It’s been two weeks since the Los Angeles Times and NBC reported inflammatory statements by Army Lt. General Boykin who claimed that he sees the war on terror as a clash between Christians and somebody called Satan. Boykin’s apology and Rumsfeld’s less-than-energetic pledge to “investigate” the General’s comments did little to tamp the controversy, especially since, to this day, Boykin hasn’t had so much as a slap from the White House or Pentagon.
Which is odd, given that Bush says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not wars on Islam, and that the president has gone out of his way to court Muslims. Military analyst William M. Arkin argues in the Los Angeles Times, that “Boykin’s appointment to a high position in the administration is a frightening blunder at a time when there is widespread acknowledgment that the position of the United States in the Islamic world has never been worse.”
Arkin reports, “More than one Defense Department official has said to me in the last week that special operations veteran Boykin, who has a fine military record, is ‘indispensable’ to that war.”
But politics has been known to trump a stellar resume, so why hasn’t Boykin, whose comments were deeply offensive to Muslims, been canned?
The answer could be that Boykin, who enjoys the esteem and support of the Christian Coalition , isn’t as out there in his views as one would like to think.
And so political considerations come into play. This is the New York Times:
“There was more than a whiff of hypocrisy in Rumsfeld’s comments on Tuesday. The secretary professed to have formed no view on the Boykin matter because he had not heard the general’s remarks. But Rumsfeld did not need a personal hearing earlier this year to chastise the army chief of staff for differing with him on the war in Iraq, and to question the patriotism of retired generals who critiqued his war strategy on television. Unlike Boykin, they did not have the backing of conservative Christians, a key constituency for Bush’s re-election.”
While the White House attempts to distance itself from Boykin’s comments, Pat Buchanan wonders how far Boykin has really strayed from the ideals of a war on terror once referred to as a “crusade” by President Bush:
“Let us go back to what the general said. He said that America is a ‘Christian nation.’ So what? If Israelis can call Israel a Jewish nation, and wecall Iran and Saudi Arabia Islamic nations and Poland and Ireland Catholic nations, what is wrong with Boykin calling ours ‘a Christian nation.’ Secularists can call America a secular nation. Are American Christians alone to remain mute?É And if he believes this is a war against Satan, is that all that different from Bush saying that we fight an ‘axis of evil’? Is it all that different from FDR singing ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ with Churchill while writing the Atlantic Charter and plotting anti-Nazi strategy at Placentia Bay?”
Several polls indicate that many Americans do see the War on Terror as a religious conflict, and that Buchanan’s sentiments are echoed not only in other conservative publications but perhaps more broadly in the U.S. population. A February Gallup poll indicated that Americans who attend church at least once a week support war to depose the Iraqi dictator by an almost two to one margin. In July, a poll conducted by the Pew Foundation found that a growing number of Americans believe that the Islamic religion encourages violence amongst followers:
“The new nationwide survey of 2,002 adults, conducted June 24-July 8 by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, shows that there has been an important shift in public perceptions of Islam. Fully 44% now believe that Islam is more likely than other religions “to encourage violence among its believers.” As recently as March 2002, just 25% expressed this viewÉA separate study by the Pew Research Center in June 2003 found a similar change in the number of Americans who see Muslims as anti-American: 49% believe that a significant portion of Muslims around the world hold anti-American views, up from 36% in March 2002.”
“When [Boykin] declared that “they’re after us because we are a Christian nation,” millions who later heard his words probably nodded their heads,” argues E.J. Dionee in the Washington Post. Removing Boykin from his current position, or even outright defending the general’s right to invoke religious ideals in the context of war would force the Bush administration into a controversy much more profound than the question of who not to offend. Usually, the blurring of the lines between nation and religion by fundamentalists of any religion are easily ignored by both the mainstream public and political sympathizers.
“But when someone like Boykin comes along, he is an embarrassment to our pragmatic arrangements. He is explaining to us that it is very hard for many religious people to buy into the liberal consensus — to put their religious convictions on the shelf when asked — to embrace a system in which “truth” and “error” get equal time and equal rights.”