Muslims angered by lack of action against controversial general
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: President George Bush’s lack of willingness to take action against Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin for his controversial remarks against Islam has deepened the disillusionment Muslim-Americans and Arab countries already feel towards his administration.
It is more than a month since the General made the remarks that triggered protests across the Muslim-American community and Muslim countries across the world. According to one commentator, to US diplomats charged with selling America to the Arab world, the remarks are an “albatross they cannot seem to shake.”
According to James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times Sunday, “I get calls from officials in Arab countries every day about Boykin. They are stunned nothing has happened.” The newspaper reports, “While the Pentagon investigates Boykin’s remarks, the passage of time is turning the episode into a no-win dilemma for the Bush administration, pitting its need to reach out to the Arab world against the sentiments of fundamentalist Christians, who form a core constituency heading into an election year. Both camps are livid about the White House response to Boykin’s remarks — President Bush has distanced himself but has not taken any steps to remove him — and profess amazement that the matter has not yet been resolved in their favour.”
The newspaper points out “an administration where the president himself is a born-again Christian, punishing believers does not come naturally.” One official who left the Bush administration recently said, “There’s a school of thought that says the whole thing may die down and you can ignore it, but that’s just the domestic side. It doesn’t take the impact in the Middle East into account.” In speeches to Christian groups around the country, Boykin, often in uniform, has said that radical Muslims hate the United States “because we’re a Christian nation … and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” He also said that in dealing with a warlord during the US operation in Somalia in 1993, “I knew that my god was a real god and his was an idol.” The Pentagon, at Boykin’s request, is looking into whether the general, who was recently named deputy Defence undersecretary for intelligence, violated any regulations with his remarks.
The report is of the view that whatever the outcome of the inspector general’s investigation, the effect of the Boykin remarks on the Middle East has been “tumultuous.” A top official who is part of the US team trying to win hearts and minds in the Arab world was travelling in the Middle East when news of Boykin’s remarks broke. “It was the worst day of my life,” recalled the official, who asked not to be named. “It confirmed their conspiracy theory that the war on terrorism is really a war on Islam.”
According to the Los Angeles Tims, “Officially, the State Department says it is not lobbying for Boykin’s dismissal. But privately, one high-ranking State Department official told visiting Arab leaders that the administration should have fired Boykin at the first opportunity because he ‘helps Osama bin Laden’s recruitment efforts.’ Arab leaders are furious at the lack of action and believe it is evidence of a double standard in which Bush rebuked the president of Malaysia for anti-Semitic remarks but said little about Boykin’s. And fundamentalist Christians are angry that Boykin is not being applauded.”