Bush, evangelists in war of words over Islam

Scripps Howard News Service, Dec. 5, 2002

WASHINGTON – President Bush is skirmishing with some high-profile members of his most dependable support base, Christian conservatives, over his remarks on behalf of Islam.

Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other evangelists have made provocative statements about the Muslim faith, asserting that it is not a peace-loving religion.

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But the president has responded that such attacks “do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans.”

“Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion,” Bush said.

As if to underscore his stance, Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington on Thursday to celebrate the end of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. The stop marked his second trip to the site – both coming after the 9/11 attacks carried out by Muslim terrorists.

“The spirit behind this holiday is a reminder that Islam brings hope and comfort to more than a billion people worldwide,” Bush said Thursday. “Islam affirms God’s justice and insists on man’s moral responsibility. This holiday is also an occasion to remember that Islam gave birth to a rich civilization of learning that has benefited mankind.”

Muslim Americans have faced heightened scrutiny since the 9/11 attacks because of the backgrounds of the terrorists and the plot’s mastermind – Osama bin Laden. Bush steadfastly asserted that Islam is a great religion and that most adherents are peaceful.

But noted members of the religious right, who rank among the president’s most ardent supporters, question his views. Robertson, during a recent appearance on ABC’s Sunday news show “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” said the positive attributes Bush cites in describing Islam defy history. He hinted that the president isn’t sincere in the praise he offers.

“The president does not want to be fighting all of Islam,” Robertson said. “And he doesn’t want to set this thing up as a holy war. And he was very wise.”

But Robertson, the founder of the Christian News Network, also said Bush has “caused a great deal of consternation, especially among his base who know better.”

The war of words erupted in June when Jerry Vines, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla., told those attending the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was “a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives – and his last one was a 9-year-old girl.”

Vines rejected claims “that would have us to believe that Islam is just as good as Christianity.”

“I’m here to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that Islam is not just as good as Christianity,” he said.

Falwell, founder of the Moral Majority, defended those remarks – and added to the controversy during an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” in October.

“Muhammad was a terrorist,” Falwell said.

He added that Muhammad was “a violent man, a man of war” and that while Jesus Christ and Moses set the example for love, “I think that Muhammad set an opposite example.”

But Bush has refused to be drawn in.

“Here in the United States our Muslim citizens are making many contributions

in business, science and law, medicine and education, and in other fields,” Bush said Thursday.

“Muslim members of our armed forces and of my administration are serving their fellow Americans with distinction, upholding our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice in a world at peace.”


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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 6, 2002.
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