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The Truthout Archives contains articles published between 2003 and 2011. Below are 50 of the most populare archive articles and you can search by keyword to find others.

U.S. General: "I Knew That My God Was Bigger Than His"

Wednesday, 22 October 2003 00:40 by: Anonymous

  Warring with God
  By James Carroll
  Boston Globe

  Tuesday 21 October 2003

  I KNEW that my God was bigger than his," Lieutenant General William G. Boykin said of his Muslim opponent. "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol." That and other remarks derogatory of Islam caused a stir last week, especially because the general holds a key position in the war on terrorism. Awkward memories surfaced of President Bush's inadvertent use of the term "crusade" to define that war, and fears broke into the open that the war was, despite disclaimers, a religious war after all.

  Boykin's Pentagon superiors did not seem to take offense, but Muslim leaders did, and so did members of Congress. Boykin's remarks can only inflame Arab perceptions. On Friday the general offered a sort of apology.

  "I am neither a zealot nor an extremist," he said, "only a soldier who has an abiding faith."

  The general's critics are right to deplore the denigration of the faith of Muslims, but the problem goes deeper than a crudely expressed religious chauvinism. In point of fact, the general's remarks do not make him an extremist. It was unfashionable of him to speak aloud the implications of his "abiding faith," but exclusivist claims made for Jesus Christ by most Christians, from Vatican corridors to evangelical revival tents, implicitly insult the religion of others. When Catholics speak of "salvation" only through Jesus, or when Protestants limit "justification" to faith in Jesus, aspersions are cast on the entire non-Christian world.

  In the past, the step from such exclusivist theology to contempt for those excluded has been small indeed, and the step from such contempt to open violence has been even smaller. Especially in relation to Islam. Last week's response to General Boykin, however, suggests a new sensitivity to the links between intolerant theology and intolerant behavior.

  The danger of religious war is real. And religious war follows less from conscious intentions of warriors than from the beliefs that inspire them. Boykin makes the question urgent: What kind of God does this general -- and the nation he serves -- believe in? Boykin describes a "bigger" God in conflict with smaller gods, vanquishing them. Idols get smashed. The soldier's faith is braced by the assumption that God, too, can have recourse to violence, and foundational texts of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions posit just that.

  "The Lord is a man of war," says Exodus (15:3). As violence is one of the notes of the human condition, religions often attribute it to God, and then divine violence cycles back to justify the human propensity to act violently. The omnipotent warrior God is so firmly entrenched in the human imagination that even atheists affirm it in the very act of denying that such a God exists.

  The ethical dilemma facing all religions today, but perhaps especially religions of revelation, is laid bare here: How to affirm one's own faith without denigrating the faith of others? The problem can seem unsolvable if religion is understood as inherently dialectic -- reality defined as oppositions between earth and heaven, the natural and the supernatural, knowledge and revelation, atheism and theism, secularism and faith, evil and good. If the religious imagination is necessarily structured on such polarities, then religion is inevitably a source of conflict, contempt, violence. My faith is true, yours is idolatry. My God is bigger than your god. My God is a warrior, and so am I.

  But there can be such a thing as an inclusivist religious faith that rejects this way of thinking. Instead of polarity, this other way of being religious assumes unity -- unity between God and God's creation, which serves in turn as a source of unity among God's creatures. This reconciling truth is what all the great religions -- certainly the three Abrahamic religions -- assert when they identify God, most basically, not with conflict but with love.

  General Boykin says that his God is "real" because his God brings him victory in battle. But the first standard against which the reality of God is measured, even in Boykin's own Christian tradition, is not "bigness" or power but empathetic love. God is love, and the only way to honor God is by loving the neighbor. This is not a minor theme but the essential affirmation.

  Therefore Boykin has it wrong -- but so do legions of his fellow believers, from the Vatican to those revival tents to the Oval Office. The general's offense was to speak aloud the implication of a still broadly held theology.

  But that theology is dangerous now. A respectful religious pluralism is no longer just a liberal hope but an urgent precondition of justice and peace.

  In the 21st century, exclusivist religion, no matter how "mainstream" and no matter how muted the anathemas that follow from its absolutes, is a sure way to religious war.

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   Pentagon to Probe Remarks Made by General
  By Bradley Graham
  Washington Post Staff Writer

  Wednesday 22 October 2003

  The Pentagon is launching a formal investigation into statements by a high-ranking Army officer that cast the U.S. fight against terrorists in religious terms, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced yesterday.

  Rumsfeld said the investigation was requested by the officer, Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin. But pressure has been growing on the Bush administration to reprimand the general or remove him from his Pentagon intelligence post.

  Boykin's remarks, some of which were captured on videotape, were delivered in uniform to evangelical Christian groups over the past year and a half. They have drawn sharp criticism from lawmakers and Islamic organizations in the United States and enraged Muslims abroad. Critics have condemned the remarks as inflammatory, if not illegal, and politically damaging to administration efforts to woo support among Muslims for the war on terrorism.

  Among the most problematic were comments that described the United States as battling a "spiritual enemy" named Satan. In another instance, Boykin said President Bush "is in the White House because God put him there." And discussing a 1993 battle with a Muslim militia leader in Somalia, he said: "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

  In an apologetic statement Friday, Boykin said he is "not anti-Islam" and insisted his remarks had been misconstrued or taken out of context.

  After the comments were publicized last week, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, quickly defended Boykin, saying that "at first blush" he did not think Boykin had broken military rules. Lawyers in the Defense Department's general counsel's office issued the same opinion through a Pentagon spokesman.

  But criticism has continued to mount in editorial columns and elsewhere against Boykin, a decorated veteran of special operations who became the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary for intelligence in June. Senior administration officials have faced persistent questions about whether any action would be taken against him, and critics have accused Bush and top aides of a double standard: While the president took personal issue this week with anti-Semitic remarks by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, neither he nor any other top U.S. official has condemned Boykin's comments.

  Rumsfeld's portrayal of the investigation as coming at Boykin's request irked others who had urged just such a move. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Carl M. Levin (Mich.), the committee's ranking Democrat, released a letter they sent Rumsfeld on Friday appealing for a formal probe into whether Boykin had displayed "inappropriate behavior."

  Speaking on the floor yesterday, Warner said he had kept the letter quiet to avoid more pressure on Rumsfeld. With the investigation launched, he called for Boykin to be temporarily reassigned so he could focus on the probe. "When you start trying to explain what you did say, you need time out to do a little study," Warner said, according to the Associated Press.

  Rumsfeld originally sought to sidestep the controversy last week, praising Boykin's military record but refusing to express an opinion about the religious remarks. Rumsfeld continued to avoid that question yesterday, saying that he had seen only a "poor quality" video, shown by a news network, of some of the remarks, which he described as difficult to hear. He said an investigation was "appropriate," given Boykin's request.

  Rumsfeld also said word of the investigation had been news to him. He was told of it, he said, shortly before he and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared yesterday in a news conference. Queries about the Boykin case took up a large part of the conference.

  "I'm going to wait for the inspector general to complete their review and come back to us," Rumsfeld said in declining to offer a personal view.

  Just which office in the Pentagon will conduct the probe had not been decided, Rumsfeld said. While Boykin had requested the Defense Department's inspector general, Rumsfeld said the matter might be handled by the Army's inspector general -- or both.

  Some specialists in military law have pointed to several regulations that Boykin may have violated, including limits on political activity. They also have cited standards of ethical conduct for executive branch employees, who are required to receive prior approval for -- and sometimes advance review of -- outside speeches and to dissociate their remarks from government policy.

  Aside from legal questions, Boykin's comments have generated a political problem for the administration, which has tried to convince Muslims that the war on terrorism is not aimed at their religion. The Boykin case has received wide coverage in Muslim countries and has led to angry editorials in newspapers from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan.

  Ali Ahmed, executive director of the Saudi Institute, a Washington-based nonprofit that seeks to foster democracy and human rights in Saudi Arabia, said many Arabic-language newspapers have accused the Bush administration of hypocrisy for condemning Mahathir's recent comments about Jews while excusing Boykin's statements on Islam. An editorial Tuesday in the Saudi daily Al Riyadh, entitled "Who projects the ideology of hatred?", argued that Boykin's remarks were far "more disgusting" than Mahathir's.

  Akbar S. Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at American University, said Boykin's remarks are reinforcing the outrage that Muslims felt when the Rev. Franklin Graham called Islam an "evil and wicked" religion and the Rev. Jerry Vines called Mohammad a "pedophile."

  "When Bush visited a mosque and when he has reached out with respect to Muslims, it has meant a great deal around the world. In that context, this whole sorry episode has been devastating," Ahmed said.

  Apart from his short written statement Friday and a few other remarks to journalists, Boykin has sought privacy. Pace said he spoke to Boykin briefly Monday and described him as filled with regret.

  "He just mentioned to me how sad he was that his comments have caused the furor that they have," Pace said. "There's no doubt in my mind, in talking to him, that if he could pick his words more carefully, he would."


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Last modified on Monday, 21 April 2008 13:44