Friday, November 6, 2009

Understanding the Ft. Hood Attack: America’s the Bad Guy This I Know, Because My TV Told Me So

[Please subscribe, original analysis by a 30-year veteran Middle East expert]

By Barry Rubin

My teenage daughter watches the “Bones” series and described the latest program to me. An American soldier who had served in Iraq is found dead in the United States. FBI agents discover he was in a battle where U.S. soldiers had stormed a house and one of his friends was killed by Iraqis posing as civilians before the Americans wiped them out.

Of course, you know what happens. The soldier killed in the house really died from friendly fire; the rest of the soldiers murdered all the Iraqis in cold blood and planted guns on them. She hasn’t seen the end yet but I can guess that one of the other murderous American soldiers who’d been there had also finished his enlistment, returned to America, and killed the second soldier to shut him up.

I feel sorry for American veterans, soldiers, and their families who must put up with anti-American slanders from rich American show business types who live in luxury, feel smug, and never do anything for their country but bash it. This is also the kind of thing that brings us to a world where Libya, Iran, and Sudan condemn Israel for alleged war crimes as part of the Western intelligentsia cheers.

Might such an incident have happened? Yes, but I doubt if there are one hundred other shows presenting the heroic and decent acts of U.S. soldiers there and elsewhere, the kind of ratio that probably prevails.

Of course, other kinds of incidents also happen so here’s my outline for a future script. A young man, the son of Palestinian immigrants to America, grows up hearing constantly about how heroic (Arab/Muslim version) or provoked and justified (Western version) were Palestinian terrorists who deliberately murdered Israeli civilians.

For whatever psychological and other reasons, he becomes increasingly pious in his religious beliefs. But his piety is developing in an environment in which radical Islamists are overwhelming conservative traditional Islam in offering their interpretations. He reads in the holy texts injunctions to wage Jihad, to conquer the non-believers, and of how they are enemies. And he reads on the web sites interpretations which stress the radical passages and interpret them for the present day.

Is this the only and inevitable interpretation of Islam? Of course not, but what’s important is that this is the prevalent one, the exciting and trendy one. These interpretations may be opposed by those of a more traditional bent but it is not daily and energetically denounced by them in effective terms.

Among these radical Islamist interpretations—so contrary, it should be noted, to Arab nationalist doctrine, in which he seems to have no interest--is that all Muslims must always fight on the side of other Muslims, above any national loyalty. But what if Muslims are fighting Muslims? Then whichever side is allied with non-Muslims must be wrong, according to the radical Islamist ideology.

So he rejects without even considering it the obvious counter-argument: the United States if fighting to help some Muslims who are fighting other Muslims. Then, too, the “other Muslims” are radical Islamists, like him. He knows which side he’s on. And it is logical to think that in his inner turmoil the question that tortures him is this one: Do I have enough guts, am I a good enough Muslim, to put my beliefs into action or am I just a cowardly hypocrite?

What about his taking in some assimilation, acculturation, American patriotism? They’re out of date. Hearing a public critique of contemporary Islam as a religion or of Islamism as an illegitimate offspring of Islam? That's out of bounds.

There are scenes of him joining the army and getting a free medical and psychiatric education at the American taxpayers’ expense. Ironically, to get to the armed forces medical college, he drives from Silver Spring to Rockville, Maryland, past the sites where the “Beltway Sniper”—a Mr. Muhammad with a very parallel story—shot his victims.

And then there’s footage, too, of September 11 and of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He’s shown to be getting a certain viewpoint from both sides: Jihadist into one ear; a constant, withering criticism of America from its own media pours into the other.

If his fellow soldiers speak differently, well that just marks them out as personal enemies, doesn’t it? At Walter Reed Hospital, where he’s posted, he preaches Islam trying to convert his colleagues and patients. Well, isn’t that what the doctrine says: give them a chance to become Muslims and if they reject that then all the worse for them? But he’s disciplined for this behavior. Can he have doubt, then who is the “enemy” of Islam according to the interpretation he accepts?

Did the Taliban and al-Qaida launch an attack on the United States and slay in the thousands? That doesn’t matter in this world view. If the United States fights back then America is the aggressor and must be fought and its people killed. When examined closely, many "condemnations" of terrorism by Islamic and certainly from Islamist sources only criticize terrorism against Muslims or within Muslim-majority countries.

And is the problem here a psychological one? Well, he is more closed, more serious, more fanatical, more deaf to nuance or to the appeals of just having a good time. But that’s not the cause of what happens, it’s only the difference between his becoming a terrorist personally and cheering on others who do so.

He is a loner. But so what? He needs no human leader. He has his divinely inspired texts, and also websites, and most important his ideology to guide him. And so one day, facing the prospect of being shipped out and being forced to “fight” (he’s a psychiatrist not an infantryman but still part of the “enemy” army) he takes a gun and starts shooting his fellow American soldiers.

To cite only two of many examples, when anarchists threw bombs or assassinated leaders 100 years ago or when groups like the Red Brigades launched terrorist attacks in Europe thirty years ago, was the cause the fact that they were pursuing their versions of anarchist or Communist politics or that these individuals had personal psychological and social maladjustments? Whatever the mental elements in their behavior, the motive and direction were political ideology.

 Jihadist attacks in the United States have been defined out of existence. No matter what happens--a planned attack on Ft. Dix, the murder of two people standing in line at the El Al counter at Los Angeles airport, a driver deliberately running down people or two others with a trunk full of weapons in the Carolinas, or honor killings all over the place--we will be told this has nothing to do with Jihad or Islamism or an interpretation of Islam.

Afterward, there will be a different type of a cover-up in pretending that this had nothing to do with Islamism or Jihad but is merely a matter of an individual's mental illness. In contrast to the plot of the "Bones" show cited above, those who speak out on these points won't be killed but merely will have their characters assassinated.

We will be told that this is a unique case which has nothing to do with anything else.

Set the story at Fort Hood in Texas.

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