President Bush yesterday reiterated his position that the comments of Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, who has spoken at Christian gatherings about a religious dimension to the war on terrorism, do not represent the views of the administration.
Citing the review of the highly decorated three-star general by the inspector general of the Defense Department, Mr. Bush said Gen. Boykin “doesn’t reflect my point of view or the point of view of this administration.”
It was the second time Mr. Bush has spoken on the Boykin comments amid his attempts to portray the war on terror as not being a war against Islam, but against extremists who have “hijacked a great religion.”
At a White House news conference yesterday, Mr. Bush said Muslim leaders whom he met with on his trip last week to Asia asked: “Why do Americans think Muslims are terrorists?”
“That’s not what Americans think,” Mr. Bush said. “Americans think terrorists are evil people who have hijacked a great religion.
“We welcome Muslims in our country. In America, we love the fact that, that we’re a society in which people can pray openly, or not pray at all, for that matter. And I made that point to the Muslim leaders.”
However, the president’s rebukes of Christians and assurances of his confidence in Muslims do not appear to be winning over Muslims in the United States or abroad.
Several imams and activists representing at least four Islamic organizations were calling for a boycott of an Iftaar dinner being held last night at the White House in honor of Ramadan.
Urging Muslims invited to the dinner “to decline the invitation” and “let President Bush eat by himself,” an announcement of the boycott was posted on the Web site of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group.
Mr. Bush’s task is further complicated by Muslims leaders worldwide, as shown by the recent dispute surrounding his castigation of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad for telling a conference of Islamic leaders in Malaysia earlier this month that “Jews rule this world by proxy.”
Mr. Bush met last week with Mr. Mahathir at an economic summit in Bangkok, where he told the Malaysian that such statements about Jews were “wrong and divisive.”
After the economic summit, however, Mr. Mahathir said at a news conference that reports that Mr. Bush had scolded him were wrong.
“Certainly, he did not rebuke me,” said Mr. Mahathir, who steps down at the end of this month after 22 years in power. “All he said was that ‘I regret today to have to use strong words against you.’ After that, we were walking practically hand in hand.”
Mr. Bush said at a news conference yesterday that his meetings with Muslim leaders during his Asia-Pacific trip were “very positive” and “very hopeful.”