The Boykin business rumbles on. Here’s the case for the prosecution, made by the usually sensible Fareed Zakaria, and thus it’s well worth reading. But does it stand up? Let’s take three points:
1. Given his position, Boykin shouldn’t have suggested that God was somehow involved in elevating George W. Bush to the presidency.
It’s not the explanation I’d go for, but then I’m not a religious person. A belief that God routinely intervenes in human events is fairly common amongst people of faith. If not, why bother to pray? Under these circumstances, therefore, Boykin’s comments may have been undiplomatic (and could certainly be construed, perhaps unfairly, as inappropriately partisan), but they are not that outlandish.
2. Boykin has revealed anti-Islamic prejudices.
There may be other comments by him out there, but from what I’ve seen so far, it’s the terrorists he’s describing as Satanic, not Islam as a whole. Now, in my view, Old Nick is not the problem. It’s better to look at psychosis, self-importance, a love of violence and grotesque personal inadequacy as explanations for the bin Laden crowd. Nevertheless, given that Satan is regularly described in this country as the personification of evil, Boykin’s opinions seem unexceptional. For what it’s worth, here’s a prominent Saudi who seemed to have very similar views. Needless to say this has not stopped the Saudis attacking Boykin. The LA Times reports that one “Adel Al-Jubeir, a foreign policy advisor to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, told reporters in Washington on Friday that Boykin’s comments were “outrageous.” The hypocrisy of the Saudis know no limits.
3. Boykin has a rather shaky grasp of ecumenical principles.
Well yes, ‘guilty’ on that one, but is ecumenicism this country’s state religion? Zakaria may prefer the ‘we are all one family’ pap he quotes from Joe Lieberman – and, yes, such an approach is certainly more tactful, but there is something refreshing about someone who is prepared to say that the other guy’s faith is flat-out wrong. That’s a view Boykin is perfectly entitled to, so long as he accepts that, under the American system, the other guy has a right to express his opinions too. So far as we know, he does.
Case not proved, I reckon, but Boykin has agreed to stop talking to religious groups and to tone down his remarks on religion. That’s wise.