General promises to stop talking of Satan and Islam

A Pentagon general criticised for portraying military conflicts as religious battles has said he will desist from his evangelical rhetoric in an attempt to keep his job.

Lieutenant-General William Boykin, the deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence, sparked controversy when in a series of speeches he cast the American battle with Muslim radicals as a fight against "Satan".

The Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has defended Lt Gen Boykin, saying his statements were "a private affair".

Lt Gen Boykin, a much-decorated veteran who was involved in many covert operations including the 1993 "Black Hawk Down" incident in Somalia, has said that throughout his career he felt God was on his side. "I knew my God was bigger than his," he told an audience last year, in reference to a Somali fighter. "I knew that my God was a real God and that his was an idol." In another speech he said Islamists hated the US "because we're a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian ... and the enemy is a guy called Satan".

Critics said the comments undermined efforts by the Bush administration to ensure its "war on terror" was not seen as a war against Islam. Pentagon lawyers and public affairs officials met yesterday to assess how damaging the general's comments have been.

Stephen Cohen, who studies US policy in the Arab and Muslim world for the US Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, told the Los Angeles Times: "The phrase 'Judeo-Christian' is a big mistake. It's the language of Bin Laden and his supporters ... We have to be very careful that this does not become a clash between religions, a clash of civilisations."

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