While in Bali, Indonesia, Wednesday, President George W. Bush tried to stem criticism for Lt. Gen. William Boykin statements. But even after Bush assured officials, along with members of the international media, that the statements by Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Boykin did not “reflect what the government thinks,” the stain remains.
It is regrettable that it took the Bush Administration so long to clarify that Boykin was not speaking for the government.
Boykin made the news when excerpts of speeches he gave at Christian functions came back to haunt him. In connection with his service in Somalia, the general said, “I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol.” This naturally caused an outcry from American Muslims, as well as Muslims abroad, who did not appreciate the degradation of their religion. He was also quoted as portraying the war on terror as a war on Satan, “because we’re a Christian nation.”
This was not the first blunder of this nature. Bush, in one of his first public appearances after the Sept. 11 attacks, said, “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.”
As French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine put it quite eloquently at the time, statements like these cannot be permitted because, “We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs.”
Religious connotations should be left out of political speeches. Yet, when Bush gave his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein urging him to comply with security inspectors, he ended the speech “may God continue to bless America.” What made it worse was Iraqis surely received the message as the speech was broadcast in Iraq in a translated version.
The United States cannot fight al-Qaida and other organizations that recruit “evildoers” by telling them that America is out to destroy the Muslim faith. The U.S. government must be careful to avoid religious messages in international politics for it will only strengthen recruitment for those America is fighting.
As guerrilla attacks on American troops stationed in Iraq are increasing daily, the last thing this nation should do is send the wrong message about its intent in the region.