Franklin Graham was handing out shoeboxes to Bosnian Muslim children before most Americans knew where Bosnia was. Longstanding humanitarian work in Muslim countries, however, didn't stop members of the press from pouncing on the son of evangelist Billy Graham for planning to help people in Iraq.
Mr. Graham, who heads the humanitarian organization Samaritan's Purse, told the website Beliefnet that his organization was "poised and ready" to move emergency supplies into Iraq once the conditions were secure enough to permit relief work. He wrote an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times and appeared on Fox News to discuss postwar needs in Iraq and ways his group planned to help. "[I]t just may be an ambassador of Christ, not of the United Nations," Mr. Graham said in the Times, "who holds the lifesaving hope for thousands of desperate Iraqis. We intend to be there with outstretched arms."
Religion news outlets were among the first to cry foul, saying Mr. Graham's statements about Islam made him unfit to serve in Iraq. Religion News Service carried a story questioning Mr. Graham's motives in light of his post-9/11 statements calling Islam "a very evil and wicked religion." Beliefnet posted an interview with Mr. Graham followed by an April 2 column from editor Steven Waldman. The piece ran under a banner headline, "Who Does Bush Fear More?" accompanied by photos of Franklin Graham and Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Waldman wrote that because Mr. Graham's statements on Islam have "infuriated Muslim leaders," the president should prevent Mr. Graham from doing charity work in Iraq. Going ahead, Mr. Waldman told WORLD, "demonstrates a lack of understanding on the part of the administration and Mr. Graham for the tinderbox it is and how this undermines American interests."
In response to questions from the press, Ellen Yount, spokesman for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was quick to give reporters a lesson in First Amendment rights: "What private charitable organizations choose to do without U.S. government funding is ultimately their decision."
The religious relativists also missed Samaritan's Purse's history of working in Muslim majority countries, including those with radical ties like Sudan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan. Samaritan's Purse projects director Ken Isaacs said, "The irony is we have excellent solid relationships on the ground because we love people without condition and they respect us for that. The platform of our witness is built on the quality of our work."