Boykin and the war for Muslim outreach

Diana West

10/27/2003 12:00:00 AM - Diana West

Confused over the Lt. Gen. William Boykin furor? There may come a time when the future's historians explain the controversy this way:

"The 'war on terror,' later rechristened -- sorry, renamed -- the 'war for Muslim outreach,' began on Sept. 16, 2001, the day President George W. Bush carelessly spoke of a 'crusade.' His remark was heard neither as an echo of Dwight D. Eisenhower's World War II book 'Crusade in Europe,' nor as a sober pledge to avenge thousands of American dead still smoldering at Ground Zero -- victims, as Muslims on the outer reaches would reveal, of a joint CIA-Mossad plot. Instead, the word 'crusade' was perceived as a calculated insult to all of Islam still stewing over Holy Land incursions by Really Old Europe a millennium earlier.

"Early victories in the war for Muslim outreach were small but significant, such as forcing a new name onto 'Operation Infinite Justice,' the distinctly dis-lamic moniker for the war in Afghanistan. This was necessary, of course, since it is Allah who dispenses infinite justice, not the United States military. It wasn't long before 'Islam is love' was the word from the president, and post-Sept. 16 outreach included annual Ramadan suppers at the White House.

"But there were setbacks, too, including the rapid disintegration of the democratic Baathist republic of Iraq, the elevation of Daniel Pipes to the U.S. Peace Council, and the stubborn refusal of the United States to 'seek a new paradigm,' as Syafii Maarif, head of the second-largest Muslim group in Indonesia, advised President Bush during a presidential visit in Oct. 2003.

"'We told him U.S. foreign policy should seek a new paradigm if the U.S. wants to be respected by the world community and be safe,' Maarif explained at the time, exuding only the faintest whiff of blackmail. 'New paradigm,' of course, was a fancy phrase for ditching Israel and bailing on Iraq. Which would come later.

Muslim outreach was still a work in progress in the fall of 2003, when The Washington Post reported, 'The administration's close ties to Israel are a perennial complaint of these (Muslim) critics, and the invasion of Iraq inflamed opposition overseas.'

"Luckily, the president had already green-lighted a commission on public diplomacy to investigate Muslim discontent. 'Hostility toward America has reached shocking levels' in the Muslim world, the commission concluded, adding sagely: 'Surveys show that specific policies' (read: specific policies on Islamic terrorism, Israel and Iraq) 'profoundly affect attitudes towards the United States.' In other words, the United States could have its Muslim outreach or it could have its 'specific policies,' but it couldn't have both.

"Then along came Gen. Boykin. In every war, there are generals who want to fight an earlier war. This was true of Gen. Boykin. He wanted to fight the war of Sept. 11, the attack that is now, of course, but a tiny footnote to Sept. 16th, Death to Crusades Day, the first new national holiday since Martin Luther King Day.

"Gen. Boykin saw in the emergence of Muslim terror networks a resumption of the old wars of Islamic expansion against the Judeo-Christian West. And he saw fit to explain his vision in stark religious terms when he spoke in American Christian churches. Islamic terrorists hate the United States, he said in June 2003, 'because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian. And the enemy is a guy named Satan.' When such statements became public through the now-defunct Los Angeles Times, all hell, pardon the expression, broke loose, spreading a plague of damning liberal editorials, columns and statements.

"General Boykin, the New York Times editorialized in calling for his head, 'should not be ... providing ammunition for those who portray the war against terror as a war against Islam.' (Note the implicit denial of the specifically Islamic character of the terrorism aimed at the non-Islamic West -- a semantic victory dating back to early outreach.) Fareed Zakaria, a Washington columnist of the day, suggested Gen. Boykin be fired simply to assuage Arab/Islamic suspicions of the United States. Others compared the American officer's biblical perspective with that of holy war-mongering Osama bin Laden.

"But it was the president himself who may have tipped the balance when he rejected even the basis of the three-star general's worldview -- that the war on terrorism had its undeniable religious dimension in being a response to Islamic jihad on the West, a civilization with Judeo-Christian roots.

"Some say that was the point at which outreach trumped terrorism as the war's priority. Once Gen. Boykin was history it was just a matter of time before Hamas had its AWACS, and jailed Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr was installed as supreme ayatollah of the United Nations Mandate of Iraq. Soon, the war's ultimate objective -- high U.S. poll numbers throughout Muslim culture -- was ours."