In a N.Y. Times op-ed, Robert Wright, portrays the Ft. Hood attack from quite an interesting perspective that is different from what mine has been. I’ve argued that while Hassan clearly had Islamist sympathies, his crime was more the fruit of deep mental illness. Wright argues that even if we accept that Nidal Hassan’s assault was motivated more by motives of Islamist terror than by mental illness, that is all the more reason to declare the current U.S. approach to fighting terror an abject failure:
In the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and the Fort Hood massacre, the verdict has come in. The liberal news media have been found guilty — by the conservative news media — of coddling Major Hasan’s religion, Islam.
The good news for [the conservative media] is that there is truth in their indictment. The bad news is that their case against the left-wing news media is the case against right-wing foreign policy. Seeing the Fort Hood shooting as an act of Islamist terrorism is the first step toward seeing how misguided a hawkish approach to fighting terrorism has been.
…Dovish liberals have warned…that killing terrorists is counterproductive if in the process you create even more terrorists; the object of the game isn’t to wipe out every last Islamist radical but rather to contain the virus of Islamist radicalism.
…When American wars kill lots of Muslims, inevitably including some civilians, incendiary images magically find their way to the people who will be most inflamed by them.
This calls into question our nearly obsessive focus on Al Qaeda — the deployment of whole armies to uproot the organization and to finally harpoon America’s white whale, Osama bin Laden. If you’re a Muslim teetering toward radicalism and you have a modem, it doesn’t take Mr. bin Laden to push you over the edge. All it takes is selected battlefield footage and a little ad hoc encouragement: a jihadist chat group here, a radical imam there — whether in your local mosque or on a Web site in your local computer.
Wright continues by applying these ideas specifically to the case of Hassan who, by all accounts, was driven over the edge by the U.S. killing of Muslims in the Middle East and the fact that he was about to be deployed to the war zone to support U.S. soldiers who were doing the killing:
The Fort Hood shooting, then, is an example of Islamist terrorism being spread partly by the war on terrorism — or, actually, by two wars on terrorism, in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Here Wright discusses the issue of how U.S. anti-terror policy can affect the most psychologically vulnerable (or ill) and foment more terror, as in Hassan’s case:
It’s true that Major Hasan was unbalanced and alienated — and, by my lights, crazy. But what kind of people did conservatives think were susceptible to the terrorism meme? Like all viruses, terrorism infects people with low resistance. And surely Major Hasan isn’t the only American Muslim who, for reasons of personal history, has become unbalanced and thus vulnerable. Any religious or ethnic group includes people like that, and the post-9/11 environment hasn’t made it easier for American Muslims to keep their balance. That’s why the hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy — a global anti-jihad that creates nonstop imagery of Americans killing Muslims — is so dubious.
Wright subverts the notion that has underpinned U.S. policy toward Islamic fundamentalism since 9/11–that we must hunt down and eradicate every last vestige of the Talibans and Al Qaedas of the Muslim world in order to vanquish their message. The case of Hassan indicates that not only does this unending war against Al Qaeda, along with the concomitant charges of torture and killing of innocent civilians, transform unstable individuals into cold-blooded killers; the Hassans of the world don’t require any physical base or direct support from Al Qaeda. The information that motivated Hassan didn’t come from a place or training camp or headquarters. There were no orders for him to act delivered from an external source. If you eradicate all the Taliban/Al Qaeda hideouts on the Afghan-Pakistani frontier you won’t stop the Hassans of the world. On the contrary, you will create more of them.
In support of this, Wright warns of a likely increase in homegrown–as opposed to external Al Qaeda–terror :
…Contrary to right-wing stereotype, Islam isn’t an intrinsically belligerent religion. Still, this sort of stereotyping won’t go away, and it’s among the factors that could make homegrown terrorism a slowly growing epidemic. The more Americans denigrate Islam and view Muslims in the workplace with suspicion, the more likely the virus is to spread — and each appearance of the virus in turn tempts more people to denigrate Islam and view Muslims with suspicion. Whenever you have a positive feedback system like this, an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.
And in fact, our policy may be the single greatest boost to Osama bin Laden’s message:
Sept. 11, 2001, though a success for Osama bin Laden, was in the scheme of things only a small tactical triumph…Maybe he feels that our descent into the carnage of Iraq and Afghanistan has moved him a bit closer to his goal. But if he succeeds in tearing our country apart along religious and ethnic lines, he will truly be able to declare victory.
Lots of food for thought.