Ashcroft under fire for NRB speech
Thought the biggest controversy at last week's National Religious Broadcasters convention in Nashville was the ousting of president Wayne Pederson? Not necessarily. Attorney General John Ashcroft's address has been making headlines all week. "The call to defend civilization from terrorism resonates from a deeper source than our legal or even our political institutions," he said. "Civilized individuals—Christians, Jews and Muslims—all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator. Civilized people of all religious faiths are called to the defense of his creation. … We are a nation called to defend freedom—a freedom that is not the grant of any government or document, but is our endowment from God." (The full text of Ashcroft's prepared remarks is available at the Department of Justice site, though it's unclear how much the attorney general's actual speech strayed from his written draft.) The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and other media gave the speech significant coverage, and now come the columns and analysis pieces.
"Correct me if I'm misinterpreting the Word of Ashcroft, but he's saying that a lot of the people he's supposed to protect are uncivilized," says San Francisco Chronicle columnist Rob Morse. "I don't believe in God, but if I did God would be generous enough to grant the presumption of civility to skeptics, atheists, agnostics and the apathetic." Morse follows up his comments with the requisite litany of offenses: crusades, jihads, and the latest addition, child-molestation scandals. "I choose not to make fellowship with God, and get nervous about an attorney general who answers to a higher authority than some 'document' called the Constitution."
At least the Chronicle's piece is put clearly in the opinion pages. The Chicago Tribune makes many of the same accusations, but puts them in the news pages. "Although President Bush has declared often that the war on terrorism is not a fight against Islam, the rhetoric has taken on an unmistakable religious tone in recent weeks as leading figures inside and outside government have invoked God, decried 'evil' and quoted the Bible," writes Naftali Bendavid. "This tone is accentuated by the strong religious convictions of Bush and Ashcroft, and it echoes an American moralism that historians say has cropped up repeatedly in times of crisis. Religious minorities and others are growing increasingly uncomfortable with this quasi-theological tone. Not only does it open the door to prejudice, they say, but portraying U.S. policy as a fight of 'good' versus 'evil' risks shutting down healthy debate over U.S. policy."
Hussein Ibish, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, tells the Tribune that Ashcroft's speech was "shameless," and comes to the defense of those whose religion doesn't point back to Abraham: "Saying that Muslims and Jews and Christians are civilized because they believe that human dignity comes from the creator—what about Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists?"
Pat Robertson defends his Islam comments
Weblog was content to let Pat Robertson's latest controversial remark slip by, but it's making too much noise in the mainstream media. On Thursday's 700 Club, the broadcaster once again argued that Islam is a religion of violence, not peace, and that the U.S. should think twice about letting Muslims enter the country (RealPlayer is required to watch the video). Lee Webb, the show's announcer, gave Robertson the setup: "As for the Muslim immigrants, Pat, it makes you wonder, if they have such contempt for our foreign policy, why they'd even want to live here?"
"Well, as missionaries possibly to spread the doctrine of Islam," Robertson replied.
But, ladies and gentlemen, 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 Qur'an makes it very clear, if you see an infidel, you are to kill him. … The fact is that our immigration policies are now so skewed to the Middle East and away from Europe that we have introduced these people into our midst and undoubtedly there are terrorist cells all over them. … They want to coexist until they can control, dominate, and then if need be destroy.
The remark set off immediate commentary from the Muslim watchdogs. Ibish (see above) told The Washington Post and the Associated Press Friday that Robertson's remarks were not just "truly outrageous," they were anti-Semitic. Robertson went on CNN's Late Edition not to back off his comments, but to reiterate them. "It's not a question of prejudice," he said. "We have thousands and perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions of people who hate America and are trying to destroy Israel. … We need an alarm because this country is under attack. … I love Muslims. I don't want to hurt anybody. I think we're a religion of love," he said. "We don't preach hate, but this is the message of Mohammed."
The Washington Post thinks the broadcaster is off his rocker again. "Is Mr. Robertson trying to start a pogrom?" an editorial asked Saturday. "If so, he's headed in the right direction. These sorts of words aren't innocent talk—particularly not when broadcast into millions of homes by a religious leader to whom many look for moral guidance. … Mr. Robertson might consider, before opening his mouth again, that the vast majority of Muslims have never used a national television platform to incite hatred against their countrymen."
If you haven't read it by now, be sure to read our January cover story, "Is Islam a Religion of Peace?"
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