Tuesday, October 28, 2003

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.”

“We’ve got a challenge to make sure that people in countries like Indonesia understand the nature of the American people,” he said. “It’s going to be an important part of good diplomacy in the long run. We’ve got to fight off the imagery of a society which condemns entire swaths of people because of the acts of a few. It’s just not the way we are.”

Gen. Boykin, a highly decorated Special Forces combat veteran now serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and special operations, has been quoted as saying the war against terrorists, such as those who killed and mutilated U.S. soldiers in Somalia in the name of religion, is a battle between good and evil with terrorists representing “Satan.”

He was criticized after NBC News, on Oct. 15, broadcast segments of speeches Gen. Boykin, an evangelical Christian, made at churches in Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida.

The Los Angeles Times, on Oct. 16, carried a commentary piece by William A. Arkin, accusing the general of taking to the pulpit at the Good Shepherd Community Church in Sandy, Ore., and telling churchgoers that “the battle that we’re in is a spiritual battle.”

“Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army,” Mr. Arkin quoted Gen. Boykin as saying. The Washington Times was unable to locate Mr. Arkin yesterday.

Pentagon officials yesterday said Gen. Boykin continues to do his job during the inspector general review, which the general requested himself.

Martha Goldstein, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Times said the newspaper has not been called by the Pentagon inspector general. NBC News spokeswoman Allison Gollust said she had “checked with a number of people here and no one is aware of any request from the [inspector general].”

Mr. Bush first distanced himself from Gen. Boykin last week when reporters traveling with the president asked whether Muslim clerics with whom he had met in Indonesia were upset about the general’s comments.

At that time, Mr. Bush said he had told the clerics that Gen. Boykin’s comments “didn’t reflect my opinion” and the Muslim clerics “were pleased to hear that.”

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