In March, 30-year-old remarks by Billy Graham about Jews grabbed the attention of journalists and garnered horrified reactions from the American Jewish community and media figures who make their living by holding colorful opinions. By and large, however, reactions were carefully measured and people cut Billy Graham a lot of slack. He had a virtually impeccable record as a religious leader and as a private citizen, the remarks were in clear contrast to his historic relations with the Jewish community, and people knew that no matter what he said to Richard Nixon that day in 1972, anti-Semitism never had been an item on his agenda.
Last fall, Billy Graham's son Franklin made informal remarks about Islam that similarly grabbed media attention and horrified the American Muslim community. Islam was "wicked" and "violent," he said, adding that it was not "this wonderful, peaceful religion." The Qur'an, he said "instructs the killing of the infidel." This month, the controversy has taken on new life as he has talked with reporters about The Name, his newest book.
Franklin Graham has not been a major leader long enough to have established in the public mind a similar track record of good works and good will. Understandably, people are cutting him a lot less slack than they cut his father.
In the midst of this controversy, a few key points need to be understood:
Franklin Graham is not alone in his deep suspicion of Islam. Witness, for example, the grassroots reaction to the University of North Carolina's decision to require incoming first-year students to read a book about the Qur'an. Especially since September 11, Americans broadly distrust Islam, and moderate Muslims will have to work hard to win over American opinion.
Attacking Islam ...1