A Defense Department investigation has found that a top Army general violated Pentagon rules with his anti-Muslim remarks to Christian groups, yet one Pentagon official dismissed the errors as “relatively minor.” That obtuseness reflects a stunning inability to understand how much the comments have hurt the United States abroad.
It is unfathomable why Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin has been allowed to keep his job. When Boykin’s remarks became known last October, President Bush limited himself to a tepid announcement that the comments about Muslims and Islam did not reflect his point of view or that of his administration. And Boykin soldiers on.
The general remains the deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, the job he held while appearing in uniform to tell an Oregon religious group in June 2003 that radical Islamists hated the U.S. “because we’re a Christian nation ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan.” He told a Florida audience months earlier that a Muslim Somali warlord was captured because “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”
Boykin’s comments have been widely reported in the Muslim world. They resonate with supporters of Osama bin Laden and other radical Islamic fundamentalists preaching a war between Islam and Christian “crusaders” and Jews. Any time the flames of bigotry wane, a fundamentalist need only broadcast a tape of Boykin again and contend he is mouthing official U.S. policy, made clear by the fact that he holds the same job and wears the same uniform. U.S. Muslims have protested, for good reason.
The internal Defense Department report concluded that Boykin had failed to clear the speeches with the Pentagon, had not given a required statement that he was not speaking for the military and had failed to report that a religious group paid for his travel. His punishment is unlikely to go beyond a written reprimand.
The comments would be bad enough from a buck private. From a three-star general whose job includes gathering information for the campaign against Islamic radicals, they are unforgivable. Let Boykin retire and speak out as much as he wants. But do not give others the chance to assume that the general speaks for the Pentagon, the administration and the nation.
Two months ago, Bush told the graduating class at the U.S. Air Force Academy that a clash of ideologies should not be viewed as a fight between civilizations or religions. He called Islam a religion that “teaches moral responsibility that ennobles men and women.” Fine words, those, and incompatible with letting one of his generals get away with preaching bigotry.