Fort Hood Tragedy Is Being Exploited To Bolster Discrimination

In the aftermath of the appalling attack at Fort Hood, one of the most important questions is how this rampage by a twisted fanatic has affected relations between Muslims and other Americans of different faiths. For some, Hasan's obvious fanaticism is not simply a starting point for thoughtful analysis about the harmful effects that splinter extremism poses in general, or specifically on an alienated, unstable individual. An aggressive and vocal group of Islamophobes are seeking to exploit the tragedy as a siren call to bigotry, a springboard to legitimize the marginalization of not merely extremists, but rather Muslims as a whole from meaningful participation in society, starting with military service.

These bigots should listen to the words of the daughters of murdered Fort Hood physician assistant Michael Cahill. Kerry Cahill told CBS' Early Show, "You can't blanket a whole group of people. There's extremists in every religion, and there's extremists all over the world...when this man was obviously ill, I think." Another daughter, Keely Vanacker said, "The death of our father or any of these victims shouldn't be an excuse or a reason to begin to hate an entire group of people."

For a slew of odious bigots, the massacre was simply too big of an opportunity to pass up. To them, it is not Hasan, or even the twisted minority of extremists who inspired him, but either Islam as a whole or all Muslims that must be incapacitated.

Lt. Col. Ralph Peters shared his forthright analysis of what threatens American society on Fox News' O'Reilly Factor Tuesday evening: "Its clear that the problem is Islam."

His new novel, The War After Armageddon, recounts how a revitalized Christianized United States government dispatches a reorganized National Guard called the "Military Order of the Brothers in Christ" to crusade against Muslims who have attacked the United States and destroyed Israel and Europe.

Pat Robertson, who once blamed secularists like abortion doctors, gays, and People for the American Way for fomenting the 9/11 attacks, has narrowed his broad bush to mostly focus on Muslims for the Fort Hood attack on the November 9 broadcast of the 700 Club on CBN:

"If we don't stop covering up what Islam is, Islam is a violent, I was going to say religion, but it's not a religion. It's a political system, it's a violent political system, bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination. That is the ultimate aim and they talk about infidels and all this but the truth is that's what the game is. So you're dealing with a, not with a religion, you're dealing with a political system and I think we should treat it as such. And treat its adherents as such as we would members of the Communist Party or members of some fascist group."

Dave Gaubatz, a leader of an organization that has called for illegalizing Islam in the United States, overtly called for what he described as "professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders," and some of his supporters in Congress, including Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), have declined to condemn or even distanced themselves from his appeal to hate and discrimination.

American Family Association's Bryan Fischer said, "We should not allow Muslims to serve in the US military and we have got to raise questions about whether we can afford to allow Muslims to immigrate into the United States at all." Not surprising since his overall perspective is "While Christianity is a religion of peace, founded by the Prince of Peace, Islam is a religion of war and violence, founded by a man who routinely chopped the heads off his enemies, had sex with nine-year old girls, and made his wealth plundering merchant caravans."

That Hasan was born in the United States and serving as an Army psychiatrist only exacerbates the potential for this incident to spread unjustifiable fear of Muslim Americans in general. It may exacerbate irrational anxieties that the Muslim community is threatening because it is supposedly very difficult to distinguish between extremists and mainstream Muslim Americans.

Obviously, the alleged killer's ethnicity, religious affiliation, name and other signs identifying him as both an Arab and Muslim American are all the explanation needed for some. However, if we truly wish to prevent this tragedy from repeating itself, it is crucial to examine the totality of the personality of the offender, including not only his sick ideology, but the role that personal dislocations and fears may have played in his eventual spiral toward violence.

These include fear and conflict over an impending first deployment, unresolved distress over the loss of his mother, difficulties with his colleagues and in finding a mate, a cross-country move, and repeated exposure to traumatized soldiers. After two of the main support systems that he knew all his life, namely job and family grew distant, extremism apparently filled the void. A comprehensive analysis of Maj. Hasan suggests a religious and political fanatic, motivated partly by idiosyncratic madness and partly by these extreme beliefs.

In America mayhem caused by deranged violent individuals intoxicated by a twisted ideology is nothing new and certainly nothing particular to the Muslim American community, let alone being typical of it. Obvious, examples include the Branch Davidians at Waco, an offshoot of Seventh Day Adventist Christians; accused abortion doctor killer Scott Roeder; and the Klan bombers of Birmingham's 16th Street Church who killed four young girls. Another obvious and well-known example would be Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, an angry, isolated and politically extreme former serviceman motivated to a significant degree by the infamous Turner Diaries that inspires a great deal of the ultra-right wing "militia movement."

To their credit, Muslim and Arab American organizations were almost instantaneous and absolutely unanimous in their condemnation of the act, forming relief funds for victims and their relatives, and sparing little effort to express their outrage. With the exception of a small group of vocal and dangerous extremists -- some already wanted by the United States on criminal charges -- Muslims in the Middle East also reacted with horror and loud condemnation.

Proponents of profiling -- systematic discrimination and heightened scrutiny against Muslim Americans simply on the basis of their identity-- have seized on this incident to press their case. What these people of ill will fail to consider is the warning signs about Maj. Hasan's instability and extremism were known to the government, but wrongly ignored. Obviously, methods of evaluating extremist behavior, of whatever variety, that might lead to violence in the Armed Forces and other institutions need to be seriously reviewed.

However, the notion that this tragedy justifies discrimination in the military or elsewhere must be categorically rejected by all persons possessing common sense and decency. Targeting people on the basis of warning signs of obvious political or religious extremism makes complete sense, but targeting them based on their identity obviously does not. Credible national security analysts reject crude systems of profiling based merely on ethnicity or religious affiliation as both unworkable and counterproductive.

Moreover, the requisite mechanisms in the United States simply do not exist, and would probably be unconstitutional. In the United States we generally do not officially classify individuals by religious affiliation, except in certain limited cases and then on the basis of self-identification. Enforcement could not exist without instituting a system of government categorization of people based on religious sectarian identity. Moreover, the Census Bureau categorizes all persons of Middle East origin as "white," so there is no mechanism for identifying Arab-Americans (a majority of whom, by the way, are Christians).

As an extremist, Maj. Hasan was as much of an oddball among Arab and Muslim Americans as he was in the military. The proper and reasonable basis for identifying him as a potential danger was his behavior and extremism, not his identity.

While there is certainly now a small but dangerous extremist subculture among Muslims, that's also been true for a small number on the Christian right, as well as Jewish extremists like those in the Jewish Defense League, among other violent fanatics. Law enforcement activities and national security policy must be focused on these extremist subcultures, wherever they may be, and not broadly on mainstream people of faith or entire communities.

It is pointless and incorrect to deny that Maj. Hasan's actions were, in part, prompted by a violent extremist ideology existing among a small subculture of Muslims throughout the world. The Muslim mainstream here and overseas must spare no effort in marginalizing and denouncing this fanatical, hateful worldview.

But, as the McVeigh case and so many others demonstrate, it is hardly the only dangerous ideology that exists on the fringes of various parts of American society that can erupt into atrocious acts of inexcusable violence.

Our law enforcement and national security policies need to deal with all of these extremist perspectives vigorously and vigilantly, but there is no justification for a "backlash" of any kind against Arab or Muslim Americans in general. To do so would abandon our long cherished American values set forth by none other than George Washington, who in 1790 described the ideals of a government that gives religious "bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."