In a piece on Nov. 11 called “False Dichotomies,” Newsweek religion writer Lisa Miller advanced a very sensible argument regarding the Ft. Hood gunman. “The question about Nidal Hasan isn't whether he's a mental-health victim or a terrorist. He has shades of both, so let's not reduce him to a caricature.” Putting it another way, Millar quoted Georgetown professor Bruce Hoffman: “Just because somebody may be mentally unstable doesn't mean this isn't an act of terrorism.”
Given the incomplete and contradictory reports about Hasan’s activities and statements before the shooting, that seems wise. But rather than leave it at that, Miller ended up reinforcing aspects of the politically correct approach to issues of Islam and terror, and blaming Americans to boot.
Miller cited New York Times’ David Brooks in particular, and partially agreeing with those on the right that complain of the media’s politically correct desire to explain away Hasan as just a lone psycho (or even better: a psychological victim of Bush’s wars).
“Major Hasan may suffer from loneliness, isolation, PTSD, and a terror of being deployed overseas. He may, indeed, be mentally ill,” Miller wrote. “But he was also allegedly exchanging e-mail with Anwar al Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric whose rhetoric urges Muslims to see terrorism as a selfless and righteous act for the greater good of the global Muslim community.”
So far so good. But then Miller unveils the other side of the “dichotomy.”
The number of moderate Muslim clerics and organizations who immediately and publicly condemned the violence at Fort Hood is notable. The Council on American-Islamic Relations; Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa; the African Council of Imams in America – all these (and more) issued statements in sympathy with the victims' families, condemning such bloodshed as un-Islamic. This is a massive cultural change from just eight years ago, when everyone was asking "Where are the moderate Muslim voices?" Here David Brooks's critique – that we're glossing over serious threats just so we can play nice – falls short. For Muslims to oppose other Muslims in the name of peace is more than PC lip service.
That could be. Or it could be that those groups learned something about PR in the intervening eight years. But let’s say Miller’s right. We are then supposed to applaud those groups for having a civilized and civically acceptable reaction to mass murder. That sounds like what George W. Bush called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Miller’s special pleading continued as she argued that it’s not easy being a Muslim in America (50 percent of them say it’s “more difficult” since 9-11). She cited polls saying 60 percent of Americans believe there is “a lot of discrimination” against Muslims, and that 38 percent say that Islam is a violent religion, “a more than 10-point increase since 2002,” Miller noted.
The only surprising thing is that that increase isn’t more than 10 points. In 2002, Americans were still trying to get their arms around 9-11. The concept of suicide bombing was new; Bali, London, Madrid and all the rest hadn’t happened yet. With the limited, though horrific, experience of 9-11 (and the USS Cole, and the Khobar Towers, and the embassy bombings, and … ) Americans were still willing to give the benefit of the doubt.
Strangely, that’s not how Miller remembers it. The alternative to willful PC blindness about Hasan, she said, is “a reversion to the early days after 9/11, when every brown-skinned man in a skullcap was a terrorist suspect.”
Well then, that is a “false dichotomy,” because that characterization of America post-9-11 is abjectly false.