Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin, a much decorated soldier, was wounded by the political correctness movement last week over comments he made comparing the war against militant Islam to a battle against Satan. Boykin, who is deputy undersecretary of defense, had told evangelical Christian audiences that radical Islam threatens to destroy America "because we're a Christian nation." He has also said, according to tapes of his remarks obtained by the Los Angeles Times and NBC News, that Muslims worship an "idol" and not "a real God."
After the predictable uproar in certain circles, Boykin issued the familiar "if I have offended anyone" boilerplate apology. There should have been a debate about the substance of his remarks. By silencing him and ordering retreat, the Pentagon apparently thinks it will mollify those whose language and actions are far more incendiary than whatever perceived sin the general has committed.
Why don't members of the Islamic faith silence some of their own? They can start with speakers at the Organization of Islamic Conference last week in Malaysia. Mahathir Mohamad, the Malaysian prime minister, told an applauding audience made up of kings, presidents and emirs that Jews are running and ruining the world. Jews, he claimed, "invented socialism, communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so that they can enjoy equal rights with others."
These are not "extremist" views held by a radical minority. These are mainstream Islamic views, as evidenced by the favorable response from the Egyptian foreign minister, who called the remarks "a very, very wise assessment." Afghan President Hamid Karzai, an American ally whose country would still be governed by the Taliban were it not for American soldiers, some of whom are Jewish, called the speech "very correct."
The Bush administration is making a fundamental mistake when it promotes the fiction that our enemies can be made less threatening by what America says and does. That should now be obvious to Democratic senator and presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman, who spoke last Friday to an Arab American Institute meeting in Dearborn, Mich. Lieberman, who is Jewish, noted that Jews and Muslims are descendants of Abraham. "I am your brother," he said, and added, "Whatever differences we may have on the issues of the day are differences of ideas, not of religion or nationality." Members of the audience heckled him.
This notion that religion is not at the heart of the hatred directed at America from outside and now inside the country qualifies as extreme denial. Throughout the Muslim world, America is condemned not mainly because of its ideas but because Islamists believe we are infidels opposed to God.
Take the Palestinian Authority (PA) as one of many examples. During the war with Iraq, the PA actively endorsed the killing of Americans, producing a music video celebrating the death of U.S. soldiers that was repeatedly broadcast on PA television. Since major combat ended, anti-U.S. rhetoric has not abated. Sermons on PA television denounce America for religious reasons. Last February, a broadcast sermon described the United States as "the foremost enemy of the Muslim nation." A more recent sermon broadcast last month contained this gem: "If we go back 1,400 years in time, we find that history is repeating itself ... The Prophet Mohammed was besieged by two powers, Persia in the east and Rome in the west. These represent the Soviet Union and America of today ... Persia fell first in the east, and America will fall, may it be Allah's will, just as Rome fell."
There are no calls in the Islamic world for any of these speakers -- from prime ministers to imams -- to tone down, retract or repent for their rhetoric. There are only calls for Americans to remain silent about this growing threat.
The problem is illustrated by this story: There are two dogs; one is vicious and the other friendly. The vicious dog regularly attacks the friendly dog. The owner of the friendly dog decides to muzzle his dog, hoping this will demonstrate to the vicious dog that the friendly dog means him no harm. The vicious dog sees his opportunity and kills the muzzled friendly dog.
In muzzling Boykin, the Pentagon has not converted those who believe they have a religious mandate to destroy us. It is silencing, instead of sounding, the alarm that this enemy is bigger than any threat America has ever faced.
Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services.