Tuesday, November 17, 2009
War on Moral ClarityChristopher Hitchens starts an essay at Slate as follows:
The admonition not to rush to judgment or jump to conclusions might sound fair and prudent enough, perhaps even statesmanlike when uttered by the president, as long it's borne in mind that such advice is itself a judgment that is more than halfway to a conclusion. What it 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.Thus defined, the debate about whether Major Hasan is a terrorist in formal alliance with bin Laden (and merely one player on a vast team of Qaeda agents in America) is transformed into a debate about whether Hasan's actions are likely to be completely unrelated to the fact that he is a Muslim. I often agree with Hitchens, although I find his arrogant manner irksome, and what I generally find admirable in his writing is that his rhetoric is usually supported by clear thinking, though not always. This is one such exception.
Some people jumped to label Hasan a terrorist and with the use of that term they meant to suggest that he is in league with Al Qaeda. This is what most Americans mean when they speak the T-word. Indeed, many of these people pointed out that Hasan attended a Virginia mosque that some 9/11 hijackers also attended. Hawks in the "war on terror" need occasional terrorist acts, or at least thwarted plots, to support their proposed policies in defense, immigration, intelligence, domestic surveillance, and homeland security. Islamophobia serves their purposes; they do not hesitate to play that card beacause they know it gets our attention. Hasan couldn't just be a Muslim; he had to be part of the global jihad.
On the other side, some of us doubt the wisdom of policies created during the Bush years to deal with the terrorist threat, and generally resist the assumption that Islam is identical with that threat. We don't deny the connection between Islamic fundamentalism as a primary driver of terrorism -- or even that Hasan's religion influenced his actions, as Hitchens suggests we would -- we just aren't disposed to label, as terrorism, every murder of an American committed by a Muslim. And we aren't in a hurry to place such a powerful label on events we are still trying to understand.
Whether Hitchens deliberately framed the issue in such a dishonest fashion, or cannot see that he had, is an interesting question. It seems to me that he is suffering from what George W. Bush, our least clear-thinking ex-president, called "moral clarity" and which often appeared to the rest of us as muddled madness. Is it possible that even the smartest commentators on the events of the day are so overwhelmed by their biases and convictions that they are no longer capable of thinking critically?
If I've been mistaken about anything, it's often been something I'd previously been completely certain of. That was true of Bush and it is equally true of Hitchens. That comparison should make him uncomfortable...
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No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."
-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?
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