A trendy Satan
Demonising Islam and Arabs is commonplace in the
United States, reports Anayat Durrani from Los Angeles
A top US general has apologised to Muslims offended by comments he made that painted the war on terrorism as a religious crusade between "Christian America" and "Satan".
US Army Lieutenant General William G Boykin, who was recently named deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence, repeatedly made anti-Islam statements during appearances before evangelical Christian groups in the US.
At one such appearance in June, Boykin claimed "radical Islamists" hate America "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian...and the enemy is a guy named Satan." Our "spiritual enemy," Boykin continued, "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."
During his appearances -- often made in full military uniform -- Boykin called the war on terrorism a clash between civilisations and religions and described himself as serving in the "Army of God". In a January speech in Daytona, Florida, Boykin discussed his efforts to capture a Muslim Somali warlord, saying, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
First reported by The Los Angeles Times and NBC, Boykin's comments drew sharp criticism from US Muslim and interfaith groups as well as leading Democratic presidential candidates.
After deliberating on how best to quell the situation, the Pentagon public affairs office released a statement from Boykin in which the general attempted to apologise to Muslims and clarify offending comments.
"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 said. "I am neither a zealot nor an extremist, only a soldier who has an abiding faith."
Some reports suggest, however, that Pentagon lawyers and press officers deleted parts of the original text referring to Boykin's belief that "George Bush was placed in the White House by God." Boykin also allegedly said that as a Christian he believes that the Bible tells of an ongoing "spiritual war" that was "not confined to the war of terrorism".
Boykin, a born-again Christian, is a former commander of the army's anti-terrorist Delta Force. In his new position as deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence Boykin is responsible for hunting down high-profile targets like Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, and Mullah Omar. Defence officials said Boykin has no plans to resign and that his job was not in jeopardy. Boykin does, however, plan to stop making speeches to Christian groups and said he would "tone down" his remarks in the future.
Critics argue that a person with racist views like Boykin should not be placed in a high-ranking position. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has called for Boykin's reassignment saying that his apology is not enough. "It is not the apology but the views that are the issue," CAIR's Los Angeles communications director, Sabiha Khan, told Al- Ahram Weekly. "Do we want a person with extremist views in this important position, who's in charge of filtering intelligence that will be used in decision-making on the war on terrorism? What kind of message are we sending to the Muslim world, which is already sceptical of our motives and intentions in the war in Iraq and in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians?"
In framing the war on terrorism as a religious conflict, critics point out that Boykin contradicted President Bush's oft- repeated claim that the campaign against terrorism is not a war against Islam. "This general, with all due respect to his position, is contradicting statements by the president that this is not a war on Islam," Khan told the Weekly. "This war is between America and terrorists. The army in America is not a Christian army or a Southern Baptist army. It's a national army that has Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists in it and therefore our approach to the war on terrorism is based on national security, not on religion."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), a religious liberty organisation, has called on Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to fire Boykin. Reverend Barry W Lynn, AU's executive director, said "Boykin literally believes that the US government is engaged in a holy war. That's totally unacceptable for someone in a top government post.
"A man who sees the conduct of US foreign policy as some sort of Christian religious crusade should not be making policy. I urge Secretary Rumsfeld to remove Boykin from his post and distance the Bush administration from Boykin's extreme views."
Democrats including presidential candidates Joseph Lieberman and John Kerry have criticised Boykin's remarks and urged the administration to reprimand the general. In a letter to Rumsfeld, Democratic Congressman John Conyers said, "While every American has the freedom to speak his mind and express his opinion, it is essential that those who hold high-profile policy-making positions in our government exercise judgment in their public speaking," he wrote. "Lieutenant General Boykin clearly lacks such judgment. I urge you to reassign or reprimand him; we cannot afford to have such an extremist speaking on behalf of our nation and our military."
When asked about General's Boykin's comments Rumsfeld said he was not familiar with them but praised the general for his military record. Chairman of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers told reporters there was a "wide grey area" of what US Army rules permit adding that he did not think General Boykin broke any rules.
While not publicly condemning Boykin's statements, the Bush administration stressed that the war on terrorism is not a war between Christianity and Islam. In an appearance on ABC's This Week, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice twice sidestepped questions on whether Bush would condemn statements by Boykin, repeating "The president has been absolutely clear that this is not a war of religions."
"Islam is a peaceful religion. The president is respectful of those who practice the Islamic faith." Rice said.
She said terrorists targeted in the US war on terror are "people who murder and maim and in fact pervert Islam".