The Organic Intellectual

If our greatest task is to liberate humanity, as Paulo Freire asserts, then it is absolutely essential that we create a culture of resistance from below that is able not only to counter, but transcend the limitations of the ruling culture imposed by above. Hopefully, The Organic Intellectual will help serve this purpose.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Putting Fort Hood In Context and Combating the Newest Wave of Xenophobic Bigotry

By now, nearly everyone is familiar with the tragic shooting that occurred in Texas at Fort Hood. For the sake of brevity, I will not attempt to recount the events, the details of those involved, or the percussive, emotionally-charged accounts that most media have sufficiently covered. I also do not intend to posit any new analysis or approach to this shooting. I do, however, intend to synthesize some of the best writing and analysis that has been articulated on the topic.

First, it is imperative, in my view, that the horrendous display of violence, and it was indeed a terrible tempest of bloodshed, be viewed within a broader context. Yes, this was a tragic event, but let us remember that, as Eric Ruder and Terry Kindlinger explain:
It's important to remember that for millions of people throughout the world, there is grief at the carnage that the U.S. military causes day in and day out--the bombing of Afghan wedding parties that leave dozens dead on what should have been one of the happiest days for their families; the gunning down of whole families at checkpoints in Falluja and Baghdad and Basra.

Hasan may have pulled the trigger, but it was the U.S. military that loaded the gun--with its killing fields around the world, its callous disregard for the troops it sends into battle and its neglect of the mental health professionals who are supposed to help soldiers survive their mental scars.
Within this context, we cannot ignore the fact that much more violence, much more bloodshed, an untold amount of carnage and destruction has been unleashed against people in foreign places that far exceeds the bloodshed that occurred at Fort Hood. What happened here, as unfortunate and tragic as it was, was a single occurrence, a particular event, but one that is reproduced in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Palestine, and in other places where the institution of the U.S. military makes its presence felt. This does nothing to console the families of those involved, it does nothing to redeem the lives lost, and does not justify the actions taken by Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

It does, however, raise vital questions concerning the institution of the military in general, the purpose it serves and the function it performs around the world, the concept of it being a "volunteer force," the way it treats those who work within it, and, ultimately, the manifold ways in which xenophobia, racism, and nationalism all spout forth from the fissures of this groundbreaking tragedy.

To begin, I quote a column from a friend who, in my opinion, most eloquently expressed the gambit of fear and worry that gripped many American Muslims and, likewise, those of us who detest the dehumanization of and stand in solidarity with marginalized groups:
The minute I heard the name of the gunman my heart lurched. Of course, he was identified by his religious affiliation, unlike other non-Muslim gunmen in the past. I expected that this shooting would gain the most attention because it was a Muslim, Arab American who committed it. Likewise, I predicted the media would highlight Nidal Malik Hasan’s religion and some ever-present, bigoted and xenophobic people would exploit this detail. The immediate suspicions of terrorism upon hearing his name reflect the ongoing misconceptions about Muslims; nowadays such reactions are inevitable.
These fears and predictions were, unfortunately, all too real. Without skipping a beat the right-wing ideologues attempted to utilize this tragic event to push their fear-mongering, xenophobic denunciations of Islam in general and those within the Muslim community, here and abroad. The dehumanization was ever present as they preached these megalomaniac war-mongers pushed their doctrine of hate:
[Commenting on Hasan's Palestinian descent] This isn’t just the Palestinian way. It’s the Islamic way. And we expect Israel to make peace with guys like this? Even in the midst of the land of plenty, look at how they behave.

...think of Major Malik Nadal Hasan (and all of the other Muslim American traitorous soldiers in the U.S. military who’ve shot their fellow soldiers up and killed them or otherwise helped the enemy), whenever you hear about how Muslims serve their country in the U.S. military.

Well, actually, they do serve “their country” in the U.S. military.  And their country is Dar Al-Islam and greater Koranistan.

It’s Islamic terrorism, stupid. Wait, that’s repetitive. It’s Islam, stupid.
Say a prayer for these soldiers who were killed and injured.  G-d bless them.  They fought Islam in Iraq and Afghanistan.  And now Islam has killed them because we let it fester on our own soil.  Very sad, indeed.
Normally, to give such space to such incredulous racism, such hostile vitriol that reeks of racism, would not be appropriate. However, it has occurred to me that sometimes it is better to allow the right to speak for itself, to fully understand the depth of their bigotry.

Such fringe commentators are the extreme, of course, but the immense correlation the media continually insists upon between Hasan, Islam, and the shooting has plagued any serious analysis of the case:
Understanding that his actions are not representative of Islam should be a given and yet, we have accusations of terrorism, claims that Islam is still a “danger” to America and violent threats to mosques around the nation.
Regardless of the sentiments Hasan harbored or with whom he communicated, the coverage of this story and emphasis on Hasan’s faith has caused Islamophobia to sprout up once again. Ordinary Muslim Americans have to bear the brunt.
Qaseem Uqdah of American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council, being interviewed by Amy Goodman on DemocracyNow, stated so simply what should be obvious to us all, "If this soldier was a Christian, we wouldn’t be saying that the Christian soldier or blaming Christianity." Likewise, as Ruder and Kindlinger write: 
The bigoted conclusions of the Michelle Malkins--that the "violent teachings" of Islam caused this tragedy--must be rejected. When Sgt. John Russell shot and killed five fellow soldiers at the Camp Liberty combat stress clinic in Baghdad, his religion wasn't used to explain why he went on a shooting spree. Hasan's shouldn't be used as an explanation for what happened at Fort Hood.
If religion did play a role, it had more to do with the abuse and bigotry aimed towards him than any imaginary religious zealotry aimed against America on his part:
...after the September 11 attacks, Hasan experienced racist harassment within the military and outside it that left him feeling isolated and under siege. A bumper sticker that said "Allah is love" in Arabic was torn off Hasan's car, and the vehicle was scratched with a key while it was parked at his apartment complex in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood, in August.

Hasan's uncle, Rafik Ismail Hamad, who lives in the West Bank town of Al Birah, said his nephew told him that fellow soldiers once handed Hasan a diaper and told him to wear it on his head. In another incident, according to a Los Angeles Times report, they drew a camel on a piece of paper and left it on his car, with a note that read, "Here's your ride."
In fact, it appears that Hasan repeatedly attempted to leave the military. According to his cousin, he even "hired a military attorney to try to have the issue resolved, pay back the government to get out of the military." This should, more than anything, bring into question the idea that our military is a "volunteer force." Many question what sort of volunteer force does not allow you to quit "volunteering" under such strenuous, psychologically enervating, and dehumanizing conditions. 

All of this ignores the intense pressure that psychiatrists and soldiers are put under within the military, regardless of religion:
The crushing caseload--there are 408 psychiatrists for 553,000 active-duty troops around the world--leads to burnout and despair among those charged with treating the mental health trauma of a generation of soldiers. "It's a pretty damn stressful place to be," said Dr. Stephen Stahl of the conditions for psychiatrists at Fort Hood. "I think it's a horrible place to practice psychiatry."
Perhaps the recommendations put forth by Iraq Veterans Against the War, which they attempted to be given to Obama in person but he refused, can shed some light on where to go from here:
1. Each soldier about to be deployed and returning from deployment be assigned a mental health provider who will reach out to them, rather than requiring them to initiate the search for help.
2. Ensure that the stigma of seeking care for mental health issues is removed for soldiers at all levels--from junior enlisted to senior enlisted and officers alike.
3. Ensure that if mental health care is not available from military facilities, soldiers can seek mental health care with civilian providers of their choice.
4. Ensure that soldiers are prevented from deploying with mental health problems and issues.
5. Stop multiple redeployments of the same troops.
6. Ensure full background checks for all mental health providers and periodic check-ups for them to decompress from the stresses they shoulder, from the soldiers they counsel to the workload they endure.
There is much more to say, and much has been said, within the alternative media and on the left about what this means and what sort of dialogue this shooting should arouse. It is imperative that we do not allow this tragic event to be hijacked by the right to promote persecution and bigotry against Muslim Americans or augment their ideological control over how we view the unjust military occupations being committed by or enforced by the U.S. military machine and the ruling elites.
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