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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, the co-host of CNN's Crossfire, which airs Monday-Friday at 7:30 p.m., and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: Ministers preach war on Islam

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON (Tribune Media Services) -- Ever since September 11, President Bush has made it clear that the United States is not waging war on Islam. But three Christian ministers obviously are.

It's like a repeat of the Crusades: Christians vs. Muslims. But in this case, Richard the Lionhearted is the Rev. Pat Robertson.

On his "700 Club" TV broadcast last week, Robertson said he disagreed with Bush: "I have taken issue with our esteemed president in regard to his stand in saying Islam is a peaceful religion. It's just not. And the Koran makes it very clear, if you see an infidel, you kill him."

Robertson's views echo earlier remarks by Rev. Franklin Graham, son of the fabled Billy Graham, calling Islam "a very evil and very wicked religion."

And on "Crossfire," Robertson's sidekick, Rev. Jerry Falwell, joined the chorus. While declining to condemn Islam directly, he made it clear that, in his view, Islam produces nothing but trouble.

"In the 30 or more nations in which Islam is in the majority and in control of the government," Falwell asserted, "there is zero religious liberty."

Not only that, he continued: "I have not seen in the headlines of Americas major newspapers a single American Muslim organization condemn what happened to Daniel Pearl at the hand of some of these Islamic crazies."

It's hard to refute such nonsense. But Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on Arab Islamic Relations, did a good job. First, he informed Falwell that 10 percent of the Egyptian population is Christian, as well as 15 percent of Palestinians --and that Tariq Aziz, Iraq's Foreign Minister, is also a practicing Christian.

Hooper also told Falwell that his organization was quick to condemn Pearl's brutal murder, as did the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the American Muslim Council, the Islamic Society of North America, the Islamic Circle of North America and the ministry of Imam W.D. Muhammed, among others.

Clearly, Falwell didn't know what he was talking about when he attacked Muslims. Nor did Robertson, when he attacked Islam for warlike passages of the Koran. Indeed, if Robertson wants to find violence preached in the name of religion, he need look no further than the Bible.

Where did medieval Crusaders get their inspiration? Direct from Sacred Scripture, e.g., Leviticus 26:7: "And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword." St. Bernard of Clairvaux declared that killing for Jesus was "malecide, not homicide."

And Pope Urban promised Christian soldiers who lost their lives while slaying Muslims remission of all their sins and a direct ticket to paradise. Sound familiar?

Over the centuries, there has been a lot of killing in the name of religion. To lay all the blame on Islam is simply wrong. Even with the horrors of September 11, Muslims may still not be the worst offenders.

In his excellent book on the Crusades, "Warriors of God," James Reston Jr. concludes: "There is nothing in Islamic history that rivals the terror of the Crusades or the Christian fanaticism of the 12th century."

Fortunately, there aren't any Christian crusaders around anymore. Unfortunately, there are still too many Islamic crusaders, like Osama bin Laden, who believe that the Koran's ancient admonition to kill the infidel must be taken literally.

But the problem lies with those who misinterpret the religion's texts and teachings, not with the religion itself.

As Hooper admitted on "Crossfire": "It's true, obviously, that some Muslims need reform. Islam doesn't need reform. But some Muslims do."

The comments of Robertson, Graham and Falwell could not be more wrong nor come at a worse time. A Gallup poll of residents of nine Muslim countries, released this week, shows why. Sixty-one percent do not believe the September 11 attacks were carried out by Arab groups and only 22 percent have a favorable opinion of the United States.

Today we face a great challenge, trying to improve the image of the United States in the Muslim world. That job isn't made any easier when leading Christians denounce Islam. America's ministers of love should stop preaching hate.




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