- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

The spokesman for a prominent U.S. Muslim group, who regularly demands contrition from critics of Islam, will not apologize for comparing some conservative evangelical leaders to Osama bin Laden and saying they would kill Muslims given the chance.
Ibrahim Hooper of the activist Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stood by his argument that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and the Rev. Franklin Graham are "equivalent" to bin Laden in wanting to divide the world into a religious war.
They "have the same mentality as bin Laden" in trying to incite an "unending civilizational conflict," Mr. Hooper said Wednesday.
"It's the incitement we're talking about," said Mr. Hooper, whose organization has been linked to radical Islamist groups in the Middle East. "It's not Jerry Falwell throwing a hand grenade into a mosque."
Mr. Hooper said his original comment about the evangelical leaders was provoked in an interview with a conservative New York radio show last week. Under questioning by WABC radio's Steve Malzberg, Mr. Hooper said evangelical critics wanted to spark a religious war.
When Mr. Malzberg asked whether the Christian leaders would kill Muslims as bin Laden urges Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, Mr. Hooper said: "Given the right circumstance, these guys would do the same in the opposite direction."
The transcript was released on the conservative Web site , with which Mr. Malzberg's show is affiliated. The radio host asked that he be given credit for the interview.
None of the religious leaders cited by Mr. Hooper demanded an apology from CAIR when contacted this week, but they stuck by their criticism of the violence of Islam or what they call its erroneous theological claims.
"We never demand apologies," said Ron Godwin, senior spokesman for Jerry Falwell Ministries. He said Mr. Hooper's comment was "irrational at best and very, very divisive and destructive at worst."
But Mr. Godwin also said that some news outlets are distorting the debate between Christians and Muslims, and blamed CBS' "60 Minutes" for tricking Mr. Falwell into saying that Muhammad was a terrorist at the very end of an hourlong interview on Christians and Israel.
"After what CBS did, we immediately sent a 'statement of reconciliation' all over the Middle East and were able to avert a lot of harm to Christians," Mr. Godwin said. The CBS broadcast triggered some riots in the Middle East that caused at least five deaths.
In the past year, CAIR on dozens of occasions has demanded apologies with varying degrees of success from critics of Islam and companies it said treated Muslims unfairly.
Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, apologized for questioning whether Muhammad kept his treaties, as did Northwest Airlines and Delta for asking women to remove head scarves at security checks, which CAIR called "religious harassment" and a "strip search."
A spokesman for Mr. Graham, son of the famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, said he "has not backed down on his statements," which have included that Islam is "wicked."
"But he has stopped giving interviews, because it's perceived that he's on a campaign against Islam," which he is not, said spokesman Jeremy Blume.
For the past several months, criticism of Islam by conservative evangelical ministers has picked up as a news topic, including a call by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart to expel all Muslim students on visas.
Last week, President Bush broke his silence on the subject and distanced himself from the evangelical rhetoric.
"Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Mr. Bush said. "Ours is a country based upon tolerance [and] we're not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values."
The Bush statement came two days after Mr. Robertson broadcast a discussion of Islamic anti-Semitism in which he said, "This is worse than the Nazis."
A day after Mr. Bush's comments, Franklin Graham said his criticism of Islam comes from bad experiences doing relief work in Muslim countries.
"I agree with the president that 'our war against terror is a war against individuals whose hearts are full of hate,'" Franklin Graham said in a statement. "This is not a war against Islam."
A Robertson spokesman said the broadcaster wished he had been clearer in his allusions to anti-Semitism and violence by saying "some Muslims."
"We must distinguish between the origin of the religion and those who adhere to it in the United States, who are indeed a peaceful people," Mr. Robertson said in a statement issued after Mr. Bush's comments.
But calling historic Islam peaceful, "I do not think is accurate," he said in a program that looked at violent passages from Islamic texts.
Mr. Swaggart said in an interview that his comment about expelling the students "was not appropriate and will not happen again."
While backing religious freedom, said the Pentecostal evangelist, "I oppose the religion of Islam." After the attack on the United States, "a line has to be drawn" on tolerance, he said. "This is not really a war between nations. It is a war with a religion."
He rejected the argument that the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, with civilian deaths, amounted to Christians killing Muslims, saying it was a "play on words" because the actions involved a nation at war.
"You can look at the world today: How many Christians are going around killing Muslims?" he asked.


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