The two stories ran six pages apart, deep inside The News & Observer on Friday, Oct. 17, each overwhelmed by ads. One of the ads, for contact lenses, said: "Are you missing something? See wider. See sharper."
Man, are we ever missing it.
One of the stories was a five-paragraph condensation on page 10A of an investigation by military analyst William N. Arkin for NBC News and The Los Angeles Times into the extreme religious views of Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence--a key post in the war on terrorism. It ran under the absurd headline "'Satan' remarks outrage Muslims." It was a lot more than Muslims who were outraged.
Want a sampling of his comments? How about why he thought he'd defeat a Somali warlord:
"I knew that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." Or his view of the war on terrorism: "Satan wants to destroy this nation, he wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army."
Speaking in June to a church in Oregon, Boykin described a black mark that appeared on some pictures taken on a helicopter tour of Mogadishu this way: "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your enemy. It is not Osama bin Laden, it is the principalities of darkness. It is a spiritual enemy that will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus and pray for this nation and for our leaders."
Or how about the reason George W. Bush is president? "The majority of Americans did not vote for him," he said. "Why is he there? ... Because God put him there for a time such as this."
The other story ran on page 16A about Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's comments that, "The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million, but today the Jews rule the world by proxy." He later stressed that his remarks also pointed out the lack of progress by much of the Muslim world over the last 50 years, and his call for a political and economic, not violent, solution.
President Bush rightly rebuked Mahathir for his comments, but there has been no such rebuke for Boykin. In fact, he was defended by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
Why? It's very likely because this is, indeed, as much a holy war for the Bush Administration as it is for Mahathir and bin Laden. With all the attention before the Iraq invasion on the administration's lies to sell the war, and the focus since on exposing those lies, the religious angle is just now gaining prominence.
Sydney Schanberg described it in last week's Village Voice, quoting from advance proofs of The Faith of George W. Bush, a book sympathetic to Bush by Stephen Mansfield.
"In the election year 2000," Schanberg writes, "Bush told Texas preacher James Robison, one of his spiritual mentors: 'I feel like God wants me to run for president. I can't explain it, but I sense my country is going to need me... I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it.'"
Mansfield concludes: "... the Bush administration does deeply reflect its leader, and this means that policy, even in military matters, will be processed in terms of the personal, in terms of the moral, and in terms of a sense of divine purpose that propels the present to meet the challenges of its time."
My mind keeps going back to what Independent writer Godfrey Cheshire wrote shortly after Sept. 11, 2001: "There's only one way [bin Laden] can achieve his aim, and it's chillingly simple: spark a war between the West and the Islamic world."
Are we missing something? If you look wider and sharper, it sure looks like that's where we're headed.