The Islamophobia Industrial Complex

This post has been updated.

Digby points to a report at Right Wing Watch about comments made on James Dobson’s radio show by retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, who said:

Islam is not a religion. Islam is a totalitarian way of life and it starts with a legal system call sharia law. It is then a financial system, it is a military system, it is a government system, I mean it’s a geo-political system and that is hard for us to deal with, the fact that Islam is not a religion and does not deserve First Amendment protections.

The real shocker (or not), Digby writes, is that this wasn’t Beck or some other firebreathing shock jock. It was retired top military brass, someone who served at the highest levels of our armed forces until 2007.

In 2009, I wrote, about aggressive evangelizing in the military:

Scandals have included the ties between Pentagon brass and the evangelical organization Christian Embassy and the aggressive and even hostile evangelism at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Another story that received attention was the post-9/11 comments of Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, who, in speaking to evangelical audiences, compared Islam to Satanic evil and framed the “war on terror” as one of spiritual warfare.

Boykin worked for the Pentagon’s Special Operations Command, headed by Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone. There, according to legal expert Scott Horton, “the most serious abuses involving the military occurred, starting with Cambone’s authorization of torture in rules of engagement issued shortly after 9/11.” (At the time Boykin’s comments about Islam first came to light, religious-right leaders defended him for speaking “truth.”)

Just after the 2008 election, the Secular Coalition for America and the Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers asked the incoming Obama administration to change military regulations to protect the rights of non-adherents. The two groups also sought to improve the process for investigating and punishing cases of proselytizing and religious discrimination. Yet there’s still too little attention paid to both issues — in no small part because religious interest groups on the right are quick to cry discrimination against them when evangelism is questioned.

According to Jeff Sharlet’s recent Harper’s piece, the Pentagon continues to turn a blind eye to internal discrimination as well as to ignore the mockery and proselytization of Muslim civilians. (The article’s title, “Jesus Killed Mohammed,” comes from the words a special forces unit spray-painted, in Arabic, on a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that then rolled through Samarra, Iraq.) The piece focuses on the high rate of evangelicals in the armed forces, particularly in its chaplaincy and officer corps. Among the feeder groups for the phenomenon is the 15,000-member Officers’ Christian Fellowship, whose executive director described the “global war on terror” as “a spiritual battle of the highest magnitude,” meaning a battle of Jesus’ godly followers against satanic forces.

So in that second paragraph, who were the religious right leaders who defended Boykin? Read this, from 2003, courtesy of Agape Press, the predecessor for the American Family Association’s One News Now (where, I reported last year, Muslims are referred to as “raghead scumbag terrorists” and Allah as “Satan”). In the Agape Press piece, none other than Frank Gaffney — he who thinks the Conservative Political Action Conference has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood — “says Boykin clearly put his finger on the truth when he said his God is bigger than the god of Islam. The Administration, he says, should not reprimand Boykin for telling the truth.” And Dobson, then still with Focus on the Family, said, “Every conservative Christian would understand the language that General Boykin used to describe what is known as ‘spiritual warfare. . . . His words were consistent with mainstream evangelical beliefs, and he had a right to express them.” Gary Bauer “also wonders how many Christian military officers will now be willing to speak frankly in their own church about spiritual warfare or America’s dependence on God.”

A Pentagon investigation found in 2004 that Boykin had violated DOD regulations, but then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld did not relieve him of his post:

The 10-month internal investigation, conducted by the department’s deputy inspector general for investigations, confirmed news accounts that Boykin said in his speeches that President Bush had been placed in his post by God, that radical Muslims hate America because it “will never abandon Israel” and that the U.S. military is recruiting a spiritual army that will draw strength from a greater power to defeat its enemy.

And, for some bonus Islamophobia — remember all of this?

Now, while evangelicals might be more likely to watch Fox News, and more likely to fear shari’ah, if Fox is just repeating, recycling, or regurgitating the Islamophobia — dressed up as “speaking the truth” — that they are already used to hearing, are these evangelical Fox viewers learning something, or is Fox just reinforcing what they already believed? And is their trumped-up fear that shari’ah law is somehow going to subvert the God-given Constitution reinforced by the claim that questioning evangelical Islamophobia is somehow silencing Christians?

UPDATE: Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research Institute, which performed this week’s poll on attitudes towards Islam and the upcoming Peter King hearings, ran some more specific numbers for me, and reports: “Evangelicals are significantly more likely than the general population and than other religious groups to say they most trust Fox News. More than 4-in-10 (41%) Evangelicals say they most trust Fox News, compared to 20% of Mainline Protestants, 21% of minority Christians, 29% of white Catholics, and 22% of the unaffiliated.  The [general population] number is 26%.”