Two names were in the news last week for inciting religious controversies. You probably heard about one and probably missed the buried stories about the other.
The man whose story you're most likely to know is Army Lt. General William G. Boykin. He's currently the deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence. He's charged with supervising the search for terror targets Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. But in his broader war on terror, in Boykin's words, "the enemy is a guy named Satan."
Boykin has quite a track record as a holy warrior (we know about it thanks to journalist and military analyst William Arkin, who has written several pieces on Boykin for the L.A. Times). Boykin is an active Christian who told an Oregon congregation this June that Osama, Saddam and Kim Jung Il hate the U.S. "because we're a Christian nation. We are hated because we are a nation of believers."
Last year, Boykin showed the First Baptist Church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma pictures he had taken in Mogadishu, Somalia during the violence of 1993. The pictures showed a strange mark in the sky over the city. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your enemy " Boykin said. "It is the principalities of darkness. It is a demonic presence in that city that God revealed to me as the enemy."
And then there's the time when Boykin said of a Muslim warlord in Somalia, "I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."
Christian holy war talk and Allah-bashing from generals is not much appreciated these days. Boykin's use of the B-1 bomber pulpit has been widely covered and widely eviscerated by editorialists, though not, alas, by his bosses Rumsfeld and Bush.
Mahathir Mohamad's remarks were not so widely reported.
Mahathir is the long-time Prime Minister of Malaysia, a nation of some 23 million. He addressed the tenth Islamic Summit Conference on October 16 and told them, "The Muslims will forever be oppressed and dominated by the Europeans and the Jews. … It cannot be that there is no other way. 1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way."
Mahathir got a standing ovation.
The Prime Minister added (and I quote liberally as most people here haven't read his extended remarks), "We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million. But today the Jews rule this world by proxy. They get others to fight and die for them."
"They [Jews] survived 2000 years of pogroms not by hitting back, but by thinking. They invented and successfully promoted Socialism, Communism, human rights and democracy so that persecuting them would appear to be wrong, so they may enjoy equal rights with others. With these they have now gained control of the most powerful countries and they, this tiny community, have become a world power. We cannot fight them through brawn alone. We must use our brains also."
"Of late because of their power and their apparent success they have become arrogant. And arrogant people, like angry people, will make mistakes, will forget to think."
The U.S., Canada, Australia, the EU, Australia and, of course, Israel condemned this anti-Semitic hate talk, but it wasn't a big story here.
Many Arab leaders said Mahathir's remarks were just stating the obvious. "I don't think they are anti-Semitic at all," said the foreign minister of Yemen, "I think he was stating the facts."
"It is great to hear … Mahathir speak so eloquently on the problems of the ummah (Muslim world) and ways to remedy them," Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying by the Toronto Star. Karzai is the man the U.S. installed as the president of Afghanistan. Thanks for nothing.
General Boykin's theology of war is objectionable primarily because it is "weird, and not a little scary" as The Washington Post put it. Boykin's bellicose theology is not, in all fairness, hateful.
There is, of course, a bigger issue: that we don't want to give Muslims and Islamic countries free ammo for their jihads, rhetorical and real. We don't want the words of an odd general — words that contradict the president, U.S. policy and public sentiment — to harm our cause abroad. But they won't, and we know it. It's a great story, not a great worry.
Mahathir's words do indeed reflect great worry because they are shared by so many – by people, governments and generals. Mahathir, like General Boykin, has been spouting this stuff for a long time, though rarely before such a high profile forum.
Sadly but not surprisingly, anti-Semitism around the world has increased markedly since 9/11. Episodes of European anti-Semitism increased so much that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe organized an unheard of summit on anti-Semitism attended by 55 nations.
The war in Iraq has dumped more napalm on the fires of anti-Jewish hate, and not just in the Muslim world. An incident reported in Foreign Policy magazine makes the point. At the World Social Forum — a leftist counter-punch to the World Economic Forum held annually in Davos — a few months ago in Brazil, some protesters waved swastikas and carried signs that said, "Nazis, Yankees, Jews: No More Chosen People!"
Today's anti-Semitism is not just the province of Islamist terrorists. It's not shared just by right wing, neo-Nazi fascist groups hiding in Idaho or Germany or France or the Ukraine. Anti-Semitism is increasingly shared or tolerated by strands of the world's left-wing groups — anti-globalization, anti-Israel, anti-American westerners who somehow seem to lump together their bad guys and bogeymen.
General Boykin is a fluke. He's been widely condemned and that reflects something very good about our political culture.
Prime Minister Mahathir is no fluke. His views have massive global support. And they reflect something very bad about other cultures, something we can too easily take for granted when we're beating ourselves up.
Dick Meyer, the Editorial Director of CBSNews.com, is based in Washington. For many years, he was a political and investigative producer for The CBS News Evening News With Dan Rather.
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By Dick Meyer