I am delighted to see a pungent exchange between Robert Wright in the New York Times and Christopher Hitchens in Slate. (It’s about a week old, but I’m just back). Wright explicitly blames American belligerence against Islam as the force producing the Fort Hood shooting spree by Major Nidal Hasan.
The title of Wright’s piece is “Who created Major Hasan?”, and of course the answer is “America!”
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. And Fort Hood is the biggest data point we have — the most lethal Islamist terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. It’s only one piece of evidence, but it’s a salient piece, and it supports the liberal, not the conservative, war-on-terrorism paradigm. . .
That’s a reminder that, 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.
This is all part and parcel of Wright’s apparent bid for the Templeton Prize, most recently displayed in The Evolution of God.
Well, I’m not in favor of stereotyping individual Muslims, but as for Islam, well, it does seem to be an intrinsically belligerent religion. Read the Qur’an — you’ll find plenty of belligerence there. And if you object that the Old Testament is belligerent, too, look then all the imams calling for jihad. And how many Muslims stood up to protest the widespread jubilation in the Middle East that ensued after 9/11, or stood up to defend the right of Danish newspapers to publish cartoons mocking Mohamed?
Nor was I in favor of invading Iraq — here I differ from Hitchens — and now it looks as if we’ve been stalemated in a Vietnam-like situation in Afghanistan. We should simply get out, because we won’t — and can’t — win. But regardless, Hitchens is on the mark when he goes after Wright:
Very well, then; the case for Maj. Hasan the overburdened caseworker seems to have evaporated. Robert Wright, among others, is big enough to admit as much. Wright, now emerging as the leading liberal apologist for the faith-based (see his intriguing new book The Evolution of God), now proposes an alternative theory of Maj. Hasan’s eagerness to commit mass murder. “The Fort Hood shooting,” says Wright, “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.” I know that contributors to the New York Times op-ed page are not necessarily responsible for the headlines that appear over their work, but the title of this one—”Who Created Major Hasan?”—really does demand an answer, and the only one to be located anywhere in the ensuing text is “We did.”
Everything in me revolts at this conclusion, which is echoed and underlined in another paragraph of the article. Why, six months ago, did “a 24-year-old-American named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad—Carlos Bledsoe before his teenage conversion to Islam—fatally shoot a soldier outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark.? ABC News reported, “It was not known what path Muhammad … had followed to radicalization.” Well, here’s a clue: After being arrested he started babbling to the police about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Wright describes this clue-based deduction of his as an illustration of the way that “an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope.” Though I can’t find much beauty in his prose there, I want to agree with him.
For a start, did Hasan or Muhammad ever say what “killing” of which “Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan” they had in mind? There isn’t a day goes by without the brutal slaughter of Muslims in both countries by al-Qaida or the Taliban. And that’s not just because most (though not all) civilians in both countries happen to be of the Islamic faith. The terrorists do not pause before deliberately blowing up the mosques and religious processions of those whose Muslim beliefs they deem insufficiently devout. Most of those now being tortured and raped and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran are Muslim. All the women being scarred with acid and threatened with murder for the crime of going to school in Pakistan are Muslim. Many of those killed in London, Madrid, and New York were Muslim, and almost all the victims callously destroyed in similar atrocities in Istanbul, Cairo, Casablanca, and Algiers in the recent past were Muslim, too. It takes a true intellectual to survey this appalling picture and to say, as Wright does, that we invite attacks on our off-duty soldiers because “the hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy—a global anti-jihad that creates nonstop imagery of Americans killing Muslims—is so dubious.” Dubious? The only thing dubious here is his command of language. When did the U.S. Army ever do what the jihadists do every day: deliberately murder Muslim civilians and brag on video about the fact? For shame. The slippery slope—actually the slimy slope—is the one down which Wright is skidding.
It is he, who I am taking as representative of a larger mentality here, who uses equally inert lingo to suggest that Maj. Hasan was “pushed over the edge by his perception of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.” That’s a nice and shady use of the word “perception.” Might it not be equally true to say that Hasan was all-too-easily pulled over the edge, having already signaled his devout eagerness for the dive, by a cleric who makes a living by justifying murder of Muslims and non-Muslims alike?
etc. Do read both pieces.
What’s with The New York Times lately? Accommodationism there is rampant, particularly in the op-ed section, where Nicholas Kristof published a mushbrained piece praising (God help me) Karen Armstrong and Robert Wright’s books, and criticizing atheism as “irreligious intolerance.” It’s almost as if the paper made a calculated decision to coddle religion, for that’s what their readers want.
UPDATE: Thomas Friedman has a piece in today’s New York Times placing the blame more properly where it lies.