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Bush Disavows Remarks by Evangelists on Islam

November 16, 2002|From Times Wire Reports

President Bush characterized Islam as a peaceful faith this week, distancing himself from controversial remarks by some prominent evangelical Christians.

"Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Bush told reporters as he met with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Wednesday.

"Islam, as practiced by the vast majority of people, is a peaceful religion, a religion that respects others," Bush said. "By far, the vast majority of American citizens respect the Islamic people and the Muslim faith. After all, there are millions of peaceful, loving Muslim Americans."

In recent months, U.S. Muslim groups have called on Bush to respond to remarks by the Revs. Pat Robertson, Franklin Graham and others who have described Islam as inherently violent.

The Rev. Jerry Falwell, in a recent interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," said he had concluded from reading Muslim and nonMuslim writers that the Prophet Muhammad "was a terrorist." Falwell said that Muhammad "was a violent man, a man of war."

Bush did not mention any of the Christian leaders by name, but told Annan that "ours is a country based upon tolerance.... We respect the faith, and we welcome people of all faiths in America, and we're not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values."

A senior official said the administration recognized that comments by Falwell and others had angered Muslims abroad and caused them to question whether they represent the opinions of the White House and of the American people. Bush felt the need to go beyond earlier statements of toleration for Islam and repudiate the comments, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The issue is particularly delicate for the Bush administration because conservative Christians are a major source of political support for the Republican Party. Also, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is trying to fan anti-American sentiment by charging that Bush hates Islam.

A representative of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said he welcomed Bush's words. "Obviously, we'd like to hear him repudiate these people by name, but we appreciate that he's moving in that direction," said spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.

Spokesmen for Robertson and Graham declined to comment.

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