Last night while at the gym I saw a clip of CNN’s “Senior Legal Analyst” Jeffrey Toobin talking to Anderson Cooper. In the wake of the Fort Hood shooting spree by a Muslim Army psychiatrist, Nidal Hasan, CNN had been showing the obligatory clips of bearded men shouting on streetcorners in London and New York and handing out flyers. Despite the fact that 99% of all reasonable people who have things to do in their lives completely ignore anybody standing on a streetcorner and shouting- particularly if the shouters have a religious bent- the news media feel the need to scare up fear about these “hate groups”. Anyway, Toobin gives us his own version of the “9/11 changed everything” argument by saying that, whereas before 9/11, the focus of the American Justice System was to convict criminals after they had committed a crime (you can see that this is, logically, a tautaulogy, yes?), the focus after 9/11 had to be about crime prevention. In particular, he referenced the need for hate speech/hate crime legislation. You can see where this is going. Since we were attacked by Muslims who hated (irrationally, of course) the United States, we can prevent further attacks by making it a crime to be a Muslim who hates the United States. Toobin went on to say something like, “Unfortunately, our legal system just isn’t set up to deal with this.” Yes, unfortunately. But since 9/11, it’s been getting better every day. What, in my naivete, shocked me was the lack of any mention of why our legal system doesn’t punish people who have committed no crime. Phrases like “due process” and “presumtion of innocence” are not heard. I can understand, though disagree with, someone opposing those things due to some overriding necessity or contigency, but to look at them uncomprehendingly as a design flaw in an outaded model? Now, I understand this isn’t quite like the “Precrime” department in Minority Report, since the argument is that we should criminalize speech and acts which lead to the greater crimes of terrorism. But I think the totalitarian implications are clear enough. But this is my own streetcorner rant: when liberty is regarded as an dangerous and alien concept, we are already a totalitarian country.
But to get back to the Ft. Hood shooter, Hasan: what could have tipped off a Department of Precrime, and thus prevent a shooting spree? The Washington Post reports. Apparantly, a year and a half ago Hasan gave a presentation to Army physicians as a resident at the infamous Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was expected to lecture on a medical topic, but instead, much to the dismay of his audience.
he stood before his supervisors and about 25 other mental health staff members and lectured on Islam, suicide bombers and threats the military could encounter from Muslims conflicted about fighting in the Muslim countries of Iraq and Afghanistan.
As near as I can tell about his presentation from the Post article, the purpose was- fitting with his training as a psychiatrist- to explain the psychology of suicide bombers within the context of Koranic faith. This could be useful stuff. Learning about the psychology of Islam might cause the U.S. military to question the widom of occupying Muslim countries. So of course it is doubly offensive to Hasan’s Army supervisors. Hasan was also particularly concerned about Muslims serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
“It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,” he said in the presentation.
This aspect of his presentation has in hindsight a clearly autobiographical element. Hasan was to be deployed to Afghanistan where, according to a relative, he asked not to be sent. His presentation, titled “The Koranic Worldview as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military” concluded:
“Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.”
Oddly, or not, the Post article seems not to get the real meaning of Hasan’s presentation. To them it reveals his “extremist views”. To me it looks like a desperate plea. Hasan may or may not have been “in contact with others who may have encouraged violence against U.S. troops.” More information will come out I am sure. But then why a warning to the Army about potential internal threats?
Nidal Malik Hasan is a criminal, a mass murderer. That much is sure. But is this a crime of “extremism” and “hate”, and does it necessitate the criminalization of those motives as well? Or might this have something to do with the contradictions of being a Muslim employed by an Army that kills Muslims every day? And even if Hasan turns out to be an agent of Al Qaeda, that means the shooting is subject to the same logic of blowback as 9/11, which is that, as Rep. Ron Paul explained to the dismayed Guliani, they hate us because we’re over there. It’s a hatred that may be extreme, but is anything but irrational.