Sunday, November 8, 2009

Between Iraq and a Hard Place: the Muslim soldier's dilemma

Nidal Malik Hasan's shooting rampage/mass murder at Fort Hood last week was premeditated and carefully planned. He was clear about his motives: he believed it was his duty, as a Muslim, to take action against the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This is totally in line with Qur'anic teaching: "Never should a believer kill a believer." (sura 4, aya 92).

Slaying unbelievers, however, is perfectly fine (sura 4.89).

American policy toward Islamic countries has put many Muslims in the same awkward position: if religious duty contradicts an obligation to the state, which code do you follow?

Most Americans have worked this out for themselves. But for a lot of citizens of the U.S., it is unthinkable to take up arms against brothers in the Faith.

Contrast this dilemma with World War II: my father and his brothers unhesitatingly fought in the U.S. Army/European Theater of Operations. There was no question in their minds about choosing duty as American citizens over loyalty to the homeland of their forefathers, Germany. Japanese soldiers distinguished themselves on the field of battle in the same conflict. Identifying onself as culturally German or Japanese did not prevent young people from defending their country.

Nor is this an issue of conscientious objection, which would preclude taking human life under any circumstances. The warrior archetype is prominent in Islam. The real issue--the only issue--is what constitutes as "believer" versus an "unbeliever."

These categories can be broad (unbelievers=anyone who has not recited the shahada) or narrow (unbelievers=non-Muslims(Christians/Jews/Hindus/etc) + so-called Muslims(Sunni/Shi'a/Sufi/other Muslim strands/etc). That explains Muslim/Muslim conflicts (Iraq vs. Iran) as well as hostility in Muslim countries between different groups of Muslims.

And yet the media is crackling with quotes from imams, statements from CAIR, reports from mosques all over: Hasan's murder spree had NOTHING to do with Islam...nada, zilch, zero. He was a crazy person! His religion is irrelevent to the story!

That's totally false, as are the following statements:

Muslims can pick and choose which verses of the Qur'an can be ignored.
The Qur'an is supposedly a clear-cut roadmap for moral behavior. If a Muslim observes dietary injunctions, then why wouldn't he also observe a code which specifies when it is acceptable to take a life?

There are no Muslim literalists.
A basic tenet of Islam is that the Qur'an is the revealed word of God. Supposedly, all of it--every single word--was conveyed to the prophet Muhammed and has not been changed since it was given. There is NO Muslim who would publicly state that any verse is unnecessary or need not be followed. Obviously there are Muslims who do not follow every recommendation in the Qur'an, such as the directive to "Slay unbelievers wherever you find them" (s.4.89)...lucky for those of us who occasionally must make a falafel run. But to think that all Muslims have moved beyond taking the Qur'an at face value is dangerously naive.

There is no precedent for what Hasan did.
Let's narrow the field a bit. How about limiting the comparison to recent terrorist acts involving Muslims born into Western/non-Muslim countries who have gone into the medical field and taken the Hippocratic Oath? Even within those parameters, the British would have a thing or two to say.

The post-bloodbath analysts have brought up Hasan's mental state, which may have been "fragile"; these apologists have been bending over backwards to distance Hasan's actions from his religious beliefs. But even if he did "snap," mental illness and religious devotion are not mutually exclusive attributes. It isn't an either/or: he could have been BOTH crazy and a devout Muslim. His actions leading up to the massacre suggest that, while he had issues with his imminent deployment and American foreign policy, he was able to conduct himself, for the most part, rationally. He lived, worked, and prayed in a style that might have been a little odd, but which certainly didn't seem alarming.

Still, it was obvious that he felt he had painted himself into a corner. His identity as a Muslim superseded his identity as an American, as a soldier, and as a medical professional. He could not find a way to justify loyalty to Islam with the other roles he played. He could either choose to follow the Qur'an--"Never should a believer kill a believer!"-- or reject Islam.

He chose Islam.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Islamists 911; Western Civilization, 0

Today is the eighth anniversary of 9/11.

What could be worse than the murder of more than 3000 people? Only one thing: mentioning the murderers.

Using the word "Muslim" in the same sentence as "9/11" evokes reactions of shock and outrage--but on behalf of the perpetrators! It's "offensive," "hostile,"--even "racist"--to mention the Muslim connection.

Yet it is indisputable that those involved in planning, organizing, training, financing, carrying out, and then celebrating the attacks were Muslim. Not just the men who actually hijacked the planes, and not just bin Ladin and his al-Qaeda posse: thousands of Muslims worldwide took to the streets in an ecstatic display of pride because of what their fellow believers accomplished. Even here, in Chicago, Palestinian flags were unfurled and hung from balconies, and the topic of the sermons at some of our most influential local mosques were of heroism and martyrdom, not the slaughter of innocents.

But we must politely avert our eyes and remember that the majority of Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding people.

Yes: as were the vast majority of Germans during World War II.

Our society has been told to substitute the word "terrorist" for any reference to the religio-political organization that caused the 9/11 slaughter. Most of us--unfortunately-- value good manners over uncomfortable truths, and most of our schools have substituted politically-correct, sanitized explanations of world events for the study of logic and critical analysis.

We have been taught to discuss 9/11 according to these rules:

1. Not every Muslim in the world supported 9/11! Well, obviously. There are 1.66 billion Muslims in the world. I'm going out on a limb here, but I bet if you asked around, you'd find a few Americans who are NOT in favor of our occupation of Iraq. Does that make it any less of an American action?

2. The hijackers were crazy. I hear this from Muslims a lot: "Oh, they were just crazy!" No: they were capable of cold calculation needed to carry out a carefully planned group action. If just one had been crazy, the entire operation would have failed. Ever see a bunch of crazy people in the same room? That's why institutions medicate them! (Look up the origin of the word "bedlam.")

3. The hijackers were terrorists who only happened to be Muslims. Terrorism is not an entity in itself. It is a tactic. It is usually, but not always, carried out by a group with an agenda--such as Basque independence, or the Islamicization of the dar al-harb. Sometimes terrorist tactics are used by individuals who have a specific axe to grind (Tim McVeigh). It doesn't matter whether terrorism or carpet bombing is used. The question is, On whose behalf was this done?

Confusing a tactic or method with the perpetrator would be like discussing the death of a stabbing victim and only mentioning the weapon:

"John Smith killed him."

"No, no, no: I'm sure you REALLY mean to say, "a knife killed him." John just happened to be holding the knife."

4. Anyone who acknowledges that Muslims caused 9/11 is trying to be provocative and should be silenced. Galileo was excommunicated because he produced evidence that the planets circle the sun (although recently, the Church has admitted its reaction may have been a bit harsh).

Galileo was considered provocative, and was silenced. But that didn't make him wrong.

5. As horrible as the attacks were, there was some justification for them--Muslims do have a right to be angry. I hear this, too, often from Muslims, but also from non-Muslims who see themselves as open-minded but who are, actually, suckers.

The most superficial reason given for the "justification" of the attacks is that America represents a Western society that has disenfranchised Muslims (ever since the Crusades!), and this humiliation has proven too much to why are we surprised at a backlash?

But a more candid conversation will always (in my experience, without exception) reveal the following: Muslims don't have a problem with the West. They like the West, they want to live the way we live in the West. They don't have a problem with material success, which many of them enjoy to a far greater degree than do the people I hang out with. They're not even bothered much by our "moral inferiority," unless it's foisted on Muslim women by suggesting they--I don't know--get drivers' licenses.

The heart of the problem--and their "anger," and our "asking for it," is this: we are not a Muslim society.


As for myself, I use the words "Muslim" or "Islamist" in relation to 9/11, whenever possible. It is my way of honoring the victims of that day: the restaurant workers, the jumpers, the secretaries and office managers, the plane passengers, the commuters, the tourists, the pilots who had their throats slit by box cutters, the firefighters and police who walked into the damaged buildings, and would be vaporized like the rest, the people who tried to clean up the mess, the faces of the missing on the fliers, the wives and husbands and children left at home, the dog patiently waiting at the door, straining to hear familiar footsteps that will never come....

Is that offensive?

Yeah, it's offensive: it's offensive that all those people are dead, and that no one will say what killed them.