What the Fort Hood Shooting Reveals About Right-Wing Commentary…and Us (Part 2)By Frederik Sisa @ 2:00 PM November 23, 2009
A large problem with media reporting of the Fort Hood shooting has been unreliable information, at least initially. From the death of Maj. Hassan to incorrect statements about cop Kimberley Munney (http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/), who was originally credited with bringing down Hasan until Sergeant Mark Todd’s primary role was revealed, certainty about what happened during the Fort Hood shooting is hard to come by, never mind explanations for why it happened. Patience is a virtue, they say, and so it is for journalists as well as anyone else. We have nothing to gain by rushing to judgment before all the facts are in and much to lose if we act on bad information.
In a piece for Slate.com, Christopher Hitchens doesn’t quite agree. He begins by stating that “the admonition not to rush to judgment or jump to conclusions might sound fair and prudent enough…as long it's borne in mind that such advice is itself a judgment that is more than halfway to a conclusion.” He says that what this “plainly implies in the present case is that the actions of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan should not be assumed in any meaningful way to be related to his Muslim faith.” Although this is the more even-tempered presentation of an argument made by many right-wing commentators, the inference is no less illogical. Just as atheism is not a religion in itself – the absence of a thing is just that, an absence – refusing to hold judgment isn’t really a judgment. Besides, it’s not as if anybody is asking for a permanent suspension of judgment. The point is to be sure of the facts in order to make an informed decision; investigations are a good way to do this, but it means being willing to remain detached, with or without provisionary conclusions, until the evidence compels otherwise.
What Is There to Fear?
So why is this country afraid of waiting for the results of a proper trial before making grand judgments? Methinks confirmation bias is at work here. We don’t definitely know, for example, if Guantanamo detainees are guilty or not because we’re not making a meaningful effort to find out. We just lock them up and throw away due process. Another question is: To what extent, if any, was President Bush’s White House involved in leaking the identity of a covert CIA agent? The almost pathological fear of an investigation, itself perceived as proof of guilt even though we are supposed to assume innocence and determine guilt, denies us credible answers. Blame the GOP, to a large extent, who are eager to investigate presidential sex acts (I suspect conservatives suffer from a distinctly Freudian kind of envy) but obstruct anything that threatens their support of powerful moneyed interests. Also blame the 24/7 entertainment/news complex that fosters instantaneous gratification over thoughtful consideration.
In all fairness to Hitchens, his position really seems to be that enough evidence has already come in for us to reach a conclusion; it’s the refusal to draw conclusions despite the evidence that actually vexes him. That may even, to some extent, be the position of Krauthammer and Prager although it’s not clear that it is. Personally, I’m not entirely convinced by the quality and quantity of information so far. I’m content to wait for Maj. Hasan’s trial.
Nevertheless, the general point of Hitchens’ piece is to decry reflexive accusations of Islamophobia towards anyone who questions Islam, which is fair enough, and he (reasonably) supports his view of a Muslim connection through seven salient “facts” about Maj. Hasan – including a history of Islamic proselytizing, “SOA” (Soldier of Allah) on his business card, communications with a “radical Imam”, and so on. They are indeed evidence that the Major’s faith played a role in his evil act – if confirmed. But other than highlighting all the missed signs and red flags that something was seriously wrong with Maj. Hasan, this is ultimately no unique insight: everybody’s religion, or secular ethics, influences their behaviour. Certainly former President George W. Bush and members of his administration invoked Christian beliefs when determining the course of U.S. foreign policy. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/).
So what is the difference between Hitchens and commentators like Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (http://billoreilly.com/), who went on the Factor to denounce Hasan as an Islamist terrorist? The difference is that in the context of his work, Hitchens is not singularly focused on Islam. As an atheist, he is critical of all religions. Everyone else, however, proves the adage that everyone is an atheist…when it comes to other people’s religion. For example, did anyone specifically refer to Bernie Madoff as a “Jewish” con man for perpetrating history’s biggest Ponzi scheme? Have the actions of Israelis towards Palestinians prompted an examination of Judaism? Has Catholicism been invalidated by the abuses of pedophilic priests? Has Christianity been subjected to interrogation for acts of abortion-related terrorism?
Muslim Terrorist or Terrorist Muslim?
In the end, the right-wing reaction to the media’s caution in bandying the word “Muslim” seems rooted in a view that it’s not Christianity or Judaism that is to blame for their flaws, merely faulty interpretations by fanatical individuals. Yet from insisting that President Obama is Muslim or insisting on a specifically Muslim motivation for Maj. Hasan, it’s clear that Islam isn’t subject to similarly charitable exemptions. Islamophobia. Treating Maj. Hasan as a Muslim terrorist instead of a criminal (or terrorist) who happens to be Muslim assumes a link between Islam and terrorism that is not only unfair to Muslims who aren’t violent, but completely disregards the complex psycho-social-political nature of crime and terrorism.
I’m not saying Islam in general shouldn’t be subject to critical study. I’m with Hitchens; it should. As a belief system, it’s just as problematic as Christianity, Judaism, or anything else. In the end, however, our criticism should be tempered by the fact that however much our ideologies shape us, we also shape our ideologies. The fact that there are millions of believers sharing similar beliefs yet with radically different behaviours — some good, some bad — points to the fact that we use religion and other ideologies to rationalize our actions even more than we adjust our actions to fit into our ideology. Before thinking we know everything there is to know about the Fort Hood massacre or the man who committed the atrocity, perhaps we should check our assumptions first.
Frédérik invites you to discuss this week’s column at his blog, www.inkandashes.net