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"Islam is a religion that brings hope and comfort to good people across America and around the world. Tonight we honor the contributions of Muslims and the tradition of Islam by hosting this Iftaar at the White House. I wish you all a very blessed Ramadan, and may God bless." [Applause]
- From a speech by President Bush, October 28
31 October 2003
President Bush, the newly-crowned Islamophile of the year, has been quick to distance him from religiously charged remarks made by General Boykin - one of the Pentagon's most senior officers and deputy undersecretary for intelligence.
Boykin had been preaching (in uniform) at prayer meetings, saying stuff like: "Our enemy is a spiritual enemy because we are a nation of believers" and that terrorists like Osama Bin Laden "will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus."
Boykin described President Bush as "a man that's in the White House today because of a miracle" (which in a sense is true: in roughly the same way that Maradona's hand was the "hand of God"). Funnily enough, Boykin openly praises God for fixing the ballot:
"Why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there? And I tell you this morning that he's in the White House because God put him there for a time such as this."
Halleluiah, pass the sick bag.
President Bush (whatever he actually thinks) made a firm statement on the Boykin matter: "He didn't reflect my opinion. Look, it just doesn't reflect what the government thinks." However, no such firmness from the Pentagon... Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defended Boykinís 'outstanding record' as a soldier, and argued that Boykin was only exercising his freedom of speech: 'We're a free people. And thatís the wonderful thing about our country.'
Rumsfeld's chief of staff, Lawrence Di Rita, reinforced the Pentagon's support of Boykin: "When you weigh the preponderance of all those things, nobody's thinking about asking him to step aside."
They're not asking him to step aside - the man who, around 10 years ago, when he was showing a photograph he took in Somalia, pointed at some black smudges in the sky and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your enemy. It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in the city that God revealed to me."
That's a properly mad statement. Properly insane. This was around the time he said, in reference to a Somalian warlord: "My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."
However, the trouble is not that Boykin is a lunatic - there are plenty of lunatics in Washington - but that he is a good Christian lunatic. And far from being a heretical, his most infamous statement - "My God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol" - is actually good Christian doctrine. In fact, those two sentences are an amazingly neat distillation of the entire Judaeo-Christian metaphysic. As Pat Buchanan (former White House Communications Director under Reagan) said: "To a devout Christian, there is not only nothing wrong with the general's beliefs, everything is right about them."
The trouble is that Boykin is *right*. Whatever Bush is saying publicly, as he celebrates the Iftaar feast (he does so enjoy the end of Ramadan) this *is* a Christian war. There is certainly nothing new in the idea of the Judaeo-Christian God fighting for his people - it is perhaps the oldest idea in the whole of the Bible. Moses himself is quoted as saying: "The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace." And later in that same chapter, Exodus 14, just before the waters of the Red Sea come rushing in, the Egyptians discover that the God of Israel has cunningly taken off their chariot wheels to slow them down, and they cry out: "Let us flee from the face of Israel, for the Lord fights for them against the Egyptians."
And let's not forget, according to a recent Harris poll: 48% of Americans think the US has had special protection from God for most of its history. And 73% of Americans believe in the devil and hell.
Boykin's brand of Christianity is starting to look positively orthodox. And it is certainly impossible to argue (as it so often is) that Christianity is, somehow intrinsically, a religion of peace. Tell that to the Indians.
It is a huge, pervasive lie that there is something inherently charitable and welcoming about the Christian religion (particularly in contrast to nasty violent Islam). Here's a good example of the lie, from none other than United States Attorney, General John Ashcroft: "Islam is a religion in which God requires
you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in
which God sent His Son to die for you."
Of course, one need hardly say, truly liberal Christianity welcomes interfaith dialogue, makes no absolute claims for its own faith over other traditions, and claims no absolute access to religious truth, but liberal Christianity is not the Christianity of the White House. Bush is a President who, in the words of Boykin, "starts his day in the Oval Office at 4:30 with a Bible in his hand."
And what does Bush's Bible have to say on the subject of religious tolerance?
I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the LORD.
For all the gods of the people are idols: but the LORD made the heavens.
(1 Chronicles 16:26 - c.f. Psalm 96)
And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD's house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it... and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day. And the idols he shall utterly abolish.
(Isaiah 2:2, 17-18)
Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.
As with the sacred texts of any tradition (with the possible exception of Buddhism) it's possible in the Bible to find espousals of compassion and charity snuggling up alongside intolerance, segregation and absolutism...
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
(1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
This, in the very same New Testament that has Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and thieves. (Shhh - don't mention that!) The most powerful form of Christianity in America is the right-wing, pro-family, pro-life Christianity of Bush. And there is a worrying trend in right-wing Christianity, particularly post-
September 11. There is an essay worth reading in the lovely and warm sounding GiveShare.org, a Christian website:
Serving Sabbath-Keepers Around the World...Since 1978.
The essay, entitled 'A New Look at the Antichrist' is by the eminent Dr. Samuele Bacchiocchi. In it, Dr Bacchiocchi says:
"During the course of this investigation this question has been harping in my mind: Could it be that our Adventist prophetic interpretation of the Antichrist as referring exclusively to the person, work, and claims of the Papacy, needs to be expanded to include Muhammad and his teachings? After all, Muhammadís successors for a thousand years (from the seventh to the seventeenth century) have persecuted and exterminated Christians far more extensively and intensively than the Papacy! Furthermore, Islamís denial of the divinity, incarnation, and crucifixion of Christ, clearly fits Johnís description of the spirit of the antichrist (I John 4:1-2). By focusing exclusively on the role of the Papacy in persecuting dissident Christians and promoting false teachings during the Middle Ages, we Adventists may have overlooked the equally persecuting power of Islam which for a thousand years has practically uprooted Christianity in most of the countries it conquered."
For years, right-wing Protestantism has had the Catholic church to despise and shout about, but since the hardening of the Christian right on social issues (bringing them in line with the Vatican) and the emergence of a religiously vocal and extremely violent Islamic fundamentalist movement, the old Pope-as-Antichrist shtick has lost its appeal. The Muslims are the new devils on the block. So let's get hating them.
Finally, to return to Bush, we have heard him deny that he shares Boynik's views. But can we honestly believe him when he says that? He is no stranger to the idea of a Christian foreign policy - back in the summer, talking about fighting AIDS in Africa, he said:
"I believe God has called us into action." And, more frighteningly, as quoted in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, he said: "God told me to strike at al-Qaida and I struck them, and then He instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East."
So, what you've got is Boykin expressing what is basically an orthodox (and Biblically sound) Christian-American view, a powerful Christian Right who are shifting further by the day towards the idea of Islam as Antichrist, and a President who is just as frothing as Boykin in his belief that he is fighting a holy war. Oddly, it seems like Donald Rumsfeld is the one who, in refusing to condemn General Boynik, is actually being truest to his conscience. Bush is just making noises to keep his Arabian chums happy.
CNN.com give a good summary of the Boykin affair:
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