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Monday, October 20, 2003

Fareed Zakaria Loses It

Fareed Zakaria wrote an impassioned but wrong-headed essay for MS-NBC calling for the Bush Administration to fire General Jerry Boykin over the story that the LA Times gave NBC late last week:

President Bush’s commission on public diplomacy recently noted that in nine Muslim and Arab nations only 12 percent of respondents surveyed believed that “Americans respect Arab/Islamic values.” Such attitudes, the commission argued, create a toxic atmosphere of anti-Americanism that cripples U.S. foreign policy and helps terrorists. To address the problem the commission suggested a major reorganization of the American government, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and the creation of a new cabinet position. I have a simpler, more urgent suggestion: fire William Boykin.

Zakaria, a writer whose work I respect, starts this essay off with the ludicrous suggestion that the only reason that Muslims and Arabs have an overwhelmingly negative view of Americans is that we have American diplomats and government officers spouting Christian theology. What rubbish! First and foremost, Muslim and Arab hostility towards Americans results from our alliance with Israel on one hand and our business relationships with oppressive, oil-rich Arab kleptocracies on the other. Despite our coming to the rescue of Muslims in the Balkans on multiple occasions (and opposing historically Christian oppressors in doing so), these issues haven't changed and so neither has Muslim and Arab attitudes towards the US.

While our relationships with the kleptocracies are wide open for criticism, they have had wide bipartisan support and reflect certain geopolitical realities, chief among them that we don't seem to want to drill for oil in our own abundant back yard, and so we must buy from others who have it. The only other choice would be to severely limit power production and transportation, which would have a devastating effect on our economy. But our relationship with Israel is based on shared values and the absolutely critical foreign policy axiom that we never sacrifice a democratic nation for the sake of dictators. We will not stand for any administration that sheds its alliance with Israel in order to grovel at the feet of Saddams and Khomeinis. Our mission is to promote democracy, not to abandon it.

So the idea that a general speaking at his churches will somehow tip all of these Muslims from being friendly to spawning terrorists is really just a bit too much to buy.

When asked about these remarks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refused to condemn them, explaining, “We’re a free people.” But the issue is not whether the general is free to express his views, but whether Secretary Rumsfeld wants someone who holds such views in high office.

I'm really at a loss as to what remedy Zakaria recommends here. Is he really calling for a religious test for government office? Because up until now, no one has proposed that non-Christians be barred from military command or the State department. Zakaria can't have it both ways. Either we are all free to worship as we please without fear of punishment or retribution, or we can start chucking people out of their jobs for religious expression we don't like. Is that what Zakaria wants?

After all, were the general to have expressed his opinion that the Iraq war was a blunder, he would have been fired.

There is a difference between expressing strong religious convictions and publicly countering the foreign policy of the government you represent. The latter is good cause for termination (assuming this is an appointee and not an elected official) regardless of whether you do the former or not.

Will he be effective in establishing close working relationships with these officials, who have all watched him slur their religion? Is this a man who will be able to objectively sift through intelligence and analysis about the state of Muslim societies, the difference between moderates and extremists, the distinctions among various fundamentalist groups? Or does he look at them all and see ... Satan?

Zakaria hits below the belt here. Boykin has been fighting for his country for many years now, from Vietnam to both Gulf Wars, mostly in covert operations where you either get proficient at reading subtle variations of character and expression, or you get dead. If he saw Satan in every Muslim walking out of a mosque, as Zakaria postulates here, how could he have survived all those missions and wars in Special Ops? He's spent years building close working relationships with a variety of people, all the while being Christian. Why is that so difficult to believe? Why doesn't Zakaria reverse this argument and ask how devout Muslims expect to be trusted once people know who they are? Because our experience, thus far, is that radical Christians don't hijack planes and run them into buildings full of civilians, nor do radical Jews, radical Buddhists, or radical atheists. Why does Zakaria expect Christians to apologize for being Christians?

I don't share the General's religious views in regards to this war, but that's really beside the point. We are in the middle of a war, and we have a seasoned, successful, and motivated expert who has dedicated his life to protecting the United States and its freedom, including the freedom of religious expression for all citizens -- Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Eckankar, Buddhist, or atheist. It would be the height of betrayal, and stupidity, for the US to bar this man from continuing his mission on the basis of his religious views, and I am astounded by Zakaria's suggestion to that end.

UPDATE: Let's remember that Boykin is not being challenged on any official communication from either his job as Deputy Undersecretary for Intelligence or as a commander. These quotes are from speeches Boykin gave to churches and from an interrogation 10 years ago that he repeated to another congregation. In fact, if you look at all of Arkin's quotes (for which he will still not provide transcripts, despite agreeing to do so), they all are from speeches in churches. What's next, a list of chapters and verses Boykin may have chosen for readings?

Now that you have read this post, read the most recent entries at the new Captain's Quarters at http://www.captainsquartersblog.com/!

08:52 PM in War on Terror | Permalink


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General Boykin is a true combat hero who has spent the better part of the past 25 years personally fighting the war which America has been fighting since at least the time of the hostage taking in Tehran in 1979. On 9/11 the scale of this war escalated, bringing a back burner event into the forefront of the national consciousness. General Boykin has been on the front lines of every major engagement, from the failed hostage rescue attempt in 1979, leading the famed Black Hawk Down raid in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993 and now he has received his third star and is leading the intelligence effort in the Pentagon to hunt down and find Osama Bin Laden and his ilk.

General Boykin is also a devout Christian and his 25 years of experience in this war has led him to the belief that Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and the rest of the temporal players in this war are merely the physical manifestation of a larger spiritual battle discussed in scripture. A battle to which every Christian is called and in shoring up support for that call General Boykin went to churches and prayer meetings asking his fellow Christians to do their part in the spiritual battle while soldiers fight the physical battles. They can do their part as we all can - by keeping the soldiers, our president and each other in our prayers.

He spoke in terms common to fundamental Christianity. A journalist from the LA Times made his way into one of these prayer meetings with intent only he knows in his heart. While Gen. Boykin’s fellow Christians may have left those meetings with a greater understanding of the true nature of the threat we all (Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists alike) face from this nefarious enemy, this reporter left instead with notes he had taken of the Generals talk.

Instead of releasing these notes, or possibly making a transcript of his full speech available, as they obviously have videos provided by the churches in question to play on the evening news from which transcripts could be taken if they so chose, this reporter chooses to only release the most incendiary quotes he can find. Surely a journalist is well acquainted with the Constitutional provisions of freedom of speech and freedom of worship. They will surely invoke those freedoms when they refuse to release a source who may provide information in this war - in the name of freedom of the press. They understand freedom of speech when one wishes to burn an American flag so I don't believe they do not understand that the General has every right to speak and worship without governmental molestation. What can be gained by releasing these inflammatory quotes out of context other than inflaming the moderate Muslims whom the Bush administration has been trying to woo to our side in this fight on behalf of freedom loving people everywhere of all religions and races. I don't dispute this journalist’s right to write what he pleases - I certainly question his methods and motivations.

Many Congressmen and Senators have called for General Boykin, a public official, to be removed for his views. A brief quote from Representative Conyer in a letter demanding the Generals resignation or removal to the Bush administration:

"I am writing to express my extreme displeasure over Lieutenant General William Boykin's remarks about the war and the Muslim religion. Lt. Gen. Boykin serves as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and is charged with heading a Pentagon office that focuses on finding Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and other targets. This is a critical policymaking position, and it is outrageous that someone who holds such extreme, closed-minded, zealous views would be allowed such a prominent position in our military."

I would like to bring to the Congressman's attention Article VI, Section III of the US Constitution, a possibly-soon-to-be-forgotten relic of American history if positions such as this Congressman’s are allowed to remain unchallenged:

3. The senators and representatives before-mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

Representative Conyers’ advocating of the Generals removal from the office or public trust of his position in the Pentagon is most definitively a religious test. Read again his objections to the General - is it his ability to perform his job? - no, it is his religious views and the audacity he has shown in speaking them - in a Church, of all places, - that draws his ire.

The most vocal advocates of removing General Boykin are the most liberal members of our government, most of whom are avowed separationists and should be familiar with the letter of Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury Baptists in which the famous phrase "separation of Church and State" is found:

"Believing ... that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their Legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State."
-- Thomas Jefferson to Danbury Baptists, 1802

Just in case the limitation of government to reach actions only; and not opinions, a distinction that the Congressman in question and his supporters fail to make, I'll quote Justice Fields as he elaborates on this same letter in Reynolds v US in 1878:

"Coming as this [Jefferson's letter] does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order."

Notice please, Mr. Conyer, that Congress (psst...that means you) was deprived of power over mere opinion, regardless of how extreme, closed-minded, or even (gasp!) zealous (can you imagine a zealous religious person in office?) they might be.

As Americans we need to stand behind General Boykin, a true American hero who has carried the banner against terrorism allowing the rest of America for the most part to rest safely in their beds for the past 25 years while this war has been ongoing and fought by men such as he. What we do not need to do is to sacrifice this good man on the altar of political correctness.

We can and should take this opportunity to demonstrate to the world, including the Muslim community here at home and abroad, that when we claim the United States of America as a bastion of freedom to worship as the individual conscience sees fit, we mean it and our government does not try to ruin the career of a good man for the perceived crime of being "zealous" - I would submit that this country would be much better off if we had many more zealots who would stand up for their beliefs as General Boykin has. Whether we agree or disagree with his beliefs we should stand shoulder to shoulder with him in his fight to hold them.

God Bless America and the World.

Posted by: Pete Shoults at Oct 27, 2003 9:03:46 PM

Hi Captain Ed,

What a bummer to discover that by taking the weekend off I missed the chance to vote for you in the new blog showcase. :(

I continue to be impressed by the depth and quality of the blogosphere. You do good stuff here.


Posted by: DC at Oct 28, 2003 9:50:59 AM

"But our relationship with Israel is based on shared values and the absolutely critical foreign policy axiom that we never sacrifice a democratic nation for the sake of dictators. We will not stand for any administration that sheds its alliance with Israel in order to grovel at the feet of Saddams and Khomeinis. Our mission is to promote democracy, not to abandon it."

So why does American support Pakistan - run by dictators and not India, a true democracy? It seems political strategy plays a main part. Definitely not the lofty principals expressed by this author.

BOYKIN: If a person's true belief is expressed in churches while foreign policy statements differ, at best it makes him a hypocrite.

If statements were made against the jewish community, I wonder if the same would hold. There is no English word for statements made against Muslims, Hindus or any other religion. Why is there this special word "anti-sematic" more disrepectful than anti-anyreligion?

Foreign policy does seem to have a say on what is wrong, seriously wrong and what can be termed 'freedom of speech'

Mathew Kanjirath

Posted by: Mathew Kanjirath at Mar 21, 2004 10:11:35 AM