What the Fort Hood Shooting Reveals About Right-Wing Commentary…and Us (Part 1)By Frederik Sisa @ 2:00 PM November 16, 2009
So, what are Muslims? The new Jews or Blacks? Just when I hoped that, as a society, we had made progress in overcoming bigotry like anti-Semitism and racism, along come yet more signs that Muslims are the proper, universal subjects of regularly scheduled two-minutes hate. Two minutes, amplified and repeated in the media’s 24/7 echo chamber, leading to the depressing fact that we haven’t even remotely overcome our prejudicial ways of thinking. Major Hasan’s shooting of 13 people at Fort Hood has brought to the surface not only the usual confusion as to how anything like this can happen, but ire directed towards Muslims that is sometimes glaring but more often subtle.
Medicalizing Mass Murder?
Charles Krauthammer, addressing the media’s coverage of Major Nidal Hasan’s rampages, bemoans how offering a medical explanation for Hasan’s violence (in the questionable form of something called “secondary post-traumatic stress disorder”) “turns the murderer into a victim, indeed a sympathetic one.” This seems strange to me. As far as I know, no one is suggesting giving Hasan free airfare to the Caribbean or exonerating him of all charges because he may have suffered injustice at one time or another. He will, instead, be put on trial and may, indeed, face the death penalty. If there is any sympathy, I don’t see any signs that it are affecting the course of justice. Bottom line: Nothing alters the fact that people died as a result of Major Hasan’s cold-blooded killing spree, and justice must deal with actions.
But Mr. Krauthammer reasons incorrectly in equivocating explanation with justification. Explaining why something happens doesn’t logically entail justifying why it happens, nor is it to say that it should happen. Unlike natural phenomena over which we have no control – we can just batten down the hatches and hang on – we can make a difference in people’s lives. There is nothing foolish, then, to make that difference by trying to understand why people like Hasan commit acts of evil. Maybe it’s this weird secondary PTSD. Most likely it’s something else. Maybe he was victimized in some way; that doesn’t change the evil of what he did. However, with the hope of understanding comes the ideal and practice of preventing such acts from occurring in the first place.
If no one is really trying to excuse Hasan, then what is the real issue? Mr. Krauthammer makes it clear that his real objection lies with the alleged washing over of Hasan’s Islamic faith by the tide of political correctness. His final paragraph reads:
“The delicacy about the religion in question — condescending, politically correct and deadly — is nothing new. A week after the first (1993) World Trade Center attack, the…New York Times ran the following front-page headline about the arrest of one Mohammed Salameh: "Jersey City Man Is Charged in Bombing of Trade Center." Ah yes, those Jersey men — so resentful of New York, so prone to violence.”
Never mind that Mohammed Salameh was from Jersey City and that the headline was technically true. The headline is faulty because it fails to read “Muslim is Charged in Bombing of Trade Center,” because it fails to support the implicit conclusion that Muslims, unlike Jersey Men, really are prone to violence. And so it is with Major Hasan, whose Islamic faith is deemed to be under-emphasized. This seems to be a common theme among the right-wing, from Dennis Prager on to Michelle Malkin and our very own Mr. Noonan.
“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.” Thus says Sherlock Holmes to Watson in A Scandal in Bohemia. It’s excellent advice. Yet no sooner had Major Hasan’s name been revealed that, predictably, calls began to label him an Islamic terrorist. Suddenly, the media and President Obama come under criticism for refusing to acknowledge the obvious. But what media are these right-wingers watching? As information became known, the media released it. Name. Religion. The (alleged) fact that Mr. Nadal shouted “Allahu Akbar” before opening fire. Contacts with a radical imam. Inappropriate proselytizing. “Soldier of Allah” on business cards. And so on. None of this information has been concealed; certainly I’ve heard all this without having to make any effort sorting through the news.
But as with the Jersey Man, the reluctance to label the shooting an act of Muslim terrorism is seen as the problem. Here’s Dennis Prager: “One reads and hears with increasing disbelief and anger that we don't know the motive or motives of Nidal Malik Hasan… Any American who is not prepared to lie to himself has reason to believe that Hasan's religious views were prominent, if not exclusive, factors for why he slaughtered fellow American soldiers.” If only I could all share this certainty about human psychology that Mr. Prager et al have – and I actually studied psychology in University. Unfortunately, Mr. Prager goes on to twist himself into pretzel. After making clear that Hasan’s religion has to be accounted for, he then undermines his argument by acknowledging that “It is a given that the vast majority of American Muslims are loyal Americans…It is equally a given that a certain percentage of Muslims in and outside of the military are Islamists who want Americans dead.” So which is it: is Mr. Prager suggesting that Hasan is a psychological aberration whose religious motivations are specific to him? If so, a focus on Islam itself by emphasizing that Mr. Hasan is Muslim makes no sense. Or is Mr. Prager implying that Hasan is a terrorist acting in accordance to Muslim doctrine? If that’s the case, then he certainly is tarring and feathering Islam.
Next week: Putting it all together…and then some.
Frédérik invites you to discuss this week’s column at his blog, www.inkandashes.net