General comes under fire for anti-Muslim comments
By Robert Marus
ABP Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (ABP)–Comments by a high-ranking Pentagon official casting America's struggle against terrorism as a Muslim-versus-Christian holy war are causing prominent news outlets to call for a reprimand by the Bush administration.
Meanwhile, some on the Religious Right have stood up to defend Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who is a highly decorated veteran of covert and small-scale American military operations.
|William Boykin speaks at the National FAITH Institute Jan. 27-31 at First Baptist Church in Daytona Beach, Fla. (Kent Harville/BP Photo)|
Boykin, as the Pentagon's newly named deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, sparked nationwide controversy after two news outlets–NBC News on Oct. 15 and the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 16–revealed a series of comments he made to evangelical Christian audiences.
Appearing in uniform, he has repeatedly described the war against terrorism to these groups as a conflict between a “Christian nation” and radical Islamists.
For example, during a Jan. 28 speech at a Southern Baptist evangelism conference at First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach, Fla., Boykin described his 1993 efforts to capture a Somali warlord who had boasted that Allah would protect him from defeat. “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol,” Boykin told the audience.
In other situations, Boykin has cast American conflicts with Islamic warriors in starkly spiritual terms. Speaking in June 2002 at First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, Okla., he described an aerial photo he had taken of the city of Mogadishu during the 1993 conflict in Somalia. Noting strange black marks in the sky in the image, the general claimed they were evidence of a demonic presence over the city.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your enemy,” he said. “It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy.”
Additionally, Boykin has said radical Islamists hate the United States “because we're a Christian nation”; has described the U.S. Army as “a Christian army”; and has said President Bush was appointed by God “for such a time as this.”
Boykin's job requires him to work closely with intelligence officers from Muslim countries. President Bush and other White House officials have taken pains since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to insist the war on terrorism is not a war against Islam.
However, a recent study released by the White House's own Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy found an overwhelming majority of respondents in nine Muslim countries surveyed perceived the United states as being anti-Islamic.
The day after they published the story revealing Boykin's comments, the L.A. Times called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to remove him from his position. On Oct. 21, the Washington Post called President Bush to, at minimum, criticize Boykin's comments in light of the fact he recently rebuked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for anti-Semitic comments.
So far, the White House has been silent on Boykin. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he had not violated any military rules.
Boykin issued an apology Oct. 17, saying his comments had been taken out of context and he never intended to denigrate the Islamic faith or all Muslims.
Regarding his comments on the Somali warlord, Boykin said he had been referring not to the man's Islamic beliefs but to his “worship of money and power” as the “idolatry” that was inferior to Boykin's God.
“I am neither a zealot nor an extremist. Only a soldier who has an abiding faith,” Boykin said. “I am not anti-Islam or any other religion. I support the free exercise of all religions. For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology.”
He added: “I do believe radical extremists have tried to use Islam as a cause for attacks on America. As I have stated before, they are not true followers of Islam. In my view they are simply terrorists, much like the so-called 'Christians' of the white supremacy groups.”
Conservative commentators such as Family Research Council President Tony Perkins have defended Boykin's comments and suggested his critics are attacking the free-speech rights of Christians.
The pastor of the Daytona Beach church where Boykin delivered some of the controversial comments defended Boykin, whom he described as a “dear friend,” in a strongly-worded editorial released Oct. 20 by Baptist Press.
Bobby Welch, himself a military Special Forces veteran, declared: “I despise the unthinkable and asinine fact that some take cheap backstabbing shots at a real God-fearing American hero who continually risks his life to protect all of us.”
But a moderate Baptist ethicist said Boykin's comments seemed to reflect “bad theology.” Robert Parham, head of the Baptist Center for Ethics, said the real question about Boykin was whether his public statements were appropriate for someone in his position.
“Can he be trusted to act in the nation's interest instead of pursuing his own twisted theological agenda?” Parham asked in the Oct. 17 edition of the organization's e-mail newsletter, EthicsDaily.com. “The nation can ill afford a commander who sees the war on terrorism as a war between dueling deities.”
Rumsfeld announced Oct. 21 that Boykin had asked for an investigation of his past comments by the Pentagon's inspector general. The defense secretary again declined to comment on Boykin's statements, and said he would wait for the inspector general's report.