Seventy-one years ago, almost to the very day, a member of a religious minority fatally shot a government official – an act by a troubled individual that was seized upon by hateful minds to set off an orgy of blood and destruction against his co-religionists.
While the Ft. Hood shootings will not spark a rerun of Kristallnacht – the anti-semitic pogrom launched by the Nazis after 17-year-old Herschel Grynszpan shot German diplomat Ernst Vom Rath in Paris on Nov. 7, 1938, in retaliation for Nazi depradations against the Jews – the upswelling of racial, ethnic and religious hatred against Muslims and Arabs we will now see in many quarters will ring with ugly echoes.
The entire lexicon of Islamophobia is already filled to bursting with Nazi tropes – "the enemy within," the dark, monolithic mass of "prodigious breeders" threatening to overwhelm Western Civilization, the "maniacal extremists" who will not rest until they destroy the sacred Homeland, the sinister, secret worldwide conspiracy which bribes and suborns Western leaders into doing its bidding, etc. etc. This sinister discourse is accepted, and used, among the highest circles of power – senators, representatives, "serious" commentators, academics, think-tank apparatchiks. And all of this is being constantly regurgitated even while the armed forces and covert operators of the United States are in the midst of an apparently endless campaign of death and violence that has killed, so far, well in excess of a million innocent people – the vast majority of them Muslims, or of Muslim heritage – while planting great, bristling fortresses of domination and excess in the midst of wretchedly poor lands.
In this too, our modern Islamophobes mimic their German forbears. It was the Nazis who held – and exercised – violent, overwhelming sway over the Jews within their reach, even as they bleated constantly about the "Jewish threat" to "destroy the German people." Perhaps many of them, at some level, believed this fantastical projection of their own murderous desires and unquenchable anxieties; certainly, we know that top Nazis like Hitler and Himmler "justified" their extermination programs as "pre-emptive defense" against an existential threat from the "Judeo-Bolshevik" conspiracy. (For in this disordered mindset, every Jew was considered a Bolshevik -- and even rich, capitalist Jews were seen as part of the same overarching conspiracy -- just as our Islamophobes consider every Muslim a terrorist or an extremist.) In a similar manner, all of our Terror Warriors – not just the strident Islamophobes, but the entire bipartisan political establishment, including the "progressive" president – paint the "Long War" as a strictly defensive measure against dark forces who irrationally "hate us for our freedoms" and seek to "destroy our way of life."
Comparisons are not equivalencies, and history does not repeat itself -- but it often rings with disturbing assonances.
At this stage, with so much about the Ft. Hood case still unknown, there is little point in commenting on the substance of the case. But all kinds of rumors and conjectures and second-hand reports about the alleged shooter are richoceting around the media echo chamber.
For example, the New York Times, the nation's most "serious" newspaper, filled some of its early reports with pro-terrorist comments culled from the internet, left there by people who have the same or similar names as the accused. (This just days after the media had been burned by numerous "false positives" in the White House guest list.) The fact that it is unlikely that an Army officer on active duty would post such comments in his own name was obviously no bar to getting the most the most inflammatory factoids into circulation as soon as possible.
This might be considered irresponsible, if it didn't come from a paper that has been instrumental in selling the Terror War, with its ever-mounting toll of civilians deaths (three more children, and other civilians working in a field, were killed by a NATO missile on the same day of the Ft. Hood shooting), and all the despair and suffering and hatred it is engendering. In any case, at this point, I think the only relevant thing one can say about this particular case appeared on the website of the Iraq Veterans Against the War on Thursday: "The shootings that happened today are a tragic reminder of the hidden costs of war."
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UPDATE: Playwright Wajahat Ali has some pertinent observations in the Guardian:
...Sadly, although yesterday's violent outburst against fellow soldiers was the most deadly in US history, it was not the first of its kind. In May this year, five soldiers were shot dead at Camp Liberty in Baghdad by Sergeant John Russell. In February 2008, an Air Force sergeant diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon returning from Iraq fatally shot his son and daughter after a domestic argument with his ex-wife. Religion was not the common link between these soldiers; it was mental instability. Even if such individuals purported to be religious, their wanton acts of barbarism reflect rather their tenuous grasp on sanity.
A cousin of Hasan, interviewed by reporters, has suggested an alternative motivation, not necessarily influenced by religious conviction. "He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy," said Nader Hasan. "He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there [in Iraq and Afghanistan]."... Hasan's aunt told the Washington Post that her nephew had consulted an attorney to see if he could leave the army before his contract expired due to harassment he had received from colleagues because he was Muslim.
Whatever the FBI investigation and any subsequent prosecution following the terrible shootings at Fort Hood may finally reveal, incidents such as these warrant a re-examination of how to treat and discharge or excuse those soldiers who are troubled or conflicted psychologically, politically or religiously over our foreign policy and, in particular, the current war in Afghanistan and occupation of Iraq.
No mere factual, evidential explanation could ever justify or excuse in any way Hasan's alleged actions. But it ought to broaden the horizon of those in the media who seem infatuated with the need to pin the blame for this perverse tragedy solely on a man's religious faith and Arabic last name, rather than exploring the possibility of a more complicated truth involving some combination of mental state, divided loyalty or conscientious objection.
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This story was published in the Baltimore Chronicle on November 6, 2009.