Franklin Graham: America’s failure to understand religion foils cogent Mideast policy

Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelical preacher Billy Graham and heir to the religious empire his father built has worked extensively in the Middle East and has watched America’s Mideast policies evolve over the years that Graham, Senior offered counsel and support to successive US presidents.
December 4, 2014

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Franklin Graham, the son of legendary evangelical preacher Billy Graham and heir to the religious empire his father built has worked extensively in the Middle East and has watched America’s Mideast policies evolve over the years that Graham, Senior offered counsel and support to successive US presidents.  From the assent of ISIS to chances for an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement, Graham was blunt and to the point as he spoke with The Media Line’s Felice Friedson.

TML: Your humanitarian aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse, has worked extensively in the Middle East. Given recent events from the rise of ISIS to the implosion of Iraq, do you believe it’s possible for the West to have influence – humanitarian or otherwise – in the Middle East?

Graham: Absolutely. The United States and the West have influence. But at the same time, to have influence, you must have trust. The problem that America has today is that countries that have been our friends in the past don’t trust us now. And I would take Libya as an example; Mu’amar Qaddafi. This guy is a bad guy. There are a lot of bad guys in the world. He gave up his weapons of mass destruction and his plans for weapons of mass destruction: he surrendered that. He wanted to make peace after [the bombing of the airliner over] Lockerbie. He saw Al-Qa’ida and it scared him — that’s not what he wanted his country to be. But our government backed Al-Qa’ida and Qaddafi fell and now the country has disintegrated into tribalism with many different Islamic factions. And it is now a far more dangerous part of the world for the West. When the other countries around Libya see this, they ask, “How can we trust the United States here?” Qaddafi had given up his weapons of mass destruction and done all the things that the West asked and then the West bombed him and destroyed him and took him out of power. It’s the credibility. You can only have influence if you also have trust. Those you want to have influence on must trust you and I’m not sure America has much trust in the world.

TML: You bring up an interesting point: has America gotten it wrong over-and-over in terms of understanding what is happening in the Middle East? That country-by-country, the people on the street were saying something very different and America would go in and sometimes arm the wrong side?

 Graham: First of all, America does not understand religion. They do not understand the Christian faith, they don’t understand the Jewish faith, and they certainly don’t understand Islam. Islam is a very dangerous belief system. Because the Quran teaches what we’ve been seeing: the beheadings of people, the killing of Christians, the killing of Jews. The Quran teaches and advocates that. You can take Christian property, you can take Jewish property. You can warn them. If they don’t convert, then they can pay a tax. If they don’t pay a tax, you can kill them. The Quran gives them permission. So Presidents Obama and George W. Bush were absolutely 100 percent wrong when they said Islam is a religion of peace. It absolutely is not.

TML: The plight of Christians in the Middle East has garnered headlines and prompted strong reactions, but in your opinion, is their situation also provoking appropriate actions by Western governments? I want to know if you feel the response of the United States and other Western nations has been adequate and if note, what should they be doing?

Graham: Adequate to the person that has lost their life, village, and everything they own? For the president to make a speech saying that we will defeat ISIS I don’t think means a whole lot to the person who buried their father, buried their son. The president had an opportunity to keep Iraq together and he didn’t do that, so again, it comes back to trust. The president says he is going to declare war on ISIS. But what does that mean? I don’t know.

TML : What should be done?

Graham: I believe the United States should do what it can to protect the Kurdish areas. And I think America should not put soldiers there again. America should use its airpower to target — and we can target for the next 50 years — a mosque, ISIS military points, training camps. And let the [Kurdish] Pershmerga and the Iraqi and Syrian armies fight it out with ISIS. Let’s keep our soldiers out of it but let’s protect at least the Kurdish areas because that’s the only safe place remaining in Iraq for Christians. I’m not sure any Jews are in Kurdistan. There might be a few and I don’t think [Iraqi Kurdistan Region President Masoud] President Barzani would bother them if they were there; they have the Yazidis and other groups. But it’s the only safe place left. So I would hope that we will continue to protect that, but let’s keep our soldiers out.

TML: Your operation Christmas Child has become legend. Tell us where it came from and what you project for this year.

Graham: It started during the war in the Balkans. We started taking children gifts in Sarajevo and Croatia in orphanages to try to do something for these kids that had lost their families. It was wintertime and that project grew from just a few thousand [gift boxes for children were distributed] to where today we are in 110 countries and 10 million boxes this year, and over 100 million boxes over 20 years. It just continues to grow. But it’s more than just giving children gifts. I want children to know God. I want Him to know that God loves them and cares for them and has a plan for their life. As a Christian, I believe God sent his son Jesus Christ to take our sins; that he died on the cross for our sins. Many people in our history have blamed Jews, saying it was the Jews who killed Christ. It wasn’t the Jews who killed Christ. It wasn’t the Romans. It was you and me and every person who has ever sinned. It’s the entire human race. We are responsible for Jesus Christ going to the cross. And he went willingly because he loved us and took our sins and he died in our place. He is the Messiah; He is the Kings of Kings; He’s the Lord of Lords. And the Bible says that he is coming again. And the Bible predicts, the Old Testament prophesizes as well as the New Testament, it’s all beginning to align. I believe that return will be someday soon. We give the boxes to children and we share God’s love with them.

TML: You created a program for “wounded warriors” — soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. How are returning veterans being treated?

Graham: Well, I think that like any government, bureaucracy that you have to deal with, whether it’s the post office or whatever, there’s only marginal care. When the soldiers are first wounded, they have excellent care as far as the facilities to save their life. Once they get out of the hospital, the government, that’s where they drop the ball. Their solution is that you give medication to soldiers — prescriptions for life for whatever they need and you let them fend for themselves. This is where we are there. The treatment is not adequate. They need a lot of follow up and they need more and more help. Some of these soldiers have been wounded for over 10 years and they’re not getting the care they need.

TML: Your father had enormous impact on the Israeli-Arab conflict many years ago. Do you believe that there is a possibility that there could be an Israeli-Palestinian rapprochement? Could that ever happen?

Graham: You mean peace? I’ve been to Shatilla, Sabra and outside of Beirut. I’ve been to the refugee camps in Jordan. I’ve been to Gaza. And the hatred for Israel that is being preached and taught from the mosque is that they have to avenge the blood of their grandfathers. And to one day go back and take their grandfather’s farm back. Wherever their grandfather’s farm is today may have a six or ten story apartment building on it. There’s no solution to this. It can’t be solved. You’ll never be able to set aside the people because of the hatred that has been preached and taught in the schools and in the mosque and on Arab television and radio. Unless there is a huge change in the authorities in the Arab world, I don’t think there will ever be peace.

TML: Franklin, the world has now witnessed several beheadings by ISIS, aiming to shock.  Do you feel that was a tipping point for anyone?

Graham: For our liberal media, all of a sudden it’s a wakeup call. And they’re saying, wait a second; they just cut the throats of our own people. The President will still not call Islam wicked, or evil. He calls it a religion of peace and there’s nothing peaceful about it. So I think the media is now beginning to wake up. The media now realizes that [former president] George Bush was right and Obama has been completely wrong on this issue.

TML: What are your hopes in looking toward the future in terms of leadership from the United States?

Graham: I don’t have a lot of hope. I don’t see any Democratic or Republican leaders that are strong. People are more concerned about polls. They’re more concerned about whether they got a good sound bite. The days of the Ronald Reagans have passed. We don’t have that kind of leadership.

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