By Andrew Gumbel
Tuesday 22 April 2003
Evangelical charities with an overt hostility to Islam are preparing to distribute food, water, medicine and building materials in Iraq, all in the name of Jesus.
One of the charities, Samaritan's Purse, is run by Franklin Graham, the son of the evangelist Billy Graham, who declared after the 11 September attacks that Islam was "a very evil and wicked religion". Another is the Southern Baptist Convention, whose former president once described the Prophet Mohamed as "a demon-possessed paedophile". About 800 of SBC's volunteers are reported to be on their way to Iraq to deliver food packages labelled with a verse from St John's Gospel, in Arabic, saying that "grace and truth were realised through Jesus Christ".
Such insensitivity is viewed by some as playing into the hands of those to whom the "war on terrorism" is a religious crusade. But what really riles Muslim groups all over the world is that these activities are overtly supported by the Bush administration. Franklin Graham, a long-standing friend of the President, was invited to participate in this year's Good Friday prayer service at the Pentagon, angering many in the Defence Department. Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the invitation "sends entirely the wrong message to the Muslim and Arab world ... This kind of incident can undo any kind of bridges built by a hundred public affairs officers at the Pentagon."
Franklin Graham has a record of hostility to Islam and unabashed proselytising, even where it is illegal. After the 1991 Gulf War, he infuriated Norman Schwarzkopf, the commander of Operation Desert Storm, by shipping tens of thousands of Arabic-language New Testaments to Saudi Arabia in defiance of Saudi law and the US-Saudi military alliance.
In his most recent book, he says that Christianity and Islam are "as different as lightness and darkness" and that the two religions are destined to fight each other until the second coming of Christ, which he says is imminent. During a book tour last year, he said Islam posed "a greater threat than anyone's willing to speak". He has toned down the rhetoric recently to pacify his critics but few believe him when he says "we don't have to preach to be a Christian relief organisation".
Samaritan's Purse has worked in many countries, including Rwanda, Somalia, southern Sudan, Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. Mr Graham flies in his some of his relief planes, especially when they are in danger. Such gusto has won him many friends in the Republican Party, including Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader, who has joined him on missions in Sudan. And he is a popular figure on the fundamentalist right - an important Bush constituency that loves the idea of good versus evil and a president ordained by God to lead America in tough times.
That is also why the Iraqis are likely to oppose his presence. As Michelle Cottle writes in this week's New Republic magazine: "At this point, Graham's ugly disquisitions on the nature of Islam have made him so radioactive that, even if he doesn't utter one word about Jesus while in Iraq, his mere presence in the region could be considered a provocation."
Islam a 'Diseased' Faith, Ex-GOP Chief Says By Dan Smith
Monday 21 April 2003
Out of office for less than two months, former state Republican Party Chairman Shawn Steel is still on the hustings, trying to pitch that "big tent" of inclusion the GOP covets to return to relevancy in California.
In two appearances at campus pro-troop rallies, Steel took dead aim at Islam, referring to it as "a diseased religion" at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.
At the University of Southern California, he was more specific.
"The Islamic community has a cancer growing inside it, which hates Jews, hates freedom and hates Western society," Steel said, as reported by the Daily Trojan, the campus newspaper. "The disease of Islam must be rectified. It's kill or be killed."
Steel also managed to bash the peace movement and Democrats: "Because of the peace movement, we had the Holocaust," Steel said, according to the Trojan. "The Democratic Party is keeping the Ku Klux Klan alive, and if we'd listened to Southern Democrats who wanted peace in the Civil War, we'd still have slavery."
The California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations was furious and asked current GOP leaders to repudiate Steel's comments.
Party officials Friday said they were investigating Steel's claims that his words were presented out of context. "If the remarks are accurate, they'll be condemned," said GOP spokesman Rob Stutzman.
In any case, Stutzman added, "We want to make it clear that he does not speak for the party anymore."