A local radio personality and a group that says it is fighting to empower American Muslims have squared off over a provocative skit that featured a make-believe traffic reporter covering the hajj, where hundreds of pilgrims were crushed to death.
Bill Handel, the morning radio personality for KFI-AM (640), set off the furor when he broadcast the skit about a traffic reporter in a helicopter hovering over the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, that attracts about 3 million faithful each year.
On Jan. 12, 363 pilgrims were killed in an accident that Saudi authorities blamed on the dynamics of the crowd.
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Last week, the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Handel and the station to apologize for the skit, which the group said poked fun at Muslims. It also asked the station to reprimand Handel.
“We start at 5 o’clock in the morning offending people,” Handel said in an audio statement on the station’s website and given over the air. “That’s what this show is about. We make fun of everybody. There is no group that is off limits to us.”
Handel said he would apologize to the group but imposed three conditions: The group must condemn all acts of terror; agree that Israel is a sovereign nation and has a right to defend its borders; and that CAIR has no ties to terror organizations or individuals.
The answer to those demands are “yes, yes and no,” said Sabiha Khan, communications director for the CAIR chapter.
“KFI and Hendel continue to fail to take responsibility for Bill Handel’s offensive comments that he made, mocking the tragic deaths of innocent pilgrims during religious rituals,” she said today in a television interview.
“I’m glad he is starting to acknowledge that an apology needs to be made, but it is unfortunate that he has to put conditions on doing the right thing,” said Khan, who added that she had heard Hendel’s broadcast.
In a statement on the website, KFI said it “does not condone making light of the deaths of people engaged in religious observances.”
It added that “KFI does not censor its hosts, nor does it tell them what to say or not to say. KFI is a strong and passionate believer in 1st Amendment rights and that is at the very core of this radio station.”