Fort Hood: What the right and the left have gotten wrong about Hasan
The tragic shooting has spawned plenty of hysteria but little discussion about what we should do about potential Islamic terrorists in our midst.
Can we talk?Skip to next paragraph
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That is, can Americans really communicate? The word means, literally, "To make common." And at times like this, I wonder if it's possible.
I didn't hear about the Fort Hood shootings until several hours after the news broke, but when I did, much of what I heard wasn't true. Some people told me that the suspect, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan was a "convert" to Islam; others, that he had several Muslim accomplices; still others, that he had links to Al Qaeda.
False. False. False.
I got home to find the Internet aflame with vitriol, much of it directed at Islam itself. "Hasan is a BLACK MUSLIM," read a typical blog post. "This was a sleeper Muslim cell terrorist attack ... WITH MORE TO FOLLOW.... Unite AGAINST Islam now people!"
But I also found posts defending Hasan, who was reportedly facing overseas deployment. "They wanted to send him away to kill his own brothers and sisters in Iraq," one post screamed. "I would have done the same thing!"
Finally, others argued that any discussion of Hasan's ethnic or religious background was itself a form of discrimination. "I think giving out the Middle Eastern sounding name of the perpetrator is hate speech," a blogger argued. "No doubt this will give ammunition to patriotic Americans who value national security over diversity."
But that's precisely the discussion that we need to have: how to balance security and diversity, unity and freedom. How can we keep our country safe, but still respect the cultures of its different peoples? How can we join hands as a nation, but remain free as individuals?
And it's the same debate we've been having since 1776, when a Congressional committee suggested e pluribus unum – "out of many, one" – for our new national seal. But this discussion – like any real dialogue – requires agreement on a few basic ground rules: civility, reason, and tolerance.
During wartime, to be sure, Americans have often lost sight of these values. Consider attacks on German-Americans during the World War I, when several states banned the speaking of German in schools and on the streets. Or think of the internment of Japanese-Americans – and the confiscation of their property – during World War II.
The Internet attacks on "Islam" since Thursday's tragedy lie firmly within this tradition of nativism, bigotry, and hysteria. The shooter was Muslim, and what else do you need to know? Apparently, not much.
But irrationality and bad faith are hardly exclusive to the political right. The Fort Hood shootings have also triggered bouts of left-wing hysteria.