Saturday, February 23, 2002; Page A20

Mr. Robertson's Incitement

Washington Post Editorial

"I have taken issue with our esteemed president in regard to his stand in saying Islam is a peaceful religion. It's just not. And the Koran makes it very clear, if you see an infidel, you are to kill him. That's what it says. Now that doesn't sound very peaceful to me."

SO SAYS PAT Robertson -- religious leader, broadcaster, former presidential candidate and founder of the Christian Coalition -- in what has to rank among the least appropriate public statements by any prominent citizen since Sept. 11. Mr. Robertson, speaking on his Christian Broadcasting Network's "700 Club" program, described a veritable infestation of America with violent, subversive Muslims: "Our immigration policies are now so skewed towards the Middle East and away from Europe that we have introduced these people into our midst and undoubtedly there are terrorist cells all over them. . . . They want to coexist until they can control, dominate, and then if need be destroy."

Is Mr. Robertson trying to start a pogrom? If so, he's headed in the right direction. These sorts of words aren't innocent talk -- particularly not when broadcast into millions of homes by a religious leader to whom many look for moral guidance. This country has seen several serious attacks against innocent Muslims, and those taken for Muslims, in recent months. That there have not been more is a testament both to the seriousness of law enforcement in responding to attacks and, more important, to the insistence of leaders across the political spectrum -- starting with President Bush -- that this country is at war neither with Islam nor with its Muslim citizens. Against that backdrop, the Robertson statement is astonishingly irresponsible.

There are Muslims who justify violence with reference to their religion. There are Jews and Christians who do the same. Mr. Robertson might consider, before opening his mouth again, that the vast majority of Muslims have never used a national television platform to incite hatred against their countrymen.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company