Why Franklin Graham is wrong — and right — about Islam

July 21st, 2015

When I saw Franklin Graham’s Facebook post last Friday about Muslims and immigration, I wondered how long it would take the news media to fire up the outrage brigade.

It took longer than I thought. The story didn’t gain a huge amount of traction over the weekend, perhaps because the Sunday morning shows decided to devote a significant amount of their coverage to Donald Trump putting his foot in his mouth — again. So Franklin Graham’s words largely flew under the radar, at least as far as mainstream news outlets were concerned.

But Jonathan Merritt noticed. The Religion News Service senior columnist penned an essay for The Atlantic questioning Graham’s sanity and criticizing the evangelist’s increasing political outspokenness in recent years.

The Facebook post shouldn’t have been a surprise for anyone who’s been paying attention. Franklin Graham has been a vocal critic of Islam for a while now. A couple of months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, he asserted that Islam “is a very evil and wicked religion” on NBC Nightly News. He led the charge against Duke University earlier this year when the school was planning to broadcast the Muslim call to prayer from the bell tower of Duke Chapel. (University officials eventually backed down.) And in his Facebook post last week, the evangelist called for a moratorium on “immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled.”

There are, of course, a number of problems with Graham’s immigration proposal. For starters, keeping someone out of the country solely on the basis of their religion is certainly at odds with American values and ideals. And I’m pretty sure it’s unconstitutional.

Graham, however, attempts to justify such a drastic measure by reasoning that “every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized.” But this sounds a lot like progressive arguments for banning guns.

Supposedly if we ban guns — even the ones that belong to the good guys — we’ll end gun violence. And according to Franklin Graham, if we stop Muslims from immigrating — even the good guys — we’ll end the threat of radical Islam.

Both arguments are naive.

Consider the potential fallout if we banned all Muslims from entering the United States. First, we’d risk alienating the 3 million or so Muslims who are already living here, the overwhelming majority of whom haven’t been radicalized. These are friends, neighbors and business owners in our communities. In some cases, they’re also valuable sources of intelligence who have been integral to the War on Terror.

Then there are the other 1.6 billion Muslims around the globe. If you think America has a PR problem in the Muslim world now, wait and see what happens if we do what Franklin Graham recommends. I suspect we’d create some new enemies.

So Graham gets the prescription wrong, but he does make some valid points with his diagnosis. The problem, however, isn’t so much with Islam; it’s with Islamism, and it’s important to understand the difference between the two. One is a religion, the other is a political philosophy. The latter is a subset of the former.

Merriam-Webster defines Islamism this way: a popular reform movement advocating the reordering of government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Somewhere on the theological continuum, Islam is politicized and radicalized, and many Muslims become Islamists — some more radical than others. And it’s the extreme political Islam that breeds evils like terrorism, religious persecution and the subjugation of women.

You see, in some parts of the world, freedom of religion as expressed in the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause in the American Bill of Rights is unheard of. Many Muslim-majority countries have established Islam as the state religion, and a number of those countries have banned proselytizing. Some have apostasy laws requiring that those who convert from Islam to another religion be punished by imprisonment and in some cases, death.

According to a report from the Pew Research Center, 86% of Muslims in Egypt favor the death penalty for people who convert from Islam to another faith. In Afghanistan, it’s 79%. In Pakistan, it’s 76%. In Malaysia, it’s 62%. Remember, this isn’t a small minority forcing extreme views on a majority. In much of the Muslim world, this view is mainstream. In this year’s World Watch List compiled by Open Doors, a nondenominational nonprofit that serves persecuted Christians, nine of the worst 10 countries for Christian persecution are majority Muslim.

So Islamists don’t have a complete monopoly on religious persecution, but they certainly seem to have cornered the market. As president of an international Christian relief organization, Franklin Graham probably understands this more than most. His immigration solution is all wrong, but he does get that there are problems within Islam that need to be confronted.

And he’s not the only one. Progressives Bill Maher and Kirsten Powers have been critical of radical Islam as well. Muslim reformer Zudhi Jasser also gets it. Even CNN anchor and commentator Fareed Zakaria conceded in a column last year that Islam has a problem.

A problem indeed — one that too many Pollyannas, progressives and politically correct folks apparently can’t see to save their lives.

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