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The Heavy Price America Will Pay for Pushing Religion on the Rest of the World

In the Mideast, we are fostering the belief that American values and Islamic values are irreconcilable.

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Where exactly to situate God in post-9/11 U.S. policy posed a genuine challenge for policymakers, not least of all for George W. Bush, who believed, no doubt sincerely, that God had chosen him to defend America in its time of maximum danger.  Unlike the communists, far from denying God’s existence, Islamists embrace God with startling ferocity.  Indeed, in their vitriolic denunciations of the United States and in perpetrating acts of anti-American violence, they audaciously present themselves as nothing less than God’s avenging agents.  In confronting the Great Satan, they claim to be doing God’s will.

Waging War in Jesus’s Name

This debate over who actually represents God’s will is one that the successive administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama have studiously sought to avoid.  The United States is not at war with Islam per se, U.S. officials insist.  Still, among Muslims abroad, Washington’s repeated denials notwithstanding, suspicion persists and not without reason.

Consider the case of Lieutenant General William G. (“Jerry”) Boykin.  While still on active duty in 2002, this highly decorated Army officer spoke in uniform at a series of some 30 church gatherings during which he offered  his own response to President Bush’s famous question: “Why do they hate us?”  The general’s perspective differed markedly from his commander-in-chief’s:  “The answer to that is because we're a Christian nation.  We are hated because we are a nation of believers.”

On another such occasion, the general recalled his encounter with a Somali warlord who claimed to enjoy Allah’s protection.  The warlord was deluding himself, Boykin declared, and was sure to get his comeuppance: “I knew that my God was bigger than his.  I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”  As a Christian nation, Boykin insisted, the United States would succeed in overcoming its adversaries only if “we come against them in the name of Jesus.”

When Boykin’s remarks caught the attention of the mainstream press, denunciations rained down from on high, as the  White House, the State Department, and the  Pentagon hastened to disassociate the government from the general’s views.  Yet subsequent indicators suggest that, however crudely, Boykin was indeed expressing perspectives shared by more than a few of his fellow citizens.

One such indicator came immediately: despite the furor, the general kept his important Pentagon job as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, suggesting that the Bush administration considered his transgression minor.  Perhaps Boykin had spoken out of turn, but his was not a fireable offense.  (One can only speculate regarding the fate likely to befall a U.S. high-ranking officer daring to say of Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu, “My God is a real God and his is an idol.”)

A second indicator came in the wake of Boykin’s retirement from active duty.  In 2012, the influential  Family Research Council (FRC) in Washington hired the general to serve as the organization’s executive vice-president.  Devoted to “advancing faith, family, and freedom,” the council presents itself as emphatically Christian in its outlook.  FRC events routinely attract Republican Party heavyweights.  The organization forms part of the conservative mainstream, much as, say, the American Civil Liberties Union forms part of the left-liberal mainstream.

So for the FRC to hire as its chief operating officer someone espousing Boykin’s pronounced views regarding Islam qualifies as noteworthy.  At a minimum, those who recruited the former general apparently found nothing especially objectionable in his worldview.  They saw nothing politically risky about associating with Jerry Boykin.  He's their kind of guy. More likely, by hiring Boykin, the FRC intended to send a signal: on matters where their new COO claimed expertise -- above all, war -- thumb-in-your eye political incorrectness was becoming a virtue.  Imagine the NAACP electing Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan as its national president, thereby endorsing his views on race, and you get the idea.

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