Comments from army Lieutenant General William Boykin sparked a furore this week when he referred to Allah (the Islamic term for God) as “an idol” and Muslim fighters as satanically inspired.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice spoke of Islam as the fastest growing religion in the United States.
“Islam is a peaceful religion. The president is respectful of those who practice the Islamic faith,” she said in an interview on American television.
But Rice avoided answering questions whether the White House would condemn Boykin’s remarks.
“The president has been absolutely clear that this is not a war of religions,” Rice told US broadcaster, ABC.
Boykin has apologised for his comments, but not withdrawn them.
‘I am not a zealot’
Rice, US National Security
“I am neither a zealot nor an extremist, only a soldier who has an abiding faith,” said Boykin in a statement.
“I do believe that radical extremists have tried to use Islam as a cause for attacks on America. As I have stated before, they are not true followers of Islam.”
Reported by the Los Angeles Times and broadcast by NBC News, videotapes show Boykin delivering controversial statements while wearing his army uniform at various Christian functions.
The three star lieutenant general, also known as Jerry, was recently appointed by Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld to be the Pentagon’s new deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence.
At a speaking engagement earlier in June, Boykin showed images of Usama bin Ladin, Saddam Hussein, and North Korea’s Kim Jung-il. Asking the audience why those individuals hate America, Boykin responded: “Because we’re a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers.”
Boykin’s also referred to Islamist fighters as America’s “spiritual enemy” that, “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus”.
“Given the position that he’s in … frankly you have to have some intelligence to start with”
Some of Boykin’s stranger comments came last year where he made reference to the so-called war on terror.
“We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God, have been raised for such a time as this,” he said.
He has also said that President Bush was appointed by God. “He (Bush) is in the White House because God put him there.”
But it appears Boykin’s comments have caught up with him. He has been condemned for his statements by politicians and Arab-Americans.
President of the Arab-American Institute, James Zogby, told Aljazeera.net he was disgusted by the comments.
“I think his comments are beyond an apology. The record of comments he has made are such that there is no excuse for them,” he said.
Senator Joseph Lieberman called on the Bush administration to condemn his “hateful remarks”, while Senator John Kerry said Secretary Rumsfeld “needs to go”.
“I believe the term we used was ‘clean-house’” Zogby added, who wishes to see the sacking of the entire Rumsfeld department.
The Los Angeles Times also called for Boykin’s resignation in an editorial article this week.
“There are a lot of things that are said by people in the military, or in civilian life, or in the Congress, or in the Executive branch, that are their views. That’s the way we live. We are a free people”
Adil al-Jubair, a foreign policy advisor to Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abd Allah, called Boykin’s comments “outrageous” and “unbecoming of a senior government official”.
Although defence officials refuse to criticise the general, the incident has undoubtedly embarrassed the Bush administration, which has spent the last two years trying to convince Muslims that the US is not at war with the Islamic world.
Other officials at the Pentagon have declined to comment on whether Boykin would be sacked or reassigned, while the defence secretary played down Boykin’s comments.
“Whatever he said was in a private capacity,” Rumsfeld said.
“There are a lot of things that are said by people in the military, or in civilian life, or in the Congress, or in the executive branch, that are their views. That’s the way we live. We are a free people,” he added.
But Zogby said people with those attitudes should not be in positions of power to begin with.
“Given the position that he’s in… frankly you have to have some intelligence to start with.”