Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Climbing in the 10-40 Window

There was one other item worth commenting on in Friday, April 4's New York Times (see above), but the only piece on aid was this one, by Laurie Goodstein, on page B12 (the Nation at War section): "Groups Critical of Islam Are Now Waiting to Aid Iraq" (online the "Now" is dropped).

"Two evangelical Christian organizations whose leaders have outspokenly denounced the Islamic faith are among the aid groups waiting at Iraq's borders to take humanitarian relief — and a Gospel message — to a nation whose people are predominantly Muslim," Goodstein writes in her opening graf.

Skipping three grafs: "The two evangelical groups, the Southern Baptist Convention and Samaritan's Purse, have been in the forefront of Mr. Bush's supporters.

"The Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, says that since the war started, about 800 missionaries have volunteered through its International Mission Board to take spiritual and physical aid to Iraqi communities.

"A past leader of the convention offended many Muslims and other religious leaders last year [June 10, 2002] when he said that the prophet Muhammad was a 'pedophile' and a 'terrorist.'

"Samaritan's Purse is a relief group run by the Rev. Franklin Graham, who is a son of the evangelist Billy Graham and who gave the invocation at Mr. Bush's inauguration. Staff members of the organization are in Jordan and Kuwait readying water purification equipment and medical supplies for use in Iraq.

"Mr. Graham provoked controversy last year with a book and interviews arguing that Islam is inherently evil and violent.

"Asked this week about those statements, he said: 'I haven't seen anything that has changed my mind. I love the people of Islam, I love the Arab world, I've been there many times and have many friends. I just disagree with their religion, and they disagree with me.' "

Goodstein notes of the missionaries' efforts: "Evangelicals believe that by sharing the Gospel with non-Christians, they are following Jesus' imperative to 'make disciples of all nations.' In recent years, missionary groups have focused on what they call the '10-40 window,' the latitudes that include most of the Muslim world."

She also reports that "About 97 percent of Iraqis are Muslim."

And finally, more on the shady background of Samaritan's Purse:

"Samaritan's Purse, based in Boone, N.C., has a projected 2003 income of $194 million. It has received government contracts in the past, but has also run into trouble for putting preaching before aid.

"In Saudi Arabia, which has strict prohibitions on Christian activity, the group surreptitiously distributed missionary tracts in the first gulf war. In El Salvador, where evangelicals and Roman Catholics vie for converts, Samaritan's Purse workers held prayer meetings before teaching villagers how to build temporary homes after a 2001 earthquake. The group, which had a contract from the United States Agency for International Development, was warned by the State Department not to mix religious and relief activities.

"The development agency, known as U.S. AID, is charged with deciding which groups receive government contracts to offer humanitarian aid; other groups may enter Iraq on their own. In a briefing on Wednesday, the agency's administrator, Andrew S. Natsios, announced $20 million in contracts to six nongovernmental aid organizations, none of them Christian missionary groups."

Why the Times didn't report on that briefing beats me. There's an awful lot of info in it. The six NGOs, by the way, are Care USA ($4 million), Save the Children, U.S. ($4 million), International Medical Corps ($4 million), Mercy Corps International ($3 million), the International Rescue Committee ($3 million) and Air Serv International ($2.1 million).