A one-sided account of a general's withdrawal

Yesterday, a retired general was supposed to speak at a prayer breakfast but withdrew after backlash from various groups. This piece from the New York Times covering Lt. Gen William Boykin's withdrawal has been sitting in my guilt file because of the complexities involved.

Granted, I haven't see a lot of Christians backing Boykin, seeing him as someone the military should definitely offer a platform. At the same time, this piece from the Times does little to offer more than one side: the side of those who did not wish for Boykin to speak.

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.

What is considered "harshly anti-Muslim," and who decides whether it was harsh or not? Why not offer one full quote from the general for readers to determine whether they, too, believe his previous remarks were incendiary?

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 that Islam should not be protected under the First Amendment.

How would one measure Boykin's popularity? How many times a year does he speak? Is he really sought after by Christian groups? If he is so popular, why not try reaching out to groups who might feel differently from the groups that called for his invitation to be revoked?

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.”

The piece makes a small attempt to get the other side, but that side was before the general withdrew from the breakfast. Were there any outside groups that reacted to the decision that were on a different side than the ones cited?

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.”

One reader suggests, "The anonymous West Pointer should know a lot better than to call Boykin an 'ex-general.' Colonels and above keep the use of the rank upon retirement. No one ever called MacArthur an 'ex-general.' It makes me doubt the existence of this glib cadet." I don't necessarily doubt this cadet's existence, but the quote was definitely a let down. If you're going to quote someone anonymously, I expect the quote to be really revealing or say something no one else is able to say. This quote does nothing except that it's caused some discussion around campus. Could no one else confirm the same sentiments?

Perhaps Christian organizations wouldn't necessarily defend Boykin, I'm not sure. But the story we're left with is pretty lopsided.

Lopsided image via Shutterstock.

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