JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The men and women in crisp U.S. military uniforms walked in close formation through the bustling, traffic-choked streets, passing women in full Muslim hijab, sari-clad Indian mothers pushing strollers, worshippers heading to an Egyptian Coptic church, and small shops with signs in Arabic, Hindi, Korean and a dozen other languages.
It wasn’t a tour of duty overseas, but a field trip to Jersey City, just 60 miles down the Hudson River from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
The city of 250,000 is one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse places in America, and the West Point cadets are visiting as part of a class at the academy on peacekeeping and reconstruction called “Winning the Peace.” The class ends in a three-day crash course designed to make the future officers — and, ultimately, the soldiers under their command — more sensitive to cultural differences.
The program is in its eighth year but has taken on new urgency as the Army deals with the fallout from a string of embarrassing episodes in Afghanistan, including reports of U.S. soldiers posing with the bloody remains of suicide bombers, urinating on Afghan corpses and burning Muslim holy books.
WEST POINT, N.Y. — A retired U.S. lieutenant general who made comments denigrating Islam withdrew Monday from speaking at a West Point prayer breakfast after a veterans’ advocacy group asked the Army chief of staff to rescind the invitation.
VoteVets.org told Gen. Raymond Odierno in a letter that allowing retired Lt. Gen. William G. Boykin to speak at the U.S. Military Academy next week would be contrary to Army values and disrespectful to Muslim cadets.
Late Monday afternoon, West Point issued a brief statement saying Boykin had decided to withdraw speaking at the Feb. 8 event and that another speaker would be lined up in his place.
Boykin, a former senior military intelligence officer, had been criticized for speeches he made at evangelical Christian churches beginning in January 2002. He said that America’s enemy was Satan, that God had put President George W. Bush in the White House and that one Muslim Somali warlord was an idol-worshipper.
In a statement issued earlier Monday, Reed noted that Christian, Jewish and Muslim cadets would be participating in the prayer breakfast, and she had expressed confidence that Boykin’s speech would “be in keeping with the broad range of ideas normally considered by our cadets.”
Boykin has continued to attract controversy since his retirement. The Council on American-Islamic Relations and People for the American Way had asked officials in Ocean City, Md., to rescind an invitation to speak at a prayer breakfast last week. Boykin attended and spoke about his faith.
Two months after Wired’s Danger Room blog first reported that a trainer at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., told agents that “mainstream” Muslims are likely to be “violent” terrorist sympathizers, Danger Room has found that the FBI is asking the Army for help in fixing its counterterrorism training.
“The FBI is calling in the cavalry,” Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman writes. It “represents a frank admission from the FBI that it requires outside help to reform.”
After the news of the Quantico trainer first came out, the FBI said the incident was an isolated one. Employing the Army’s Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to help look over their training materials, however, suggests a wider concern. An FBI official has also told Talking Points Memo that the Army’s role in the review is “overstated.” While confirming that the numbers about the review were correct, the FBI said a statement that a “core review team included FBI and non-FBI personnel with academic training in areas of Islamic studies and Arab history” which “established guidelines to provide concrete enterprise-wide guidance on the training of counterterrorism and countering violent extremism topics.”