A senior Pentagon intelligence officer, under fire for his comments about Islam, said on Friday he was "neither a zealot nor an extremist" and apologized to those offended by his statements but did not take back any of his remarks.
Army Lieutenant General William Boykin, whose comments at churches and prayer breakfasts cast the US war on terrorism in starkly religious terms, sought to explain comments including one that Muslims worship an "idol" and said he was not "anti-Islam."
Democratic lawmakers, including two presidential candidates, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, criticized Boykin's remarks and chastised President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for failing to criticize the general. And a Saudi diplomat called Boykin's remarks "outrageous."
A statement released late on Friday by the Pentagon public affairs office represented Boykin's first attempt to publicly explain himself since his remarks came to light this week.
He did not address his future, but defense officials said he had no plans to quit. The officials also said he planned to "tone down" his remarks. One official said, "I would not expect him to engage in those sorts of speaking engagements in the future."
"I am neither a zealot nor an extremist. Only a soldier who has an abiding faith," said Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and war-fighting support.
"I do believe that radical extremists have tried to use Islam as a cause for attacks on America," he said.
"As I have stated before, they are not true followers of Islam. In my view they are simply terrorists, much like the so-called `Christians' of the white supremacy groups, or extremist [sic] of any faith," Boykin said.
"I am not anti-Islam or any other religion," he added. "I support the free exercise of all religions. For those who have been offended by my statements, I offer a sincere apology."
NBC News this week broadcast videotapes of Boykin, an evangelical Christian, giving speeches while wearing his army uniform at various Christian functions.
He portrayed the US battle with Islamic radicals as a clash with "Satan," saying they sought to destroy America "because we're a Christian nation."
In one speech, Boykin recalled a Muslim fighter in Somalia who said US forces would never get him because Allah would give him protection. "Well, you know what I knew, that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol," Boykin told his audience.
In his statement, Boykin said his comments about that Muslim fighter "were not referencing his worship of Allah but his worship of money and power; idolatry. He was a corrupt man, not a follower of Islam."
Boykin added: "My references to Judeo-Christian roots in America or our nation as a Christian nation are historically undeniable."
He also said he defends the right of every American to worship "as he or she chooses." He said he was an invited guest speaker at churches.
"I have frequently stated that I do not see this current conflict as a war between Islam and Christianity. I have asked American Christian audiences to realize that even though they cannot be in Iraq or Afghanistan, they can be part of this war by praying for America and its leaders," he said.
Lieberman has called on Bush to condemn Boykin's "hateful remarks."
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