Meanwhile, the University of North Carolina is being sued by the Family Policy Network, a conservative group, for asking incoming freshmen to read a book called "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations, " an assignment Fox News Network's Bill O'Reilly compared to teaching Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in 1941. On Wednesday, a North Carolina state legislator told a local radio station his view: "I don't want the students in the university system required to study this evil."
Islam-bashing, it appears, is suddenly not just acceptable, but almost fashionable among conservatives. This isn’t a matter of commentators criticizing Muslim extremists. These are remarks that attack Islam, Muslims, the Qur’an, and the Prophet Muhammad as pervasively and inherently bad.
President Bush's repeated attempts since Sept. 11 to describe Islam as a "religion of peace" initially helped quell anti-Muslim rhetoric. But now, conservatives seem to be increasingly ignoring Bush's approach. "The White House has lost control of the issue," says John Green, an expert on religion and politics at University of Akron. "Islam bashing has become more public, and it seems to be more accepted."
And there is a limit, Green notes, to how vehemently Bush is likely to disagree with these conservatives and Christians, since they make up his political base.
The latest round began in June, when the Rev. Jerry Vines, the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention--the nation's largest Protestant denomination, with 15 million members--described Islam's founder as a "demon-possessed pedophile." Vines, pastor of the 25,000-member First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., added that "Allah is not Jehovah either. Jehovah's not going to turn you into a terrorist that'll try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people." Days later, the SBC's current president, the Rev. Jack Graham, pastor of the 20,000-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, agreed with Vines.
Ari Fleischer, the President's spokesman, was compelled to differ with the SBC leaders, even though in remarks to the convention a day after Vines' comment, Bush praised Baptists for being "among the earliest champions of religious tolerance." Of the Muhammad comment, Fleischer said: "It's something that the president definitely disagrees with. Islam is a religion of peace, that's what the president believes."
A week after Fleischer's remarks, the hugely popular televangelist Benny Hinn said during an appearance at a Dallas arena: "This is not a war between Arabs and Jews. It's a war between God and the devil."
Evangelical Christians have always believed that Islam is a wrong religion, and refuse to accept Allah as the same as the Christian God. Conservative Christians actively proselytize among Muslims in this country and abroad. But lately, many Christian commentators are pushing these views in broader, secular formats.
Hannity responded: "But this then raises a question. If this is not, Reverend, the extremist fanatical interpretation of the Quran, then we do have a big problem." Graham replied: "Big problem." This week, in an interview with Beliefnet he reiterated his opinion, saying, "I believe the Qur’an teaches violence, not peace."
At the Christian Booksellers' Association meeting in Anaheim last month, retailers sold an array of books and tapes describing Islam as a violent religion--and many of these books will be marketed not just in Christian bookstores, but also in malls nationwide. For instance, Hal Lindsey, author of the 1970s best-seller, "The Late Great Planet Earth," has come out with a new book called "The Everlasting Hatred: The Roots of Jihad." Titles by other authors include "Religion of Peace, or Refuge of Terror," "War on Terror: Unfolding Bible Prophecy," and "Islam and Terrorism." Among the tapes available was "Terrorism: The New War on Freedom."