Thursday, November 19, 2009

Lessons from Ft. Hood?

Allow me a respectful dissent from Jeff's take on some of the various reactions (specifically, those of Andrew Sullivan and Jeffrey Goldberg) to the shooting at Ft. Hood.

Jeff writes:
Both Goldberg and Sullivan effectively call for investigations into American Arabs/Muslims, particularly those in the military. Right, good idea: let’s alienate the few Arabs/Muslims who love their country – in spite of their country’s and fellow soldiers’ prejudices against them, drawn out by incidents like the Fort Hood massacre – enough to die for it.

Fort Hood was incredibly tragic, and incredibly sad. Did Major Hasan scream Allahu Akbar? It does not matter. He may have believed himself to be religiously motivated, he may have had ties to radicalizing Imams, but at the end of the day — he was clearly disturbed. Indeed, the military and society as a whole should watch out for people who gave warning signs of mental instability — but not warning signs based on their religious or ethnic identity, which is what Goldberg and Sullivan are demanding.

This characterization conflates the reactions of Goldberg and Sullivan, which were actually quite different. In fact, Sullivan wrote the following about the shooting on November 6:

It's a tragic massacre in the first place. It will doubtless increase suspicion of Muslim servicemembers, which in turn propels more religious polarization, which makes winning this war harder still. You can instantly see how the Malkins will spin this, and how a war on American Muslims can get jump-started in America.

And he posed the following questions about reactions to the shooting the same day:

[Should we] Screen all potential Muslim soldiers in [the] future? Have special surveillance of such soldiers? It's easy to see how this might make matters worse just as it might make them better. Michelle Malkin, remember, favored interning Japanese-Americans during the Second World War. Is that what the anti-Jihadists now want for American Muslims? Or what, exactly?

Denial of these Islamist currents, even within the military, is dangerous and foolish. But equally, over-reacting to them is dangerous and foolish.

Sullivan's statements don't quite add up to "effectively call[ing] for investigations into American Arabs/Muslims, particularly those in the military." Granted, he did write that "if political correctness is preventing this vigilance, it needs to be pushed back, and hard," but that's a qualified statement, and in any case it seems pretty self-evident. If warning signs were ignored because no one wanted to cause offense, that's obviously unacceptable. (For the record, I think it's extremely unlikely that that will prove to be the case, and some of the people making this claim are just taking potshots at liberals.) But Sullivan made the suggestion in a qualified way, and explicitly rejected the "ROOT OUT THE MUSLIMS!" sentiment that undergirded a disturbing amount of conservative reaction.

Goldberg, for his part, wrote:

But I do think that elite makers of opinion in this country try very hard to ignore the larger meaning of violent acts when they happen to be perpetrated by Muslims. Here's a simple test: If Nidal Malik Hasan had been a devout Christian with pronounced anti-abortion views, and had he attacked, say, a Planned Parenthood office, would his religion have been considered relevant as we tried to understand the motivation and meaning of the attack? Of course.
I think he's wrong - aside from the usual suspects who jumped to conclusions within minutes of the news, there were quite a few people who considered that radical Islam could have something to do with this. But they recognized that a hotheaded reaction could provoke violence against a vulnerable minority group, so they withheld judgment. That's the obvious point that Goldberg misses: the situation with regard to American Muslims and radicals among them is much more tense than the situation with regard to American Christians and the radicals among them. No one is "ignoring" the meaning of this - we'd just like to know what that meaning is before putting American Muslims at risk for the sake of making political hay.

So obviously, I'm far less inclined to support Goldberg's writings on the matter - I just wanted to make the point that their reactions were not the same. And to the extent that either of them call for investigations, Goldberg is much closer to that position, but he never actually advocates for such a thing. In fact, he says (regarding the case of Jonathan Pollard, an Israeli spy) that the witch-hunts and profiling against Jews after Pollard's arrest were wrong - but that the FBI should not have subsequently ignored suspicious activity by American Jews for fear of causing offense by seeming to profile them. The point is reasonable: if there is one spy, or terrorist, or whatever, that has infiltrated an organization, it is reasonable to assume (from a security perspective) that there could be others. This does not excuse profiling and witch-hunts. But it does mean that worries about political correctness should not override real security concerns. (In any case, as I said, I doubt political correctness had anything to do with the inaction on Hasan's case, so this is probably a moot point.) And I do agree with the argument that Jeff cites from Marc Lynch - that we have to combat a "clash of civilizations" narrative from emerging.

The reason I'm hesitant to judge either way is simple: the investigation is still ongoing. In the meantime, the wisest course is to withhold judgment about what this means until we know why Hasan did the things he allegedly did. Declaring that we understand what this means before we have all the facts in front of us is premature and potentially dangerous.

1 comment:

bloghaddad said...

In the end, regardless of what the investigation turns up about Hasan's ties to radical Islam, the issue of his religion is only relative to the particular situation at Fort Hood and not to the overall problems within the military which created the conditions for the shooting. Quite simply put, the big problem that needs to be investigated is how the military engages its members with mental illness. That is the great failure here, and it is a great failure that is affecting not just the people at Fort Hood, but all of society - as anyone who has had to live with PTSD, or had a best friend's mental stability compromised forever, can attest. Until the military comes to terms with this gigantic skeleton in its closet, this tragedy, in some form or another, is going to keep playing out.