Actually, Maj. Hasan probably could have used therapy by mattsteinglass
November 10, 2009, 10:41 am
Filed under: Crime, Terrorism | Tags: , , , , , , ,

David Brooks has a strange column today on the response to the Fort Hood massacres that rambles on for a while about how people construct narratives to make sense of their lives, then drops the Islamic-extremism bomb and makes a vague and irritating connection between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan and “political correctness”. Fortunately Marc Lynch rebutted Brooks’s column yesterday before Brooks even wrote it, correctly explaining:

A lot of people — some well-meaning, some clowns or worse — evidently want the American response to the Ft. Hood shootings to revive the post-9/11 “war of ideas” and “clash of civilizations” anti-Islamic discourse.  It’s a jihad, they shout, demanding careful scrutiny of the loyalty of American Muslims.  That’s what they seem to mean by the demand to throw away “political correctness” and confront the ideological menace.  The overall effect of their recommendations, however,  would be to revive the flagging al-Qaeda brand and to greatly strengthen the appeal of its narrative.

As Lynch says, US military and government officials, in emphasizing that Islam has nothing to do with Hasan’s attack, are enhancing American security by refusing to play Al-Qaeda’s religious polarization game.

Brooks’s column begins with four paragraphs of vague “stories create meaning” stuff, and then launches into a kind of Dirty Harry-era whine about political correctness and the “rush to therapy” somehow letting Hasan off easy:

A shroud of political correctness settled over the conversation. Hasan was portrayed as a victim of society, a poor soul who was pushed over the edge by prejudice and unhappiness.

There was a national rush to therapy. Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors.

This response was understandable. It’s important to tamp down vengeful hatreds in moments of passion. But it was also patronizing. Public commentators assumed the air of kindergarten teachers who had to protect their children from thinking certain impermissible and intolerant thoughts. If public commentary wasn’t carefully policed, the assumption seemed to be, then the great mass of unwashed yahoos in Middle America would go off on a racist rampage.

That’s not patronizing. What’s patronizing is to believe that Americans are incapable of holding two points in their heads simultaneously: Hasan was a loner who had trouble finding a wife and socializing with his neighbors, he was under stress because of a certain level of stigma and teasing apparently experienced by a lot of Muslims in the US military, he was worried about being deployed, and he responded to these stresses by becoming increasingly attracted to radical Islamicist ideology. It is hardly revolutionary to note that people who become terrorists tend to be males who are socially ill-adjusted, often sexually unsuccessful, and under various kinds of stress.

This doesn’t “absolve” Hasan of “responsibility” for adhering to radical Islamicist ideology and then killing a lot of people. The idea that people who engage in acts of spectacular terrorism tend to be a little crazy and this contributes to their adoption of radical ideology really isn’t hard for most Americans to get their heads around. But it appears to be hard for David Brooks to get his head around. Brooks’s column gets weirderer and weirderer as it goes on:

The conversation in the first few days after the massacre was well intentioned, but it suggested a willful flight from reality. It ignored the fact that the war narrative of the struggle against Islam is the central feature of American foreign policy.

Wha…? There must be some kind of copy-editing mistake here. I’ll withhold comment until I see whether Brooks explains his point in a correction. But this isn’t even the craziest part of the column. That comes at the end:

It denied, before the evidence was in, the possibility of evil. It sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment. It wasn’t the reaction of a morally or politically serious nation.

Assuming you like to use the word “evil”, how is someone who kills multiple people because of “social maladjustment” — Ted Bundy, say — not doing something “evil”? Why is a serial killer less evil than a terrorist? Or if you take more of a Christian position and posit that it’s not the sinner, but the sin, how was the random slaughter practiced by the DC Sniper, who was scheduled to be executed today, less evil than what Nidal Malik Hasan did?

Look: there is a difference here. The difference is that the existence of radical Islamicist ideology contributes to the propensity of some very upset and socially maladjusted individuals to shoot American soldiers, just as the existence of radical anti-abortion ideology contributes to the propensity of other very upset and socially maladjusted individuals from a different socio-ethnic background to shoot American obstetricians. And the appropriate response is to talk about how to combat the spread of such hateful ideologies. This has exactly nothing to do with “political correctness,” or with assigning more or less “blame” or “responsibility” to Nidal Malik Hasan. I don’t even know what Brooks is trying to say. It’s like some weird grab-bag of late-1970s conservative anti-counterculture resentment. It’s not, as Brooks would put it, “morally or politically serious” thinking.


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Matt thanks for this. I had seen Brooks but missed Marc Lynch – one of Washington’s best sources on the Middle East. Your last paragraph, with the abortion doctor analogy, makes a great deal of sense to me. What went on in the brain of Nidal Hasan can’t be explained simply through the usual neocon rant. That puts David Brooks at a distinct disadvantage.

Comment by Eileen White Read

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