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Arab-American leader: Keeping general sends negative message

Nihad Awad
Nihad Awad

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An American general who frames the war on terror as a religious crusade is taking some heat from critics. CNN's Barbara Starr reports.
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(CNN) -- Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a top Pentagon intelligence official, apologized for remarks he made about Muslims, including saying that radical Muslims hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and roots are Judeo-Christian and the enemy is a guy named Satan."

In a statement issued late Friday, Boykin said, "For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology."

CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien spoke with Nihad Awad, director of the Council on American-Islamic relations, and asked him for his reaction.

AWAD: First of all, let me clarify one point. [Boykin] also said Muslims worship idols, and that shows me a very serious sign of ignorance in a very important position within the Pentagon.

Of course, his apology should be appreciated, but the question is do we want a person with extremist views in this important position, who's in charge of filtering intelligence that will be used in decision-making in life-and-death situations on the war on terrorism, and what kind of message are we sending to the Muslim world, which is already skeptical about our motives and intentions with the Muslim world, in the war in Iraq, and even, of course, in the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

So, if he continues to be there, I think it sends a very negative message to the Muslim world, and we're trying as Americans to win the hearts and minds of the world and Arabs and Muslims and we're now shooting ourselves in the foot if he stays where he is.

O'BRIEN: So you're saying that in spite of the apology, he should be removed from his position?

AWAD: It's not the apology but the views. How would I trust someone who looks at Islam and at Muslims as idol worshippers, and allow me to put one point of education here because it is very important: Islam is a monotheistic religion.

God in Islam is the same god as in Christianity and as in Judaism. ... the word in the bible in Arabic says Allah, so we worship the same god. With this level of ignorance that exists within a high official who is conducting the war on terrorism, I don't trust his judgment to make life and death decisions.

O'BRIEN: What do you think the risk is in phrasing this war, or any war, in terms of a fight between good and evil?

AWAD: First of all, this war is between America and terrorists. The army in America is not a Christian army or a Southern Baptist army. It's a nationalistic army that has Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, Buddhists in it, and therefore our approach to the war on terrorism is based on national security, not on religion.

This person, this general, with all due respect to his position, I think is contradictory even to the statements by the president and to the strategy that this war is not on Islam, it's against terrorists.

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