AP, Nov. 13, 2002
By SCOTT LINDLAW
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON — President Bush characterized Islam as a peaceful faith Wednesday, seeking to distance himself from controversial remarks by conservative Christian leaders Pat Robertson and the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
“Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans,” Bush told reporters as he met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. “Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others.”
“Ours is a country based upon tolerance, Mr. Secretary General,” Bush said. “And we respect the faith and we welcome people of all faiths in America, and we’re not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values.”
Though Bush never mentioned their names, his remarks came in response to recent comments by Robertson and Falwell, the administration said.
Robertson, on his Christian Broadcasting Network, said Jews in the United States should “wake up, open their eyes and read what is being said about them.”
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“This is worse than the Nazis,” Robertson said Monday. “Adolf Hitler was bad, but what the Muslims want to do to the Jews is worse.”
Falwell, in a recent interview with CBS’ “60 Minutes,” said he had concluded from reading Muslim and non-Muslim writers that the Prophet Muhammad “was a violent man, a man of war.” “I think Muhammad was a terrorist,” the conservative Baptist minister said.
Muslims were outraged. An Iranian cleric called for his death while a general strike called to protest his comments in Bombay, India, turned into a riot, and five people were killed. Falwell later apologized.
A senior official said the administration recognized that such comments had angered Muslims abroad and caused them to question whether they represent the opinions of the White House and of the American people.
The issue is particularly delicate for the Bush administration, because such Christian leaders are seen as Bush allies, and the remarks come at a time when Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to fan anti-American sentiment by charging Bush hates Islam. A recent tape apparently made by Osama bin Laden also called on Muslims to take up arms against the United States.
Bush has often said he believes Islam is a peaceful religion and has reached out to Muslims repeatedly since Sept. 11.
But given the remarks by Falwell and Robertson, Bush felt he needed to go a step further and repudiate the comments, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Bush’s remarks came on the same day the Council on American-Islamic Relations urged Bush to repudiate anti-Islamic rhetoric, citing comments by Falwell and others.
“It is time for the president to step up to the plate on the issue of Islamophobia in America,” said the group’s board chairman, Omar Ahmad. “Merely repeating the mantra that Islam is a ‘religion of peace’ does little to stem the rising tide of anti-Muslim hate or to mitigate the negative impact that hate has on Muslim families.”