David Brooks's latest New York Times column appeared in one of our local columns today. It's a critique of what he sees as politically correct efforts to gloss over the evil of the Fort Hood amoklauf. He is uninterested in any theory that portrays Maj. Hasan as a disturbed or traumatized person, and I think his skepticism toward the psychoanalytic impulse is healthy, even if I disagree about it being motivated by political correctness. It's bound to be a provocative column because Brooks employs two arguments that can easily blur into one. He notes a recent tendency of Muslims to construct a narrative that explains events in terms of a war waged on Islam by Christians and Jews, and suggests that Hasan had adopted that narrative. Brooks even goes so far as to acknowledge that this paranoid worldview has some basis in reality, since a conflict against specifically Muslim extremism is a central fact of American foreign policy. But then he starts writing about evil. He does so, as I said, in reaction to the therapeutic reflex that automatically views Hasan as a merely sick person. I don't like to use the word "evil" myself, but I find myself more tolerant of it when used to describe individuals rather than nations or ideologies. I'm not going to gripe if someone wants to describe Hasan as evil, except to offer the usual "innocent until proven guilty" disclaimer. But we need to be careful in determining exactly what about Hasan Brooks deems evil. Is it the fact that the "self-radicalizing" major used the narrative of embattled Islam as a rationalization of murdering people? Or does Brooks mean to say that the narrative itself and its tendency to dehumanize non-Muslims are evil? In this particular case, I think he meant the former, but his column can easily be read, especially by readers sensitive on these issues, to have meant the latter. For some readers of extreme sensitivity, such a conclusion may only further prove that non-Muslims have it out for the believers.
Brooks wants the massacre to inspire a national discussion of some kind, but finds the implicitly exculpatory impulse to treat Hasan as a mere sicko getting in the way almost immediately. What exactly does he want to discuss? From his column, I assume that he wants to drag this issue of a Muslim persecution complex into the fresh air so it can be refuted decisively. How much more does he want to refute? Does he want us to have a national discussion about the menace of the Islamist ideology? That's fine by me, but bear this in mind. Islamism may be repugnant to most Americans, but it seems to me that American Muslims have as much right to pursue the goal of an Islamist America by constitutional means as any group has the right to reform the country in its own image. No ideology or belief system is un-American that can win an election. If we have people here, however, who think that their religion entitles them to convert the U.S. and its people by the sword or by any means necessary, that's another story that won't take long to tell. How relevant it'd be to the Hasan case I don't know. We believe that we know that he thought that the U.S. shouldn't have waged war on Muslim countries. Speaking for myself, I don't know if he advocated the sharia or its imposition by jihad. Frankly, I'd have no problem with him believing such stuff so long as he upheld his oath and obligations as an American soldier. A lot of Christian soldiers probably have undemocratic or even theocratic views if you probe deep enough. The real issue that Brooks and others probably want to raise is whether we can depend on the loyalty of Muslim soldiers. It should be obvious that more than 99% of those serving now are loyal, but how many incidents of fragging or amoklauf will it take to throw the wisdom of recruiting them or retaining them in service into question? Are American Muslims under a special obligation to prove that they put the Constitution before the sharia? Will they be required to make special gestures to prove it? These are some of the possible questions that Brooks, presumably, would not have us duck by dismissing Hasan as an irresponsibly disturbed person. Let's ask them by all means, but if we have a national discussion I expect that Muslims will have some questions to ask as well. If Muslim loyalty is on trial, Muslims have a right of cross-examination, particularly on the subject of the present wars, and the rest of us will have an obligation to answer.