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Should Franklin Graham Fear Muslims Or Should We Fear His Hate Speech?

Should Franklin Graham Fear Muslims Or Should We Fear His Hate Speech?

Author Edward Ahmed Mitchell by

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Revs. Franklin (left) and Billy Graham.

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

That was the message Rev. Franklin Graham delivered in his July 15th USA Today editorialToo Many Muslims Among Us Believe In Violence.  

Unlike Billy Graham, his famously polite father, Franklin Graham openly criticizes other religions, particularly Islam. He has assailed American Muslims for following an "evil and wicked religion," declared that "true Islam cannot be practiced in this country,” and raised suspicion about President Obama's supposed affinity for Islam.

As an American Muslim, I expected to read similar anti-Islam hysterics throughout Rev. Graham's editorial. But I was in for a surprise.

This time, Graham tried something new: justifying his Islamophobia using a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2011.

Among other things, pollsters asked 1,033 American Muslims for their opinions about violence against civilians in the name of religion. Could such violence ever be justified? 

86% of American Muslims said no, such violence was never justified, while seven percent said it could "sometimes" be justified, and only one percent said it could "often" be justified.

"Whoa!" Graham wrote after noting Pew’s estimate that 1.8 million Muslim adults call America home. "This means there are more than 100,000 Muslim adults living in this country who could justify a suicide bombing in the name of their religion." 

There’s just one problem, Reverend Graham.

Of all religious groups in the United States, Christians are far more likely to consider terrorism (that is, violence against civilians by a non-state actor) sometimes justified. In fact, Christians are the most likely group to think so.

26 percent of American Protestants believe that an individual or small group of people can sometimes justifiably target and kill civilians, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. 27 percent of Catholics felt the same way.

But a whopping 89 percent of American Muslims said the exact opposite: violence against civilians is never justified.

In fact, Gallup found that American Muslims were the most likely religious group to say that terrorism is never permissible while American Christians were most likely to say that terrorism sometimes is permissible. 

That’s not all.

Gallup also asked what Americans of various faiths would think of a military targeting and killing innocent people. Could this violence ever be justified?

Yes, said 58 percent of Protestants and 58 percent of Catholics.

But, once again, American Muslims strongly disagreed. 78% of American Muslims polled said that it is never justified for a military to target and kill civilians.

"Muslim Americans are the staunchest opponents of military attacks on civilians, compared with members of other major religious groups Gallup has studied in the United States," wrote Gallup pollster Nicole Naurath.

Perhaps this is so because Islamic tradition very specifically forbids soldiers from targeting civilians, particularly women and children, even in the midst of a just conflict.

Whatever the reason for this difference of opinion between American Muslims and Christians, the polling data begs a question. 

Should Franklin Graham be afraid of American Muslims? Or should we be afraid of Rev. Graham?  

After all, hate speech in this country often leads to hate crimes, many of which are committed by rightwing extremists who attack synagoguesmosqueshomosexuals, and federal property, as well as abortion doctors and clinics.

Despite this, I do not fear my Christian neighbors, the overwhelming majority of whom are kind, peaceful and tolerant, just as Christianity teaches. 

Indeed, Americans should never fear each other, much less hate each other. Nor should a leader as prominent as Franklin Graham cherry-pick polling data to justify and spread his pre-existing bigotry. 

But I do have one final survey for Rev. Graham to consider.

“Knowing someone from a religious group is linked with having relatively more positive views of that group,” the Pew Research Center said in a 2014 poll analyzing American opinions of Islam and other faiths.

So, Reverend Graham, how about an evening of dinner and dialogue with your American Muslim neighbors? We might not see eye-to-eye on every theological issue, but people of faith need not agree with each other in order to respect each other.

100 percent of us should agree with that.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell is a Muslim-American attorney who serves as executive director of the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-GA). A former criminal prosecutor, Mitchell graduated from Morehouse College and Georgetown University Law Center. Follow him on Twitter @EdAhmedMitchell

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