Friday, November 20, 2009

Fort Hood and Complacency

We all remember how a former President failed to respond to the threat of terrorism until after 9/11. Although George Tenet's hair was famous for being on fire the summer of 2001, he failed to gain the attention of either Bush or Condi. There was a complacent attitude then that could not be shaken, even by intelligence briefings warning that bin Laden planned to strike us here, at home.

In some ways, the story of Major Hasan is a very similar example of complacency and inaction -- there were many warning signs of the man's instability, and he himself warned that Muslim soldiers might react violently to the internal conflicts improsed on them by America's wars in Muslim countries. Nobody took any of it seriously.

It is curious, in an America that often demonizes Islam as a religion of hate and violence, that we have been so persistently complacent about the problems that gave rise to Major Hasan's actions. Putting aside the obvious and appropriate questions about his mental health, Hasan's case should raise questions in our minds about the impact of the "long war" on American Muslims.

In our habitual complacency, we assume the mythic benefits of our great melting pot and liberal traditions of tolerance and freedom will ensure that American Muslims could never feel as conflicted about their loyalties as was clearly the case in Hasan's tragic and criminal act.

At the same time, we regularly engage in a public dialogue about Islam that is ignorant, hostile and ultimately alienating to anyone in this country belonging to that faith. "Muslim = Terrorist" is the equation that underlies much of our pop culture -- from right-wing thriller novels to video games to Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity.

We hold quite contradictory views: on the one hand, that Islam justifies and motivates and approves the murderous acts of terrorists; and also that American Muslims, who are well aware of the first view, are nonetheless successfully assimilated, loyal, and extremely unlikely to ever engage in violence against their neighbors. Holding both thoughts at once, we are overwhelmed, and do nothing.

Steven Simon and Jonathan Stevenson have written a thoughtful piece in Foreign Policy that calls for an end to our complacency and mindless passivity. Maybe Fort Hood will cause some of us to refelct on how hard it might be to be a Muslim in America, and to take action to improve the situation, and to react to the risks it presents.

Probably, and most unfortunately, not. Some lessons of 9/11 have yet to be learned.

posted at 10:09:00 AM by Neil

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