Beliefnet
At the height of his career, when Billy Graham was advising presidents and drawing hundreds of thousands of people to his Crusades, people around the world listened carefully. He was--and still is--revered by millions in part because he preached a gentle message of God’s love.

His son, Franklin Graham, is taking a different approach. He has become the most outspoken and significant leader of a movement of Christian conservatives directly attacking the fundamental beliefs of Islam. He's been criticized by Muslim groups for being, in the words of one Muslim group, "bigoted, hateful and divisive."

And while his father went out of his way to support presidents, Franklin Graham has gone directly against the stated views of President Bush, who repeatedly declares that "Islam is a religion of peace." The fifty-year-old heir to Billy Graham's movement is getting a lot of attention for his views. The question, over time, will be: can this approach bring the son the same level of influence that the "brotherly love" message brought the father?

The latest Graham controversy began Wednesday when he said during an interview that Muslims hadn't sufficiently apologized for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks--and he challenged Muslim leaders to offer to help rebuild Lower Manhattan or compensate the families of victims to show they condemn terrorism.

That comment followed a string of remarks about Islam and Muslims in the last few weeks, as Graham has promoted his new book, "The Name." In the book, Graham writes that "Islam--unlike Christianity--has among its basic teachings a deep intolerance for those who follow other faiths."

In a new interview with Beliefnet, released today and conducted 10 days ago, he reiterated his opinion, saying, "I believe the Qur'an teaches violence, not peace."

In an indirect criticism of President Bush, Graham told Beliefnet that after September 11, "There was this hoo-rah around Islam being a peaceful religion--but then you start having suicide bombers, and people start saying, 'Wait a minute, something doesn’t add up here.'"

And he believes other Americans agree with him. "Every time there’s another suicide bomber who detonates himself on a bus, there will be more people inclined to agree with my comments," he says. "If a Roman Catholic strapped dynamite on himself, walked into a mosque in Saudi Arabia and said, 'I'm doing this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and Catholics around the world,' and blows himself and the mosque up, the Pope would be on television within minutes denouncing this man, denouncing this act and having a fund-raising appeal--not for the family of the bomber, but for the families of the victims of the people who got blown up in the mosque. Every cardinal, every bishop, every priest the next Sunday would denounce this man from the pulpit. Every Protestant would join the Catholics and denounce this.

"But there has been silence from the Muslim clerics," Graham says. "Saudi Arabia has had fundraising appeals for the families of the suicide bombers, but not for the victims. This is more evidence that something is wrong here."

Graham was just as outspoken on Fox News Network's "Hannity & Colmes" program two weeks ago, where he said: "I think it's [terrorism's] more mainstream. And it's not just a handful of extremists. If you buy the Qur'an, read it for yourself, and it's in there." 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." Graham also drew widespread criticism in October after he called Islam "a very evil and wicked religion."

"This is crazy," says Hodan Hassan, communications coordinator for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington lobbying group. "To condemn the attacks is one thing, and American Muslims did that. But to apologize is another thing, because it assumes we must take responsibility for them--and we did not support or aid the attacks. Individuals carried out the attacks, and to ask an entire faith to apologize and accept responsibility for the actions of a few individuals is ludicrous."

She adds: "Will we get a response from him for the Inquisition, the Crusades, the enslavement of African-Americans, and the Ku Klux Klan?"

Hassan's organization, and other American Muslim groups, labeled Graham's earlier comments "a smear" and "defamatory."

Will Graham's approach work? It depends on what the goal is. As one of the first prominent Christian leaders to break with President Bush's approach, Graham made it safe for others to take the same tack. Since then it has become acceptable and even fashionable to criticize Islam as fundamentally violent.

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