Senator Edwards's opinion about Islam

At the New Hampshire Democratic Presidential Candidate Debate last night, Senator Edwards was asked a question about Islam. Here's the question and the answer in full from the transcript:

JENNINGS: ... Senator Edwards, many people, I think, believe that the greatest security threat to the United States in the 21st century is the possible confrontation between the West and Islam.

Now, I know and take for granted, having heard you before, that you respect Islam. But could you take a minute to tell us what you know about the practice of Islam that would reassure Muslims throughout the world who will be listening to you that President Edwards understands their religion and how you might use that knowledge to avoid a confrontation, which, as Tom alluded earlier, might indeed end up sending sons and daughters from New Hampshire to war.

EDWARDS: Well, I have been in these parts of the world. I have been in Pakistan, met with President Musharraf, been in Afghanistan, met with then interim chairman -- interim head of the government Karzai. I have met with other Islamic leaders around the world, discussed with them the problems that their country and their people face.

I would never claim to be an expert on Islam. I am not. But I do believe that Islam, as in a lot of other faiths that we as a nation embrace and lift up, that I have shown respect for faiths that are different than mine my entire life. I think I do understand the tragedy of the day-to-day lives of people who live in Arab countries, who live lives of hopelessness and despair.

EDWARDS: I think that contributes to the animosity that they feel toward the United States.

And part of our ongoing vision -- my ongoing vision for America includes getting at the root causes of that animosity toward the United States, which means being able to communicate, not just with the leadership, for example, in Saudi Arabia, but being able to communicate directly with the people...

JENNINGS: Do you think, Senator...

EDWARDS: ... to express...

JENNINGS: Do you think that we suffer and will suffer at the policy level because we do not know enough about the practice of Islam?

EDWARDS: I think we have a responsibility when we deal with the leadership of these countries. Our relationships, Peter, have been at the leadership level. And we see the results of that. We have ongoing relationship with the Saudi royals, with President Musharraf, with Chairman Karzai. We have relationships with the leaders of these Islamic countries.

The problem is, we have no relationship with the people. And not only do we have no relationship with the people, it's absolutely clear that they feel great animosity toward the United States. We need to, first, be able to communicate directly with the people.

Second, find opportunities. For example, President Musharraf said to me when I met with him: They desperately needed a public school system as an alternative to the religious schools, where their kids are taught to hate Americans.

We need to take advantage of the opportunities available to us and our allies, to reach out, not just to the leaders of these countries for our own purposes, but also to develop a relationship for the people themselves so that they understand what Americans care about and that we actually care about the peace and prosperity of the entire world.

Now, this exchange was characterized as a "sandbagging" at Daily Kos, and there were some critical comments at the Dean Nation open thread. I'll admit that Edwards' answer wasn't exactly concise, but I'm not seeing any problem with what he said. In fact, I liked what I read. I haven't actually watched the debate on video yet so maybe it came off badly in that context.

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