General Withdraws From West Point Talk
By ERIK ECKHOLM
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.
Lt. Gen William G. Boykin “has decided to withdraw speaking at West Point’s National Prayer Breakfast” on Feb. 8, said a statement issued Monday by the academy’s office of public affairs. “In fulfilling its commitment to the community, the United States Military Academy will feature another speaker for the event.”
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 thatIslam should not be protected under the First Amendment.
Last week, after learning that General Boykin would be speaking at the prayer breakfast, a liberal veterans’ group,VoteVets.org, demanded that the invitation be revoked. In a letter to West Point’s superintendent, the group said General Boykin’s “incendiary rhetoric regarding Islam” was “incompatible with Army values” and would “put our troops in danger.”
Lt. Col. Sherri Reed, West Point’s director of public affairs, defended the invitation on Friday, saying that “cadets are purposefully exposed to different perspectives” and that the breakfast “will be pluralistic with Christians, Jewish and Muslim cadets participating.”
But by Monday, several other groups had condemned the invitation and concern was also reportedly being voiced by some faculty members and cadets. The Forum on the Military Chaplaincy (a liberal group of retired military chaplains), the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and the Council on American-Islamic Relations made public appeals to the Pentagon to cancel General Boykin’s appearance.
A fourth-year cadet at West Point, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals for breaking military discipline, said in a telephone interview before the cancellation was announced that “people are definitely talking about it here.”
“They’re inviting someone who’s openly criticizing a religion that is practiced on campus,” he said. “I know Muslim cadets here, and they are great, outstanding citizens, and this ex-general is saying they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights.”
The cadet asked, “Are we supposed to take leadership qualities and experience from this guy, to follow in his footsteps?”
A similar controversy erupted last week, in the days before General Boykin spoke at the mayor’s annual prayer breakfast in Ocean City, Md. The general made no inflammatory statements about Islam, instead describing how prayer had helped him through dangerous military operations.
But Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the West Point invitation was a mistake. West Point, Mr. Montgomery said, would have given “a platform to someone who is publicly identified with offensive comments about Muslims and about the commander in chief.”
General Boykin is a leader of an evangelical group called Kingdom Warriors and a visiting professor at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. He did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests seeking comment.
Original post: General Withdraws From West Point Talk