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.
Gene Schulman says
Richard, do not let Robert Wright’s evolutionary psychology approach to Hassan’s problem influence you. Genes and/or memes are not the problem. America’s imperialism and lack of regard for any basic humanity in its relations with other peoples is the problem. I can see not only muslims flipping their wigs. Some secular Jews could just as easily go nuts and shoot up a synagogue or two because of the Lobby’s influence on US foreign policy. Was Timothy Veigh a muslim? Wright is wrong, and from the tone of his article in today’s NYT, he is a racist, too.
I agree with Gene. The US has created the terrorist myth and has exploited Muslims in order to do it. To continue to focus on Islam, whether it is “extremist” or not, is to ignore all the other factors that are actually the root cause of such behavior. Most of these factors are political and have nothing to do with Islam. Thus, “coddling Islam” is not the answer to the problem.
In Hasan’s case, he acted out extreme mental disturbance that he channeled through his religion, although his religion, Islam, was not the cause of his behavior, and by continuing to make inferences to the effect that he was in any way a “jihadist” (and I hate that word, it is nonsensical) is wrongheaded and dangerous. Muslims can go nuts just like anyone else, and the Hasan case is being made into a complicated mishmash of political and religious hooey that completely ignores the basic fact that Hasan had mental issues and one day went berserk.
It is America’s need to create and exploit “Muslim terror” in order to avoid facing its imperialistic, hegemonic policies that has created the Hasans and the bin Ladens, so that the US can give itself a green light to continue its aggression against countries whose cultures it does not care to respect or understand.
No, Islam is not a belligerent religion, but the US is continuing to sell the message to the American people that yes, it is belligerent, because it serves a propaganda purpose. Would the American people tolerate an eight-year military occupation and war taking place in, say, a Roman Catholic country or, God forbid, a Jewish country? It’s so easy to attack “Muslim countries” if you convince the people that Muslims are violent lunatics.
Daniel O'Leary says
Check out these links about the Fort Hood Shootings at Tikkun Daily: http://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2009/11/10/open-religious-discourse-can-prevent-a-future-fort-hood/
yaacov lozowick says
Most of history’s multitudes of political murderers have been cold-blooded, calculating cynics. Few of them were deranged. Why is it that you and your readers feel the murderers of Americans must be so uniquely deluded, mentally deranged or otherwise not capable of calmly deciding they wish to kill? Is there something so supremely wonderful about Americans, that makes it impossible for anyone to wish them dead, unless thekillers first have their minds addled?
Mary: Jihad is one of the most important commandments in Islam. Of course it can be cast to mean various things, but the one whereby Muslims kill non-Muslims for being not Muslims is as old as the Muslim religion. You may not like this, but it’s not non-sensical. You ought to read up a bit on the history of Islam.
Yaacov, don’t start that didactic about Islam with me. I know plenty about the history of Islam; in fact, I am a Muslim.
If you knew anything about Islam, you would know what the word “jihad” means, and no, it does not mean “Muslims kill non-Muslims for not being Muslims.”
America has more mass murderers and serial killers than any other place on earth, by the way. We tend not to delude ourselves about that.
True, and I suppose you’ll have to include in that category Israel’s assassinations of Palestinian, Lebanese, and other Arab militants. Those are nothing if not political murders, executed in cold blood, as you say.
But in this context it’s a non-sequitur nevertheless because 1) it’s far from clear Hassan going postal was political murder any more than postal workers doing the same and 2) (and here I disagree with Richard) it seems clear that Hassan’s rampage was done in anything but “cold blood” – because of the very nature of the crime, not because the victims were American.
Richard Silverstein says
You’ve examined history’s multitudes of political murders to know this to be true? What I don’t understand is why you deliberately overstate yr case to the pt of caricature. If you exercised a bit of restraint yr claims might actually appear somewhat credible. But you show yr true colors in exaggerating & chewing the scenery. Naveed Haq, the Seattle federation attacker is certifiably loony & was under a dr’s care for 10 yrs. Hassan is clearly mentally ill whether or not it was diagnosed.
I know where you live it’s considered normal to hate those of other ethnic groups so intensely that you not only wish to, but actually do kill them. But here, it’s considered aberrant behavior and we do actually consider whether the killer might be mentally ill.
You’re telling a Mulim to read up on the history of Islam?!! Really. How would you react if a Muslim told you you were so ignorant of Judaism that you should read up on its history? I have a rule. You don’t attack someone else’s understanding of their own religion unless you have really, really good reason to doubt their knowledge of their own religion. Short of that you’re only making an ass of yrself. If the shoe fits, Yaakov, wear it. You’ve proven yrself to be a right ass.
You don’t know squat about Islam except what you read from Emerson, Spencer, Pipes & the other inflamed anti-jihadis. And while you’re at it, will you enlighten us about the Israelite wars of conquest & do tell us about all the ancient tribes we Israelites exterminated on OUR way to dominating the Holy Land. I’d like to hear about Bibilical ethnic cleansing from you.
Historians are divided on whether the Biblical tales of Israelite wars of conquest are literal or whether the Israelites integrated into Canaanite culture, either gradually or in steps, and eventually Israelite culture and religion became dominant. Conquest does make for a much more thrilling narrative than slow cultural change, and it would serve the purpose of a religious text by making the Israelites seem even more favored by God, but its actual historical veracity is doubtful.
Or are we allowed to take the Bible literally now? Because where I come from, that makes you look quite silly.
Richard Silverstein says
First you say that historians are “divided.” Later you say the historical veracity is “doubtful.” Those are two diff. things. Or are you sufficiently expert in Bibilical history that you’re equipped to judge this issue for us?
Unless someone presents a convincing case to me that a text which purports to portray historic events is self-serving and deliberately false, then I’ll stick with Bibilical history as I was taught at Jewish Theological Seminary and the Hebrew University, and consider the story to have some verisimilitude to actual events.
Those really aren’t two different things. If some historians say that the Bible is an accurate historical record, and some historians say that it isn’t, then that casts doubt on the historical accuracy of the Bible–that is, that accuracy is “doubtful.”
I couldn’t tell you why the Bible represents a slow cultural change in Biblical Eretz Yisrael as an invasion, but I can tell you there is ample archaeological evidence that supports the idea that the invasion never happened.
Richard Silverstein says
Nuts to that. When some say something is true and some say it is false that means the matter is in dispute. Not that the issue of the truthfulness of the thing is “doubtful.”
And I can tell you the moon is made of green cheese. That doesn’t mean it’s so nor does it mean that anything you say here is true unless you can support an as yet unsupported claim. If your claim is as dubious as your command or rhetoric and language represented above then your case will leave quite a bit to be desired.
I am rather perplexed that yaacov has never bothered to travel outside his little cubicle of life and learn about the Arab culture that surrounds him, and particularly to learn from reputable sources about Islam. Actually, I prefer to think he is uneducated rather than obstinately clinging to prejudices that are so poisonous and are such an obstacle to knowledge.
I ran across a rather excellent essay the other day and would like to share it:
Megat S. Merican says
Thank you for the link. Very well written article by Sheila Musaji.
As a child who grew up in Miami, Florida from 1972 -1976, life was relatively peaceful for a Muslim family like mine as the US then was very much into the Cold War era with the now defunct USSR and her preoccupation against anything resembling communism.
In turn, Islam and her followers during that period, were not really a cause for concern for anyone in the US.
With old enemies gone, we now appear to be that replacement bogeymen but InsyaAllah (God willing) through helpful forums such as Richard’s, that unkind and unfair labelling can be stopped.
For the demonization of Islam to end, US policy is going to have to change. First, there must be a peaceful settlement of the Israel/Palestine conflict; the occupation must end and the Palestinians must have their independence. This is the fulcrum upon which all the middle east is balanced, and the root of the issues giving birth to religious extremism in that part of the world. Feeding the root is the “war on terror,” George Bush’s harebrained idea to run around the middle east killing Muslims by using the US military, believing that doing so will eradicate extremism. Unfortunately, not only is it not working, it is producing more extremism.
I have actually had a Jew tell me that we Muslims are the new Jews; we are at risk of widespread maltreatment and persecution if the government-supported pillorying of Islam does not stop.
“Jihad is one of the most important commandments in Islam.”
Another self-proclaimed Islamic scholar heard from. And where did you get YOUR expertise on Islam, the University of Jihadwatch.com, perhaps, or maybe Little Green Footballs? It must one of those sources if you think that Jihad in any form or context means Muslims killing non-Muslims for being not Muslims. Jihad does not and never has meant anything remotely like that. In fact, the religion most known for that sort of behaviour has never been Islam. Christianity, on the other hand, has a rich history of Christians killing non-Christians for being not Christian. Both Jews and Muslims have had a lot of experience with that.
And it is you who ought to read up a bit on the history of Islam from sources other than your favourite anti-Islam websites.
Shirin, while I agree with you over the history, I’m not sure how effective the divisive language is to the current reality of the Israeli-Palestinian situation , i.e., pitting Christianity against Judaism and Islam like that (although your point is historically correct).
Part of the problem in religiously observant America is that the gentile Christian majority tends to get guilt-tripped a fair amount over precisely the history you’re talking about, in terms of Christians’ historic relationship with Jews, and the Israel lobby capitalizes on this in an extortive way to pressure support for Israel among American Christians. So, I’d argue that the issue of white gentile Christian guilt for all the woes of European and American history feeds into this debate in an unhealthy, counterproductive way.
What we need to do is show how these groups in fact have a lot of common ground, and work toward mutual understanding. A lot of Americans don’t even realize how many Palestinian and Lebanese Christians there are (not that American Christians should care about them more than Muslims, atheists or any other group…)
Sorry, Warren, but I am not here to pussy foot around reality, and you will pardon me if I lack sympathy for poor, put-upon European Christians in the U.S. As I see it it is long past time they showed some of that humility their Jesus preached, and owned up to Western Christianity’s history of murderous bigotry and racism, not just toward Jews, but toward Muslims as well. If they did that they might just have to think twice before going on and on about how evil Islam is.
As for their not realizing how many Palestinian and Lebanese Christians there are (not to mention Syrian, Iraqi, Egyptian, Irani, etc., etc., etc.), shall we talk also about the amount of non-European Christian blood European Christianity has shed in its history, as in “kill them all and let God sort them out”? So, you think they give a damn whether an Ayrab is a Christian or not? But then, European Christians have not exactly been easy on other European Christians, have they? In fact, white European Christians have mass murdered many times more Christians than anyone else.
Oh, no, I think it would do American white Christians a world of good to finally have to face up to their religion’s horrifically violent past – not to mention its horrifically violent present.
Richard Silverstein says
Shirin, no apologies necessary, it’s unfortunate that you took my comment in the vein that you did, but I suppose I could’ve expressed myself better. I’m glad that you don’t wish to “pussy-foot around reality”, as I myself am averse to pussy-footing, particularly around reality. I agree with you that “European Christians in the U.S.” should own up to “Western Christianity’s history of murderous bigotry and racism”. I wholeheartedly support that sentiment and think there’s generally not enough facing up to our crimes, historical and present-day, in the U.S.
In the historical frame, this is particularly true when it comes to Western European and American genocide against the indigenous inhabitants of the ‘New’ World, but one could point to many things past and present. As a former student of European history, I’ve dwelt long and hard on the myriad crimes and horrors perpetrated by ‘white gentile Christians’ (those last three identity tags being ones that I sadly fall under) over many centuries. It is very important to face up to this stuff, in fact, on a personal note, when I first studied the Holocaust, it actually really overwhelmed and weighed very (debilitatingly) heavily on me for quite awhile, and this as an American for something that happened on a whole other continent!
My point was really more specific about American foreign policy in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian issue (going back several decades and more, now), and how this plays out internally, domestically in the U.S. in terms of the molding of, and acquiescence, in said policies. Part of the broader popular American acquiescence in and silence on our absolutely brutal, devastating Israel policy and Mid-East policy isn’t just about $$, it’s about cultural framing and the predominant discourse and narrative in this country. When it comes to the Levant, the Jewish narrative is overwhelmingly powerful and dominant in the U.S. Part of this narrative very much plays on and manipulates a sense of white gentile Christian guilt over the Holocaust and centuries of European persecution of Jews to lock in unquestioning support for Israel. That’s just part of the cultural dynamic at play in America, I’m not saying that people shouldn’t stand up to it, or that it’s right. And yes, some Christian support for Israel is purely ideological, particularly among the higher-ups, conservative evangelicals and the right-wing nutjobs, but among the broader population, it’s more about the dominant cultural narrative of perpetual & intrinsic Jewish victimhood that courses through a lot of American media, and this is then turned around and used in a morally extortionary way when it comes to the subject of Israel.
If this cultural dynamic and discourse can be successfully countered, I think it could ultimately help turn the boat around on American policies that are so destructive toward Palestinians and other Arab peoples. If this domestic American issue is uninteresting and uncompelling to you, so be it, I certainly don’t ask for or expect you to be impressed by the rather pathetic, debilitated nature of American cultural discourse. But I think it’s important as it ultimately helps lead to bombs falling on the Palestinians and other Arab nations.
And of course ‘Western’ Christians should face up to their abysmal historical and present day interactions with Muslims and the religion of Islam, just as they should (and to a much larger degree have) with Jews. I’m already on record in this blog condemning prejudice and hostility against Islam and Muslims in my country, I think it’s abhorrent.
yaacov lozowick says
In my relevant book I’m on the record as taking a position quite close to that of Bryan here.
Have I studied murderers throughout history? Actually, yes, I have. I know, it’s a sort of ghoulish line of study, but it’s of central importance to the story of Man. And of course, it’s not the only thing I study – that would be unpleasant.
I admit to never having read Emerson or Spencer, and Pipes very little. Those aren’t my sources. In general, Richard, since we don’t know each other personally, may I respectfully suggest you desist from telling me what I know and what I don’t?
Mary is a Muslim, and thus knows all about Islam? That would be an affront to Islam, if an individual could know “all about it” in less than a lifetime of study. Yet the statement is problematic also because it assumes that one’s identity trumps one’s ability to learn. If Mary is a Muslim she must know more than I?
On second thought, may I embrace that line of reasoning? I’m an Israeli, so I must know more than all the rest of you about things Israeli; indeed, to quote Richard: You dare tell an Israeli about his country?
Let’s agree, if possible, that knowledge is universal, and can be known by all thinking people. Often it requires knowledge of languages (Hebrew and Arabic would come in useful here); sometimes it requires cultural conditioning that takes years to acquire; but ultimately, human knowledge can be acquired, if you work hard enough and are intellectually honest enough.
Uneducated speculation, on the other hand, is simply that. it’s not knowledge, and it’s certainly not likely to be true.
Richard Silverstein says
You may as soon as you stop telling my Muslim readers that they don’t know jacks(&t about their own tradition. Is it a deal?
What sanctimonious crap. Mary knows a damn sight more about Islam than you & you have no right to give her lectures on her own tradition. Period. Or perhaps you’d like to compare where yr knowledge comes fr. to where hers comes from. And don’t offer a litany of anti-jihad propaganda tracts. Tell us the courses, primary texts and teachers you’ve studied with.
Based on the feeble knowlege of Islam that you display here, yes.
See, now here you’ve got a problem. Israel and Israelis seem to want the support and engagement of Diaspora Jewry when it’s convenient to them. When we Jews do what you want then you love to have our money and our political clout. Then you spout kol yisrael arevim zeh ba’zeh. But when our ideas about Israel turn against you then you pull out that “how dare you tell us what to do” card.
Given the inconsistency I think I’ll continue calling ’em as I see ’em regarding Israel.
Indeed that’s very true. So work harder and think deeper than you have and eventually you might not make a mockery w. yr claims about what Islam is and isn’t.
I do not profess to know “all about Islam” but one of my teachers holds a doctorate in Islamic studies I assume that you, on the other hand, do not.
I can tell you that there is no “commandment in Islam” regarding jihad. Tell me, what is your definition of jihad? Do you know there is both the greater and the lesser jihad, and do you know what they are?
You don’t even realize how laughable it is to assert that Muslims are “commanded” to kill non-Muslims. If that were so, 1.5 billion Muslims would not be existing peacefully on this planet. And even in the US, the 5 to 8 million would not be striving to overcome cultural and religious differences in their communities to live as good neighbors and citizens.
I must insist that you stop insulting my religion. I don’t care where you claim to have learned about Islam; you are grossly misinformed. That’s bound to happen when you visit websites such as thereligionofpeace.com and jihadwatch.