Thousands of American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are the legacy of a continuing Christian crusade promoted by Franklin Graham, who now is claiming in television interviews that President Obama is a born Muslim and a questionable convert to Christianity.
This week’s burning of Korans in Afghanistan is only the most recent instance of anti-Muslim behavior infecting American forces despite official policies to the contrary.
Graham blessed the emerging war in Iraq at George Bush’s 2001 inauguration. In those days he called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.” (New York Times, April 6, 2003) Bush already had used the code word “crusade”, a term he subsequently withdrew after criticism. But bibles accompanied the bombs, one million printed in Arabic and distributed across Iraq during the war’s first year. One hundred fifty American missionaries moved into Iraq that same year. Nine evangelical churches were opened. It was End Time between the Tigres and Euphrates for Graham’s missionary legions.
At the same time, the point person for intelligence at the Pentagon was Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a steady speaker on the evangelical breakfast circuit. Bush was “appointed by God”, Boykin said, adding that ours is a “real god” while Allah is only an idol. “Satan wants to destroy us because we are a Christian army [representing] a nation of believers,” he declared. (Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2003)
Another neo-crusader was the Pentagon’s inspector-general, Joseph E. Schmitz, whose own website identified him with the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an 11th-century crusader group whose mission was to “defend territories the Christians had captured from the Moslims.” (New York Times, July 13, 2005) Schmitz resigned from the Pentagon in September 2005 to become an executtive with Blackwater (now Xe), the secretive Blackwater mercenary firm whose leaders included several members of the Order as well, according to Jeremy Scahill’s 2007 book Blackwater (p. 299). Schmitz’s father was John Schmitz, the far-right Congressman from Orange County.
Perhaps most sinister has been the creeping takeover of the military’s chaplain corps by evangelicals, as first documented by historian Anne Loveland in 1997 and confirmed at the height of the Iraq War by the New York Times in an article entitled “Evangelicals Are Growing Force in Military Chaplain Corps.” (July 13, 2005)
No less than 4,487 American soldiers and 1,654 contractors have died in this neo-crusade in Iraq alone, along with hundreds of thousand of Iraqis.
Bush himself was forced to back away from assertions that the war on terrorism was a war on Islam. Obama never picked up the crusader mantle. But thanks to Graham and his institutional allies, there exists to this day a hidden crusader dimension in these wars. Hidden, that is, except for moments like the present when Graham injects himself into the presidential campaign debate by casting doubt on Obama’s Christian commitment and reviving the claim that the son of a Muslim is therefore a born Muslim. Graham’s questioning of Obama’s conversion to Christianity is not only an attack on the President’s motives but an indirect dismissal of black liberation theology as developed by James Cone and adopted by Obama’s minister in Chicago, Jeremiah Wright.
It should be pointed out that Graham and his allies have blood on their hands, not only Muslim blood but the blood of thousands of young Americans who marched off to Baghdad to fight a war blessed on high as a crusade against a wicked religion. That war is lost, those lost souls are irretrievable, and Franklin’s latest statements are constitute a subtle suggestion that the final crusade is at home, where Graham suspects that a born Muslim has penetrated the White House.