Secretary of State Colin Powell has joined President Bush in rejecting recent anti-Muslim rhetoric by U.S. conservative Christian leaders. Mr. Powell said such comments give an inaccurate image of U.S. society, which he said welcomes people of all religious and racial backgrounds.
The Bush administration has been under pressure from American Muslim groups, among others, to respond to anti-Islam rhetoric by some prominent television evangelists.
President Bush and Secretary of State Powell have delivered strong, though implicit, criticism of the comments by Christian conservatives who have been key political allies of the administration.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday as he met U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Bush said comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of his administration or the majority of the American people.
He said Islam as practiced by the vast majority of its adherents is a peaceful religion that respects others. He said the United States welcomes people of all faiths, and that Americans will not allow the war on terrorism to change their values.
The President's remarks were echoed by Secretary Powell at a State Department meeting of business executives. Like the President, Mr. Powell did not mention the television evangelists by name, but said their remarks deserve condemnation.
"We are going to welcome people from every part of the world. We are going to continue to welcome people of every faith of every religion," he said. "We will reject the kind of comments you have seen recently, where people in this country say that Muslims are responsible for the killing of all Jews, and who put out hatred. This kind of hatred must be rejected. This kind of language must be spoken out against. We cannot allow this image to go forth of America, because it is an inaccurate image of America. We are a welcoming nation."
The Bush and Powell remarks follow comments earlier this week by religious broadcaster the Reverend Pat Robertson. He told his Christian Broadcasting Network audience that Muslim attacks against Jews were worse than those of the Nazis in World War II, and the U.S. Jewish community should "wake up" to that reality.
Another conservative Christian figure, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, said in a recent television interview that he had concluded from reading Muslim and non-Muslim writers that the Prophet Muhammad was a man of war and a terrorist.
Reverend Falwell later apologized for those comments, which had drawn a death threat from an Iranian cleric and sparked religious rioting in Bombay, India.
Comments considered defamatory of Islam have been attributed to other well-known Christian ministers including the Reverends Jimmy Swaggart and Franklin Graham, son of the noted evangelist Billy Graham.
The anti-Muslim rhetoric has drawn broad criticism from various U.S. Christian groups, American Muslim organizations, and others including the Jewish civil rights group the Anti-Defamation League.
Earlier this week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations appealed to the Bush administration to step forward and condemn what it termed "Islamo-phobia" in the United States.
The group said past White House assertions that Islam was a "religion of peace" had done little to stem what it said was a "rising tide" of anti-Muslim hatred.