Canberra, Oct. 22 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush distanced himself today from a senior military intelligence official who sparked an international firestorm by saying that Muslims worship an idol and not a “real God.”
Moderate Muslim clerics took issue with army Lt Gen. William Boykin, an evangelical Christian who serves as deputy undersecretary of defence, during talks in Bali.
“I said: ‘He didn’t reflect my opinion. Look, it just doesn’t reflect what the government thinks.’ And I think they were pleased to hear that,” Bush told reporters afterward.
The comments were Bush’s first in public on the controversy surrounding Boykin, who portrayed the US war on terrorism as a clash with “Satan,” saying Islamic radicals sought to destroy America “because we’re a Christian nation.”
Bush, in contrast, has publicly — and privately — rebuked Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad over his remarks about Jews controlling the West by proxy.
In an interview with reporters aboard Air Force One, Bush said he “didn’t yell” at Mahathir at an Asia-Pacific summit.
“I said they (his comments about Jews) were divisive and unnecessary.”
Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced yesterday that the Pentagon would launch an internal probe into speeches given at churches and prayer breakfasts by Boykin.
Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Senator John Warner, a Virginia Republican, called for Boykin to be reassigned, at least temporarily.
Boykin’s comments surfaced last week when NBC News broadcast videotapes of him giving speeches while wearing his army uniform at various Christian functions.
In one speech, Boykin referred to a Muslim fighter in Somalia who said US forces would never catch him because Allah would protect him. “Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol,” Boykin said.
Several Democrats and some religious and civil rights groups have condemned his remarks.
Boykin said in a statement on Friday he was “neither a zealot nor an extremist,” was “not anti-Islam or any other religion,” and offered a “sincere apology” to those offended by his remarks.
Reflecting growing mistrust of the United States among ordinary Indonesians, the clerics meeting in Bali also criticised Washington for supporting Israel over the Palestinians and for the occupation of Iraq.
“There was kind of a sense that Americans believe that Muslims are terrorists,” Bush said. “One of the reasons I wanted to have this meeting was because I wanted to make it very clear that I didn’t feel that way and Americans don't feel that way.”