IF THE REV. Franklin Graham wanted to play the role of Mother Teresa in Iraq, ministering "quietly" to a suffering people, as he wrote in a recent op-ed article in the Los Angeles Times, he should have thought through the operation a little more carefully. It's hard to slip into a mostly Muslim country unnoticed when you are the son of America's most famous Christian evangelist, a friend of the president -- and, most to the point, a public figure who has called Islam a "wicked" and "evil" religion, "a greater threat than anyone's willing to speak."
Mr. Graham runs an organization called Samaritan's Purse, which has a stellar reputation for providing relief work efficiently in often dangerous situations. In some places it might even be worth allowing its relief workers in at the risk of offending people's religious sensibilities. But postwar Iraq is not one of those places. Here is a delicate situation where the United States already faces suspicions of having launched an imperialist crusade. And here is a man who has written in his latest book that Christianity and Islam are eternal enemies locked in a "classic struggle that will end with the second coming of Christ," and that "the war against terrorism is just another conflict between evil and The Name," meaning Jesus Christ.
When a group of Muslims at the Pentagon found out that the chaplain's office had invited Mr. Graham to lead the Good Friday service there this week, they wrote a letter saying that they were "deeply dismayed and disappointed" and that they hoped the Pentagon might consider someone more "inclusive." Already his group's presence near the Iraqi border has caused a stir in the Arab and European press.
In the absence of a functioning Iraqi government to handle visa matters, the Treasury Department, consulting with the State Department, has been granting work permits on a case-by-case basis to relief organizations to go to Iraq. Mr. Graham's group has not received money from any U.S. government agency, but it has received approval to operate in occupied Iraq. His presence at a widely attended Christian service at the Pentagon furthers the unfortunate impression of official U.S. endorsement. The Pentagon should rescind its invitation, and President Bush should withdraw the approval for Samaritan's Purse to function in Iraq, or Mr. Graham should diplomatically offer to focus on some other needy country.