Boykin Backs Out of West Point Appearance - updated 1/31/12

Boykin Backs Out of West Point Appearance

by Sheila Musaji

It was just two days ago that we published an article about the controversy over the invitation to Ret. Gen. Boykin to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast at West Point.  In that article Boykin’s previous anti-Muslim statements were discussed and the text of letters of protest sent to West Point by Vote Vets and MRFF were published.  Since then, the Forum on Military Chaplaincy, CAIR, and other organizations added their objections.

The Forum on Military Chaplaincy press release said

The former general became controversial for statements in uniform to religious audiences such as “there should be no mosques in America”; Muslims worship an “idol”; “Islam is a totalitarian way of life, it’s not just a religion”; and “it should not be protected under the First Amendment.”

Boykin has also been vocal opposing gays and lesbians serving, saying after the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that it was a “sad day for our country” and would lead to mass exits from the military.

“A prayer breakfast isn’t an academic discussion, where controversial views can be challenged and debated,” pointed out Tom Carpenter, former Marine and co-chair of the Forum. “Nor is it an appropriate place to present views, however cloaked, that disrespect those Muslims and gays who are honorably serving in the U.S. military.

“Chaplains are sworn to serve all in the military,” said retired Chaplain (Colonel) Paul Dodd, co-chair of the Forum. Dodd served 31 years in the Army Chaplaincy, including a tour as Command Chaplain for the Army Medical Command.

“It sends a poisonous message to have chaplains sponsor someone so strongly associated with speech that condemns one particular religious group.”

This morning, Jon Soltz, co-founder of published an article on the Huffington Post announcing that they were launching a campaign so that people could send an email to Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno asking him to reconsider the invitation to Ret. Gen. Boykin. 

At the same time I saw Jon Soltz’ article, I saw an article by Frank Gaffney bemoaning the fact that there were objections to Boykin speaking.  Of course Gaffney saw this as a muzzling of the free speech rights of “truth-tellers”.  I thought this was going to be a long, drawn out controversy.

I signed the VoteVets petition, and hadn’t even had a chance to write something encouraging others to do so when I received a press release from Mikey Weinstein at MRFF titled “Under Pressure from MRFF and other Civil Rights Allies, Islamophobic Retired Lt. Gen. Boykin Withdraws from National Prayer Breakfast at West Point”.  The release says:

This is a monumentally-clear indication that when civil rights organizations such as the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and VoteVets work toward a common goal, with the strength of our dedicated supporters behind us, concrete positive change can be achieved.

We are deeply saddened that it took a public outcry of this magnitude to cause Boykin to pull out from this event, likely under pressure from within the Pentagon. Our outcry must not stop - all individuals within the command structure responsible for inviting this vile Islamophobe must be held accountable via courts martial.

The New York Times reports that

Plans for a talk at West Point by a retired general known for his harshly anti-Muslim remarks were abruptly canceled on Monday after a growing list of liberal veterans’ groups, civil liberties advocates and Muslim organizations called on the Military Academy to rescind the invitation.

...General Boykin, a longtime commander of Special Operations forces, first caused controversy after the Sept. 11 attacks when, as a senior Pentagon official, he described the fight against terrorism as a Christian battle against Satan. His remarks, made in numerous speeches to church groups, were publicly repudiated by President George W. Bush, who argued that America’s war was not with Islam but with violent fanatics.

Since his retirement in 2007 and a new career as a popular conservative Christian speaker, General Boykin has described Islam as “a totalitarian way of life” and said that Islam should not be protected under the First Amendment.

I am certain we will hear a great deal from the Islamophobic echo chamber about this in the next few days, and will update as they are heard from.

UPDATE 1/31/2012

Pamela Geller has weighed in and predictably focuses only on CAIR’s objections to Boykin’s appearance at this event.  Actually, the primary objections and the letter writing campaign were from military and veterans groups, and CAIR was a minor player in this.

Geller says

Imagine a similar headline in the 1940’s: “Nazis pressure retired general, critic of Third Reich to back out of West Point event.” Sound outlandish? But that’s what it is. And that’s where we are. Ten years after 911, a decorated war general is forced to withdraw from speaking at West Point because Islamic supremacists demand it.    I know General Boykin. He is a giant among men. A hero. This is crushing. Do Americans not see what is happening? Right in front of their faces?

This is an outright lie whose only purpose is to stir up her base. 

Objections to Boykin’s participation in an interfaith prayer event were due to his denigration of one faith. Faiz Shakir summarizes this well

Boykin has a deep record of anti-Muslim rhetoric. For instance, he said there should be “no mosques in America“; Muslims worship an “idol“; “Islam is a totalitarian way of life, it’s not just a religion”; “it should not be protected under the First Amendment”; Muslims operate “under an obligation to destroy our Constitution.”

Hopefully, Boykin will learn from this incident that his rhetoric is both wrong and hurtful.

People for the American Way has published a lengthy backgrounder on Boykin, and on this whole controversy titled “A Case Study in Religious Right Propaganda Techniques”.  The “Boykin in Brief” section notes that:

— Retired General William “Jerry” Boykin had a long military career, much of it spent in charge of special forces units.  So why would his selection as a speaker at West Point be controversial?  Almost ten years ago, when Boykin was still on active duty, he generated criticism for public comments, given while he was in uniform, indicating that he saw U.S. military engagement in religious terms, as “our God” (Christian) vs. Satan or the “idol” God he said was worshipped by Muslims. It was widely feared that such comments could endanger U.S. troops.  Boykin was criticized publicly by then-President George W. Bush and in a 2004 report by the Pentagon’s inspector general; critics worried that his remarks could put servicemembers’ lives in jeopardy by suggesting that the American military saw regional conflicts in religious terms. Since he retired, Boykin became an ordained minister and has been a regular speaker at Religious Right and right-wing events, where he has not only demonized Muslims, but also claimed that since Islam is not a religion but a “totalitarian way of life,” and since Muslims are under an “obligation to destroy our Constitution,” American Muslims are not protected under the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty.  More explicitly, he said there should be no mosques allowed in America. Boykin works through his organization Kingdom Warriors.  He also serves on the board of the dominionist Oak Initiative. Boykin is a co-author of Sharia, the Threat to America, popularly known as the Team B II report. He has charged that President Obama is creating a Hitler-like cadre of Brownshirts to force Marxism down Americans’ throats.

Our TAM collection of anti-Muslim statements by elected representatives and government representatives includes this entry on Boykin (with links):

Ret. Gen. William Boykin said in an interview “Boykin: What we are not seeing first and foremost is the fact that Islam is not religion. It is a totalitarian way of life. There is a religious component. But we still treat it as a first amendment issue when in fact it is a totalitarian way of life.  And when you think Islam you need to think Sharia law. Sharia law is the law that subjugates women, that cuts off the hand of the thief, that beheads the adulteress, that’s sharia law, and that’s what Islam is. It is a legal system more than anything else, with a religious component. And people simply do not understand that. And consequently, Skip, we still treat it as a first amendment issue.  ...  And we continue to categorize them as extremists or radicals or people who are not following the dictates of Islam, well the reality is they are following the dictates of Islam and all we’re doing is playing their game of propaganda when we refuse to acknowledge that they are terrorists, they are Jihadists, they’re Muslims, they’re Islamists, and they want to destroy our constitution and replace it with Sharia law.” 
— Boykin questions “whether or how the First Amendment should properly be applied to Islam” and asserts that “the ultimate outcome of blanket protection for Islam in all its manifestations on the grounds of ‘religious freedom’ would be the establishment of Islamic law and government, or Sharia, alongside or in place of civil law and government in this country.”
— Speaking on the dangers of Islam at The Oak Initiative Summit in 2011, Boykin attacked religious leaders who seek interfaith dialogue and understanding with Muslims, claiming that when Muslims pray, they curse Jesus and asserting that Islam is not an Abrahamic faith and therefore Christianity and Islam have absolutely nothing in common.