Remarks by Franklin Graham and other Christian leaders calling Islam an evil religion are dangerous, according to John L. Esposito, interviewed following his recent appearance at Rockhurst University. He was especially concerned at the Pentagon's invitation to Graham to preside over Good Friday observances at the Pentagon.
Esposito is a professor of religion and international affairs at Georgetown University and author of What everyone needs to know about Islam and editor in chief of the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World.
Comments by Graham and others "do disservice to the President, to the image of America abroad and to American Muslims," he said. "President Bush backed away from his initial use of the word 'crusade' and has tried to make it clear that America is not fighting Islam, but rather extremists." But comments like Graham's are confusing to Europeans and Arabs who know that much of Bush's support comes from the Christian Right. When federal agents conducted raids as part of Operation Green Quest, some interpreted the color in the name as part of a Christian effort against Islam because green is often associated with Islam.
Esposito noted that Graham offered a prayer at Bush's inauguration ceremony, and such associations reinforce the concern that the Religious Right influences U.S. foreign policy. They perpetuate prejudice among us against American citizens who are Muslims.
Readers of this column have repeatedly asked me about "Dhimmitude," a term coined by Bat Ye'or, a writer who insists that Christians and Jews were systematically mistreated throughout history under Muslim rule. She has appeared before Congress. Her speech last fall at Georgetown University caused a campus uproar reported in many journals. Readers may recall I recently asked Cornell University Jewish scholar Ross Brann about the term, and he declined to use it because he says it distorts history.
When I put the term to Esposito, whose campus was affected by Ye'or's visit, he noted that "she does not have a major academic record in either teaching or research, and her conclusions go against established scholars, including Jewish scholars."
Locally and globally, prejudice persists on many sides. It endangers our sense of community and threatens us internationally. Rather than mistrust, our faiths should engender understanding.