What’s the difference between Koran-burning Terry Jones in Gainesville and Franklin Graham in his North Carolina Boone? Jones is a firefly fanatic, his lasting value about equal to a larval life form. He’s already forgotten. Graham has his father’s name. His father’s congregations. His father’s reputation. He’s soiling and shredding all three fast. But immensity of Billy Graham’s breadth, admirable in so many respects, takes time to demolish. Especially when you still get invited to national television shows and treated with the deference your father commanded.
There is no difference between Terry Jones and Franklin Graham, except this: Graham is more dangerous. He’s the fanatic in respectability’s guise. He’s the fool with a following. That following gives him the legitimacy of the Sunday chat shows (though Louis Farrakhan’s following is proportionately larger in the United States, but you don’t see him allowed to wince it up on the Sunday chat shows).
Graham and Graham’s types must be heard: you don’t let a guy with a following like that do his bit in the shadows. It’s necessary, even vital, to know fanaticism intimately in order to demolish it. Hear him. But don’t let him get away with it, unless you’re his willing accomplice.
Graham was at it again today (Oct. 3, two days after this year’s National Diversity Day), speaking tripe to Amanpour on ABC’s This Week. First, a little context.
“Islam is a very evil and wicked religion,” Graham told an NBC interviewer in 2001, while B-52s were beginning their withering of what was left of Afghanistan from 30,000 feet up. Islam, he said. Not al-Qaeda. Not terrorists. Not the Taliban’s fanatics. Islam. The fell swoop of a billion and a half souls. It doesn’t get less unqualified than that, or more idiotic. Unless you’re Franklin Graham.
Last Dec. 9 on Campbell Brown’s CNN show: “We have many Muslims that live in this country, but true Islam cannot be practiced in this country. You can’t beat your wife. You cannot murder your children if you think they’ve committed adultery or something like that, which they do practice in these other countries.”
So he was at it again today, in an Amanpour segment featuring some of the brightest and dimmest bulbs on the subject. Amanpour launched the discussion with the simple question: “Should Americans fear Islam?”
Graham: “Understand what the Muslims want to do in America. They want to build as many mosques, cultural centers as they possibly can so they can convert as many Americans as they can to Islam, and I understand that. I understand what they’re doing.” Of course he does: that’s not any different than his evangelizing mission. “And I just don’t have the freedom to do this in most Muslim countries. We can’t have a church. We’re not able to build synagogues. It’s forbidden.”
So Graham is first, resentful, second, he’s suggesting that America’s standard should be the same as Saudi Arabia’s: Since Saudi Arabia is discriminatory and bigoted toward non-Muslims, let America be bigoted and discriminatory against Muslims in return. Wonderful. That’s the true spirit of America. Imagine if the Founders had taken that approach in the 18th century.
It gets worse. “But let me say something about Islam,” Graham continued. “I love the Muslim people. But I have great difficulty with the religion, especially with sharia law and what it does for women, toward women, toward non-believers, the violence that is given under sharia law.”
Amanpour was on to the bullshit. She’s no dummy. She’s lived under sharia law. She turned to an imam in the audience and asked him. Is it allowed under sharia law? First, he corrected the record: There are 53 Muslim countries. Only one, Saudi Arabia, bans the building of churches, and even that is on its way out (the Vatican is negotiating a deal). But the falsehood endures. The wife-beating thing was all over the place, and Graham returned to it.
Wife-beating of course is no more a specialty of Muslim cultures than it is of American or Floridian ones: we don’t have shelters for abused women for nothing. They may stone women in some countries. But so do we: we happen to use bullets.
There’s no question that so-called “honor killings” of women and girls over sexual issues are indistinguishable from the worst atrocities imaginable. But let’s put that in perspective. So is murder. And when it comes to murder–of cheating spouses included–the murder rate in the United States makes even that of Saudi Arabia’s “honor” kills look insignificant. Aside from Turkey, America’s murder rate is well ahead of that of any Middle Eastern country. So is Europe’s. Let’s not quibble over idiotic terms like “honor killings,” either: every other gang-related murder is an “honor killing,” and domestic murders, what the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics calls “intimate homicides,” while on the decline (for men more than for women), still account for more than 1,500 killings a year in this peace-loving country. Three times as many women are killed by their boyfriends or husbands or fathers than the reverse.
Franklin Graham won’t tell you that.
The Iranian Azar Nafisi, author of the fascinating Reading Lolita in Tehran, who did not lose anyone in 9/11 but lost a lifetime, family, friends and students in Iran, where she was a professor (including students of hers murdered by the Iranian regime), had a more searching answer to Amanpour’s question: “I came here to America because I expected that that image, which those people had imposed on us would not be imposed on us again. And look at my surprise. From both sides of the isle. What you hear is that there is one Islam. If we think that there is only one Islam, then we have to take sides. Either it’s evil, or it’s good. But there are as many interpretations of Islam as there are Muslims.”
“You know we can have an argument, and I’m not here to argue,” Graham said. Actually, that’s precisely what he was invited on the show to do: to argue his position against challenges. The “I’m-not-here-to-argue” ploy is a defense against challenge. So he reverted to the rhetorically untouchable, at least from his point of view. He abandoned rational debate in favor of pulpit mission statements, the faith-based approach to clobbering debate—a Taliban specialty, incidentally. End of discussion: “As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is the way to the truth and the light, and that no man comes to the father in heaven except through him. I don’t believe in Islam. I don’t believe a word of it. I do respect their right to believe whatever they want to believe. My opinions are not based on hearsay. My opinions are based on 50 years of working in Middle Eastern countries.” Then it was back to his wholesale condemnations: “They do stone women. They do imprison…”
Reza Aslan, author of two excellent books on Islam, interrupted him, with justified impatience: “Who is they? I mean, Azar Nafisi said something very important. There are over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world. It is unquestionably the most diverse, the most eclectic religion in the history of the world. This concept of just using the word they to describe one and a half billion people is actually the definition of bigotry.” That drew a round of applause.
Graham’s they, let’s not forget, is in his genes. It’s one of the less admirable inheritances from his father, whose they did so much to demonize communism in order to help a succession of presidents build up our national security state–the same state Franklin is now helping the Pentagon keep in place, and bulk up some more.
At least Amanpour’s program featured an excellent mix of perspectives that did what this sort of debate should do: there is no such thing as “two sides to every story.” That’s ridiculous (and convenient) manichaeism that paints the world as either black or white, denying its plurality, which is ironic in a country like the United States, which supposedly prizes pluralism above all else (it’s our national motto: E pluribus unum). There are innumerable sides to every story.
And no: there is no one way to the father in heaven, Frank. There is not even a single father. Or mother. There is a pluralism of creation as much as there is of creators, and of faithful believers and non-believers. The source of evil, when there is evil, is in the denial of that plurality in the name of higher powers. It’s what Islam’s worst practitioners do. It’s what Franklin Graham is doing.
There are evil elements in any religion. Christianity among them. It is those evil Christian elements we should be worried about in the United States. They are far more potent, far more prevalent, than anything two-bit Muslim radicals from cragged corners of the world could ever mount against the United States. We have our own dangerous, cragged fanatics. Franklin Graham is among them.