Nidal Hasan, John Muhammad, and the Return of the Repressed
posted at 6:44 pm on November 10, 2009 by CK MacLeod
This is the question we have to answer for ourselves, the true test of the values of Western liberalism: do we believe it is necessary, out of an abundance of caution, to make an earlier designation of “enemy” when it comes to the fellow citizens living among us? And equally important – indeed, more important – have we fully understood the consequences, and are we really sure we want to pay them?
In a justly praised blog post, our friend and colleague J. E. Dyer has written thoughtfully and informatively on the issues raised by the Fort Hood Massacre that bear on Muslims in uniform, by extension on all Muslims among us, and by further extension on all our most essential values as Americans. She argues strongly against leaping from the incident to investing further power in the state, through the Army or any other institution, to “administer… invidious suspicions about our fellows,” because “if we endow it with such power, that power will, eventually, be turned on us” (emphasis in the original). To J.E., allowing such a turn of events would amount to forgetting “why we are ‘America’ in the first place.”
I can only sympathize with such views, but, even if we peremptorily reject any violation of our first and most fundamental freedoms, we may fail the test anyway. The state should not inquire into the nature of Islam as an end in itself, but inquiring into the nature of Islamism remains a task that we probably cannot escape, and that we cannot accomplish without the other. Furthermore, if we, especially the most sensitive among us (people like J.E., for instance), instead search everywhere else for answers, and finally consent just to endure whatever injuries, we heighten the risk of a compensatory reaction even more harmful to that which we hoped to protect. Put simply: We stoke rage, even as we undermine confidence in our public institutions – a dangerous and volatile formula even times of peace and plenty, and even in the absence of extreme provocations.
Looking at the evidence piling up about Nidal Malik Hasan, it becomes increasingly difficult to see him as a killer whose religion-based ideology merely provided the convenient language, as if by happenstance, for his psycho-pathological inclinations, though even admitting said ideology as a pretext seems too much for some. Apparently, he saw himself very much as a “Soldier of Allah,” as in the initials “SA” on his business card – to cite one of many stubborn pieces of evidence flying around and helping to perforate the preferred media narrative. The reticence to take seriously the ideological and political intentionality of Hasan’s murderous violence seems almost comical when, even before the testimony and evidence are assembled, the stubbornly uncomfortable truth seems to shout at us in the killer’s very name.
Middle East expert and trenchant commentator Barry Rubin, blogging in Israel on the day of the massacre, was pessimistic about our ability simply to face such facts:
Jihadist attacks in the United States have been defined out of existence. No matter what happens–a planned attack on Ft. Dix, the murder of two people standing in line at the El Al counter at Los Angeles airport, a driver deliberately running down people or two others with a trunk full of weapons in the Carolinas, or honor killings all over the place–we will be told this has nothing to do with Jihad or Islamism or an interpretation of Islam.
Afterward, there will be a different type of a cover-up in pretending that this had nothing to do with Islamism or Jihad but is merely a matter of an individual’s mental illness. …[T]hose who speak out on these points won’t be killed but merely will have their characters assassinated.
Reactions in most of the media as well as, in an apparently coordinated set of responses, from the Obama Administration, seemed to bear out Rubin’s predictions. In an easy to misunderstand essay on the Hasan killings, however, David Warren refuses to look away, arguing that “the words and attitudes conveyed in the reporting of a massacre can be, and in this case are, more consequential than the massacre itself.” Warren’s phraseology in this instance lacks his usual moral sensitivity – as a religious man, Warren might have left it to God to determine how comparatively “consequential” the deaths and injuries really are – but the point he’s trying to make shouldn’t be lost. He sums it up as follows:
Getting at Islamist cells, to say nothing of lone, self-appointed jihadis within our society, means getting over the false sentimentality that turns a terrorist incident into an “incomprehensible tragedy” when it is not incomprehensible, and not a theatrical event.
It also means ripping through the politically-correct drivel that is put in the way of investigators. They should surely be allowed to assume that every loyal Muslim will be eager to give information to help them identify any potential killers in their midst.
We’ll have much opportunity in the months and, oh yes, the years to come to learn about every aspect of Hasan’s life and madness, but whether we continue to pay attention is another question, especially on the day of the scheduled execution of one John Allen Muhammad, whose little-known plans for a larger Jihadist rampage against the USA never were very likely, but whose murders no doubt provided useful lessons to potential emulators on the effectiveness of terror by sniper-infiltrator. In the meantime, in refusing to discuss Islamism out of a supposed (indeed, transparently feigned) respect for Islam, we concede the Islamists’ central argument that they are one and the same. Rather than squelching any tendency among hardcore anti-Islamists to proceed on the same assumption, we tend to inflame it, as any perusal of internet discussion, including at HotAir and my own home-blog, will demonstrate. If there was nothing to fear, the anti-Islamists wonder, why would merely pointing to the apparent links between the religion and the political ideology be justification for character assassination?
For the rest of us, we can remain unwilling to accept any inherent and essential connection between the religion of peace and ideologies of terror, without disclaiming the need – perhaps a survival need – to examine the complex links between them in practice, in the real world. It may be that any frank, full, and sober public discussion of Islamism would be painful, especially for the Muslims among us, including patriotic Muslims in uniform. It might lead to social tensions, difficult confrontations, and worse, but freedom of conscience has little meaning except alongside freedom of speech and inquiry, and little chance of surviving without them.
The only other choice would be to remain under the harsh regime of the mechanism known to psychoanalysts as the “return of the repressed,” familiar also to any student of history and to any mature observer of everyday human life: To refrain from this investigation, and from meeting the implications that Warren points to and that Rubin seems to doubt we can bring ourselves to face, ensures displacement to other targets in the short-term (including, observably, ourselves), and, in the long term, likely to a much greater backlash, propelled by the explosive energies for now still being stored up, their expenditure proscribed by fear and social taboo, but not containable forever.
cross-posted at Zombie Contentions