there was a host of people willing and ready to drop science on how best to get back to a semblance of life as we know it.

But for me, the finger pointing the way to normalcy came from a TV commercial that’s copy read: “The American dream. We refuse to let anyone take it away. So GM announces interest-free financing on every new car and every new truck.” And with that bit of righteous sloganeering, I knew big business had America back on the road to Wellville.

In lesser hands, the ad might have come off as the work of a morally bankrupt big corporation trying to reduce the greatest single day of tragedy in the history of this country to a cheap sales pitch. But the genius is in the ad’s subtle psychology. By trivializing the terror attacks, General Motors actually helps us realize how insignificant they were compared to the business of selling cars. By marrying the tragedies with low interest financing, they remind us that if we all don’t go out and buy a new Pontiac Aztec we’re just letting them win.

Following the GM ad, Miller Brewing ran a spot featuring actual handwritten signs from across America expressing sympathy for the attack’s victims. This deeply moving tribute ended with a big fat Miller logo as if to say: there’s no better way to salute these heroes than by poppin’ a cold one. Other companies and organizations — Southwest Airlines, Anheuser-Busch, The United Auto Workers — all made donations to various relief organizations, then promptly ran ads to make sure we all know what a bunch of Samaritans they are. Doing good might be it’s own reward … but why take the chance?

But it’s the beleaguered travel industry that’s turned out to be the stormtroopers in the battle for closure through commercialism. The U.S. Travel Industry Association is running ads interweaving speeches by President Bush with cruise ship employees and amusement park personnel telling us to quit crying, get off our collective duffs, get out there and have some fun. It might be demeaning for some to have the most powerful man shilling between ads for burger joints and adult diapers. But the same as it’s the duty of reluctant generals to wage war regardless of the human toll, it’s the unpleasant chore of corporate suits and Madison Ave flaks to have to persuade us that, in times of crisis, it’s always darkest before the dawn. And beyond every tragedy, there’s a reeeally good deal to be had.

MOYERS: That’s it for now.

Beginning next Tuesday on PBS, look for THE SECRET LIFE OF THE BRAIN.

And please join our conversation on line at

I’m Bill Moyers.

See you next week on NOW.

This transcript was entered on August 20, 2015.

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