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Bush hosted Ramadan dinner at White House mired in Islam controversy

Tuesday, 28-Oct-2003 4:20PM PST
Story from AFP / Jean-Louis Doublet
Copyright 2003 by Agence France-Presse (via ClariNet)

WASHINGTON, Oct 28 (AFP) - George W. Bush hosted a Ramadan dinner late Tuesday with US Islamic leaders, as the White House was besieged with demands to fire an army general whom made comments some say makes the US-led war on terror out to be a war on Islam.

General William Boykin's comments surfaced two weeks ago, in which he likened the US battle against terror to a battle between Christiandom and the Muslim world, placing the Bush administration in an uncomfortable position.

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While the Pentagon has opened its own investigation, it has also said that it does not expect to ask Boykin to resign. He continued to serve as a undersecretary of defense for intelligence, in charge of tracking down Osama bin Laden among others.

Bush invited Muslim leaders to an Iftar, the evening feast that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast Muslims observe during the month of Ramadan. He organized the first White House Iftar after bin Laden and al-Qaeda launched the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington.

"America is a land of many faiths and we honor, and welcome and value the Muslim faith," Bush said in opening remarks before the meal.

At a mid-day press conference earlier Tuesday, Bush said that the controversial Boykin "doesn't reflect my point of view or the view of this administration."

"Our war is not against the Muslim faith."

"Americans think terrorists are evil people who have hijacked a great religion," Bush said, responding to a reporter's question.

Such statements, however, did not quell the Boykin controversy.

"The obvious response to the Boykin case is to say that because he is now under-secretary of defense for intelligence, he should be relieved of his post, " The Washington Post said in an editorial Tuesday.

Boykin made his questionable speeches while wearing his military uniform before conservative Christian groups whom Bush will woo as part of his 2004 reelection campaign.

"It is highly likely that Bush himself, a genuinely devout Christian by all accounts, agrees with at least some, perhaps much, of what Boykin said," the Post speculated.

The US president had just returned from a tour of Asia, which included a three-hour stopover in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population. He also met with several leaders of Muslim countries at the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum.

"Muslims are completely wrong to think that the US is engaged in a war against Islam," New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said.

"But that misperception flourishes in part because the domestic political strategy of the Bush administration -- no longer able to claim the Iraq war was a triumph, and with little but red ink to show for its economic plans -- looks more and more like a crusade."