Podcasts Addressing ISIS returnees to Western countries

A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for "Back Home from ISIS", a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK
A screenshot of the BBC iPlayer page for “Back Home from ISIS”, a podcast about an ISIS returnee to the UK

Podcasts on ISIS Returnees

Back Home From ISIS” is a BBC documentary podcast. Along with the Caliphate series by Rukmini Callimachi at the New York Times, it is a great introduction to the problems that Western governments and societies face when ISIS members (former and current) leave the war-zone and return to their countries of citizenship. In the podcast, the BBC interviews an ISIS widow who returned to the UK after spending time in the Middle East and a Turkish prison.

The Caliphate podcast series focuses on an ISIS returnee to Canada. Abu Hussayfa, as he prefers to be called, discusses the time he spent in Syria and how he is trying to reintegrate into Canadian society. The podcast goes on to cover interviews with victims in the Middle East and an exploration of ISIS documents discovered while in the field.

As, or if, I find more podcasts related to the topic, I’ll come back and list them here.

Thoughts on ISIS Returnees

What do you do with ISIS when the Caliphate collapses? I had a conversation about this with members of a Facebook group called Muslims for Progressive Values. MPV is essentially an interfaith group with members who are Muslim, non-Muslim, agnostic, atheist, and/or secularist. The group discusses primarily Muslim and Islam-related issues. Someone posted a link to a story about a Glasgow student who had her UK passport stripped from her after the UK determined that she had traveled to Syria to be the wife of an ISIS member.

Stripping Citizenship

Stripping former (and probably current) members of ISIS of their citizenship for engaging in terrorism is a pretty solid move. It effectively prevents those people from entering a Western country that they’re ideologically at war with and carrying out attacks. It’s also a great punishment. If you don’t like “the West”, then why should you have the privilege of being a citizen of a Western country? And why would we give you access to a place you want to destroy?

I found out later that the UK is only doing this to people who hold dual citizenship, which is also fine, but that leaves the problem of what to do with people who only have UK citizenship (or single citizenship of any country). I believe that terrorists should be denied re-entry to their country of origin and should be returned to Iraq or Syria to be tried and sentenced for the crimes they committed there. Why should they get to avoid what could and should be a harsher sentence by being tried under the laws of a Western country?

Extraterritoriality and Justice

Another commenter in the MPV group disagreed and said ISIS members shouldn’t be left in Syria or Iraq because of the lower quality of the justice systems there, which seems absurd to me. In a way, it reminds me of when the Taliban refused to turn Osama bin Laden over to the US for trial and insisted that he be given a trial in a neutral third-party country instead. The same MPV commenter also expressed concern about Western countries “dumping” ISIS members on Syria and Iraq, though I don’t think Iraqis and Syrians see it that way. Perhaps I’m just projecting, but I believe they’d be happier having the ISIS fighters remain there so they can seek justice.

The idea that someone shouldn’t be subject to the laws and judicial system of a country where they’ve committed crimes is a colonialist mindset. It’s a status called “extraterritoriality”. It was weaponized and used against the Ottoman Empire in the 1800s to undermine the government’s sovereignty. Plus, it’s just common sense that you would face charges in the country where you committed a crime. It’s also an accepted international practice. If you commit a crime in a country and manage to flee, the government of the country where the crime took place requests that you be extradited for trial.

The quality of the judicial system where the crimes took place or how the penalties stack up compared to what’s common in Western countries shouldn’t matter. These terrorist jackasses traveled to the Middle East and tried to build a terrorist state on the burning remains of Iraq and Syria. They committed murder, rape, ethnic cleansing, theft, destruction of cultural heritage, and who knows how many other crimes against both individuals, groups, and the countries themselves. Why would they not be made to face justice in those countries for crimes committed both in and against those countries?

Let them hang

Why would we not want to allow victims to get justice? These days, the only people with a form of extraterritoriality are diplomats, who have diplomatic immunity from lawsuits and prosecution unless that immunity is waived by the diplomat’s home country. Michael Fay got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism in 1994. He didn’t get a pass. Why should terrorists? If they get hanged, they get hanged. If they’re beaten to death by a mob that drags them out of the jail, well, that’s not a great way to die, but for an ISIS member? I don’t really have any pity.

What did Saipov actually accomplish with his truck attack?

Lower Manhattan Skyline

8 Dead as Truck Careens Down Bike Path in Manhattan in Terror Attack

A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11.

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I really don’t understand what the point of this was. If the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 had no lasting impact on New York City, then why run people over with a vehicle? Sure, I’m aware of the whole “we can strike at any moment, you can’t live your lives normally, woooaahahahah” plan, but does it really even work? Is anyone actually going to just shut their apartment door and never go outside again because of this attack? Is New York City going to come to a screeching halt? Of course not.

So really, what was the point of running over some bicyclists? About two dozen families have been directly affected. The rest of the city will pause for a few days and then continue moving. I don’t say that to downplay the scope of the tragedy for those families. Their lives will never be the same and my heart goes out to them. But, what was done wasn’t significant enough to change anything about how the average New Yorker goes about their day.

Furthermore, what was really the point of stepping out of a truck with a pellet gun and a paintball gun? Was this guy a moron or was he hoping to get martyred? Maybe that’s what this was really about. This guy was probably leading a mediocre life or felt like he was being treated unfairly in some way, and to compensate for that and increase his own sense of self-worth he committed himself to engaging in an act that he hoped would lead to his martyrdom. At least then his value would be recognized by someone. Maybe he wanted to die and that’s why he jumped out of the truck with what he hoped the NYPD would mistake for real firearms.

What kind of picture would that paint though? The heroic martyr, going into battle with the NYPD with a pellet gun and some paintballs. What a joke.

Sayfullo Saipov, the moron who was driving the truck, isn’t special because he attributed his nonsense to some dying political ideology in the Middle East. He isn’t a martyr. He’s a clown. And now, if he doesn’t die from the gunshot wound he received and deserved, he’s going to spend the rest of his life in jail where, if there’s any justice in the world, his fellow inmates will work him over regularly for the rest of his life.

Deir Yassin and the Flight of the Palestinians

This is a paper I wrote for an undergraduate history course called Modern Middle East.  I was taking a very involved course on the Arab-Israeli Conflict at the same time, so my papers for the Modern Middle East class focused on Palestine and Israel as well.  The paper was given 15/15 points.  I’d like to have written more, but it was only supposed to be 5 pages.  If I’d had more time (or a requirement for more pages!) I’d probably have written more about how the Arabs and Jews both deliberately exaggerated to the events at Deir Yassin to their own advantage, and detriment.

Deir Yassin Massacre Victims
Deir Yassin Massacre Victims via Palestine Solidarity Project

Impact of the Deir Yassin Massacre on the Palestinian Exodus in 1948

In 1917, Britain conquered Jerusalem and ruled the region through a military administration. In 1920, the San Remo Conference awarded Britain the mandate of Palestine, which was sanctioned by the League of Nations in 1922.[1] By 1947, the British had grown weary of the sectarian violence between the Zionist Jewish and Arab populations in Palestine and as part of an overall downsizing of their colonial holdings after the economic stresses of World War II turned over the Palestine Mandate to the United Nations, which decided, in UN General Assembly Resolution 181, to solve the problem by separating the parties through land partition.[2]

The 29 November 1947 UN partition plan would have granted 55% of the land (much of it desert) to the Jews and 40% to the Arabs, with Jerusalem and Bethlehem falling under international control. The Jews accepted the plan, reasoning that it would provide them a foundation from which to build a Jewish state. The Palestinians, on the other hand, rejected the partition and launched a three day general strike followed by a wave of anti-Jewish terrorism in the cities and on the roads.[3]

As British Mandatory rule drew to a close in early 1948, the conflict between immigrant Jews and native Arab Palestinians erupted into an open civil war. On May 14th, 1948, the day before the Mandate ended, David Ben-Gurion, the Executive Head of the World Zionist Organization and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, changed the nature of the conflict by declaring the establishment of a Jewish state. The fighting between Jews and Arabs stopped being a sectarian struggle and evolved into a national struggle, not just between the new Israelis and the Palestinians, but between the newly formed Israel and the surrounding Arab states, who joined in the fighting. The war in 1947 – 1948 later became known as the War of Liberation to Israelis and as al-Nakba (“Disaster,” or “Catastrophe” in English) to the Palestinians and Arabs in the Middle East.[4] The Arabs were soundly defeated, leaving the Israeli state in control of more land than originally granted to it by UN Resolution 181, which the Arabs rejected under the assumption that the combined powers of the Arab armies could defeat the Jews.[5]

The conflict was a total defeat for the Palestinians. They not only lost control of a majority portion of the Palestinian Mandate territory, but they also failed to establish political independence. Only the Gaza Strip and the West Bank (with larger boundaries than today) remained outside of Israeli control, but they were claimed by other countries who had participated in the war against Israel: Egypt and Jordan. After the 1948 war, Jordan retained control over the resource-rich West Bank and East Jerusalem while Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip.

Perhaps the worst blow to the Palestinians, however, was being driven from the land and being prevented from returning. During the fighting, Palestinians fled their homes in droves in advance of or during combat between the Jews and Arabs, or to evade Arab militias who abused villagers. A total of approximately 750,000 Palestinians were displaced by the 1948 war in Palestine, and the issue showed up time and again in peace talks in the form of demands for the right-of-return of refugees.[6] Today, the number of refugees has ballooned to approximately five million as new generations of Palestinians are born in refugee camps and inherit the refugee status of their parents.[7]

Many factors contributed to the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem, including expulsion orders, such as those signed by Yitzhak Rabin (later a Prime Minister of Israel) that ejected the Arab population from Lydda;[8] voluntary self-removal of the wealthier classes to other countries to avoid loss of capital during the fighting;[9] the flight of Palestinian leadership;[10] and as a result of Israeli actions during the implementation of “Plan Dalet” (also known as Plan D). Plan Dalet would later become known as a very controversial strategic operation which aimed at:

gaining control over the territory assigned to the Jewish state and defending its borders, as well as the blocs of Jewish settlement and such Jewish population as were outside those borders, against regular, para-regular, and guerrilla forces operating from bases outside or inside the nascent Jewish State.[11]

To its critics, especially those in Arab states, the plan called for nothing short of the ethnic cleansing of the land allotted to Israel in the 1947 United Nations General Assembly’s Resolution 181, which partitioned the land of Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states.[12]

Plan Dalet wasn’t necessarily a political blueprint for the expulsion of Palestinians en masse. It was governed by military considerations and, given the nature of the war and the admixture of populations in Palestine, securing the interior of the Jewish state from ‘external’ threats required the depopulation and destruction of villages that housed hostile militias and irregulars.[13] It was also common for roving irregular forces from other Arab states to impose on villages by demanding housing, since they were there fighting for their interests, supposedly.[14] The people of Deir Yassin had decided to remain neutral in the conflict, refusing entry to outsiders, and worked out a system of signals with the nearby Jewish settlement of Givat Shaul to alert them that roving militias and irregulars were in the area. Deir Yassin hoped that by cooperating, their town would be spared the hardships of war.[15] They would, however, be disappointed.

A widely implemented tactic by the Arabs was to cut off supply lines between the Jewish coast and Jewish population centers inside the country, like Jerusalem and the Etzion Bloc. Opening up these supply lines became a priority.[16] At David Ben-Gurion’s insistence, a force of 1500 Jewish troops was mobilized to take part in Operation Nachshon. No longer would the Jews passively protect their convoys with guards; they would instead conquer and hold the routes themselves, as well as the heights surrounding them.[17] It was during Operation Nachshon that the Deir Yassin massacre occurred. The operational order of 3 or 4 April states that “all the Arab villages along the [Khulda-Jerusalem] axis were to be treated as enemy assembly or jump-off bases” and according to Plan Dalet, villages so defined, if offering resistance, should be depopulated (through forced migration) and destroyed.[18]

It’s not clear why, but the Haganah command allowed two Jewish militant extremist groups to participate in Operation Nachshon, perhaps because of the importance of securing the routes and the need for able bodied fighters. Irgun Zevai Leumi (Irgun) and Lohamei Herut Israel (Lehi, aka the “Stern Gang”) were widely regarded as terrorists by British mandatory authorities and the Israeli defense establishment itself.[19] For example, in 1946 the Irgun, acting under the direction of Menachem Begin, who would in 1977 become the Prime Minister of Israel under the Likud Party, ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel, which housed the British Mandate headquarters. The final casualty list included ninety-one British, Arab, and Jewish dead.[20]

The result of the Irgun and Lehi’s participation in Nachshon was a massacre of civilians. Despite Deir Yassin’s non-belligerency agreement with neighboring Givat Shaul, Irgun and Lehi forces entered the town to occupy it and met with unexpectedly strong resistance from residents who probably felt betrayed by their Jewish neighbors. During the fighting, Irgun and Lehi forces blew up several houses and gunned down families in the streets. They also rounded up groups of unarmed residents of both sexes and murdered them en masse. Some residents were paraded through the streets of Jerusalem before being taken back to Deir Yassin to be murdered.[21] A Haganah Intelligence Service report states that “whole families – women, old people, children – were killed.”[22] The following day the author of the report added: “[Lehi] members tell of the barbaric behavior of the [Irgun] toward the prisoners and the dead. They also relate that the [Irgun] men raped a number of Arab girls and murdered them afterward (we don’t know if this is true).”[23]

Regardless of whether or not it was true, reports like the one above and the stories told by the survivors rapidly spread throughout the region, becoming headline news. Altogether, about 100 – 120 villagers died that day, but the event became amplified through gossip and the media to such a degree that it became extremely influential in affecting the flight of the Palestinian population.[24] When trying to justify their actions after the fact, the Irgun cited the fear and panic the act caused and its beneficial impact on the Israeli war effort.[25]

The massacre and the way it was emphasized and possibly exaggerated in the media strengthened the resolve of Arab leaders to aid the embattled Palestinians and defeat the Jews. It also caused problems for the Jewish forces when criticized by the Western media, but the most important aspect of the massacre was the role it played in increasing flight from the Palestinian villages.[26] In Beit Iksa, fear caused the start of an immediate evacuation. The same occurred in al-Maliha and the residents of Fajja, near Petah Tikvah, Mansura, and near Ramle quickly called their Jewish neighbors and promised to not fight. In Haifa and surrounding villages, Palestinians heard rumors of Jewish atrocities at Deir Yassin and took flight. In the village of Saris, Arabs offered the attacking Haganah no resistance whatsoever, for fear of sharing Deir Yassin’s fate. [27] The fear of another Jewish massacre of civilians had an impact on the behavior of Palestinian villagers across the territory.

The British noted that whether or not all of those atrocities actually took place, the Haganah and the Jews had certainly profited from it and Jewish political leaders determined that the Deir Yassin massacre was one of two pivotal events in the exodus of Palestine’s Arabs, the other being the fall of Arab Haifa.[28] The psychological impact of the massacre may not have been the main cause of the Palestinian refugee crisis, but it certainly increased the number of people affected, making resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict that much more difficult for generations to come.


[1] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 95.
[2] Ibid., p. 134.
[3] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 13.
[4] Ibid., p. 145.
[5] Tom Segev, One Palestine: Complete, p. 496.
[6] Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage, p. 7.
[7] “Palestine refugees”, United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
[8] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 429.
[9] Ibid., p. 67.
[10] The Pittsburgh Press, “British Halt Jerusalem Battle,” 1948.
[11] Quoted in David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.
[12] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 137.
[13] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 164.
[14] Ibid., p. 123; p. 114.
[15] Ibid., pp. 90 – 91.
[16] Ibid., p. 66.
[17] Ibid., p. 233.
[18] Ibid.
[19] The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Accept Ultimatum,” 22 September 1948; The Pittsburgh Press, “Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told,” 30 July 1947; St. Petersburg Times, “Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists,” 19 September 1948; St. Petersburg Times, “French Uncover Plot To Bomb London,” 8 September 1947.
[20] David Lesch, The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History, p. 129 & 259; The Glasgow Herald, “Irgun Message Admits Guilt in Death Blast,” 24 July 1946.
[21] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p 237.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 238.
[24] Ibid., p. 238.
[25] Ibid., p. 239.
[26] The Indian Express, “Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State: Azzam Pasha Outlines New Policy,” 21 May 1948.
[27] Benny Morris, Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, p. 240.
[28] Ibid.



Bibliography

“Arab States Out To Undo Jewish State.” The Indian Express 21 May 1948: 5. Web Archive. 18 May 2012. .
“British Halt Jerusalem Battle: Fresh Troops Pour into City To Keep Peace.” The Pittsburgh Press 3 May 1948: 1. Web Archive. 8 May 2012. .
“Irgun Accept Ultimatum.” The Glasgow Herald 22 Sep 1948: 5. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Irgun Message Admits Guilt In Death Blast: Communique Purported From Underground Claims Warning Went Unheeded.” The Montreal Gazette 24 Jul 1946: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
“Jews Arrest Stern Gang Terrorists.” St. Petersburg Times 19 Sep 1948: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .
Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. New York: Beacon Press, 2007. Kindle edition.
Lesch, David W. The Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.
McGhee, George Crews. On The Frontline in the Cold War: An Ambassador Reports. Santa Barbara: Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997. Google eBook.
Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
“Palestine refugees.” n.d. United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. Web. 17 May 2012. .
Segev, Tom. One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC, 2001. Print.
“Two Palestine Hostages Dead, British Told: Sergeants Hanged, Underground Claims.” The Pittsburgh Press 30 Jul 1947: 1. Web Archive. 17 May 2012. .

Ghandhi & Terrorism: Tackling the “Mad Idea”

With globalization being so popular an idea these days, we often seem to forget that nations do have sovereignty over their own territory.  That sovereignty comes with the ability to live in ways that don’t necessarily agree with our own values, expectations or religion and to create law systems that have a foundation on something other than a mirror of our (US) constitution.  One example that comes to mind right away is the shocked reaction that everyone had when Egyptians decided they wanted to replace Mubarak’s tyranny with a government based on Islamic values.

I mention sovereignty because it seems to me that most of the world’s problems come from unrealistic expectations that ones’ own way is not only the best way, but the only way.  If anyone doesn’t want our way, we use it as an excuse to force it on them for their own good while exploiting them for economic gain.  In India, that behavior led to a revolution that, thankfully, wound up being more peaceful than it would have been due to the hard work of a man named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Mahatma.  In the Middle East, Western meddling planted the seeds that would eventually grow into global terrorism on a grand scale.

Tying Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent non-cooperation into modern day problems with terrorism was the focus of a class I took over Winter Session.  It was 3 weeks of class, 4 hours a day, 4 days a week, that culminated in an oral presentation and a 10 page paper after having read 3 books on Gandhi’s philosophy and 1 on the rise of religious terrorism.  It was difficult, but educational.  Looking at the paper now, I wish I’d had more time to directly compare Gandhi’s goals with bin Laden’s goals, and to compare their use of religion as a tool to achieve an end.  Instead, I tried to explain the mentality of religious violence and how meeting that violence with more violence only perpetuates the cycle and, even worse, justifies and empowers the terrorist ideology of hatred.  In a way, meeting violence with violence is cooperating with the terrorists, and after you read this you might have a better understanding of why.

[Sources and footnotes are listed at the bottom.]

The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City
The Gandhi Memorial Statue in Union Square, New York City

On August 15, 1947, India acquired independence from the British Empire. The country’s road to freedom was paved not with violence, but with Satyagraha, a method of non-violent non-cooperation employed and promulgated by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the Indian Mahatma (Great Soul) who expanded on this unique style of civil disobedience in South Africa.[1] The word Satyagraha is a Sanskrit composite formed from satya and agraha. Satya implies love and agraha firmness, which is synonymous with force in terms of the force born of “Truth and Love or Non-Violence…”[2] Gandhi didn’t claim to have invented Satyagraha. Rather, he just named it. Gandhi was certain of the existence of Satyagraha prior to his use of it by the very fact that the world still lived on, despite the constant warfare. He cited Satyagraha as the force that amiably dissolves the quarrels of millions of families daily and emphasized that the only reason it’s not mentioned in history books is because history itself is a record of the disruptions of Satyagraha, or ahimsa, which is the natural course of nature.[3]

Mahatma Gandhi successfully used Satyagraha to fight for Indian rights in South Africa. He used it again to win independence from the British Empire for India. Dr. Martin Luther King adapted Gandhi’s ideology to his own movement and successfully fought for equal rights for African Americans. Without using weapons, Gandhi’s Satyagraha has been proven to work. So, does that mean it has applications for today’s modern war on terrorism? And how would we go about making the changes necessary to effectively employ this force against the ‘enemy’ and bring about a peaceful resolution of conflicts?

Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India
Gandhi with a spinning wheel in India

Gandhi said, “…if we are Satyagrahis and offer Satyagraha, believing ourselves to be strong…we grow stronger and stronger every day.”[4] Satyagraha is an ideology of empowerment that places emphasis on maintaining the moral high ground through “self-help, self-sacrifice and faith in God…”[5] Naturally, this is something one must do oneself for it to work properly, which is why Gandhi said that Satyagraha is for self-help and declined the assistance of foreigners in fighting for India’s freedom, except insomuch as he wanted their attention and sympathy.

Gandhi believed that the process of Satyagraha could only happen if one maintained a total absence of violence, both in one’s actions and one’s thoughts. For Gandhi, a “struggle could be forceful…but it could not be violent,” so willing self-sacrifice played a key role in achieving one’s goal.[6] Through non-violent self-sacrifice a movement gains both public sympathy and the admiration and respect of the aggressor, eventually inducing a change of heart and an amiable resolution to conflicts.

Most importantly, by not using violence, Satyagraha creates solutions that break the cycle of violence. Gandhi said, “A non-co-operationist strives to compel attention and set an example not by his violence but by his unobtrusive humility.”[7] The moment violence is used the means become corrupted, which invariably leads to a corrupted end. Gandhi used this argument to counter the call for violent revolution against the British in India. He said that “by using similar means we can get only the same thing that [the British] got” and compared gaining morally pure rule through violence to planting weeds to grow roses.[8]

A violent response escalates the level of violence used. Gandhi believed that winning independence through violence would leave India just as bad off as it already was, because it would mean that violent people would be assuming control of the country.[9] He did agree that he would rather have bad home rule rather than suffer under a foreign master, but Gandhi’s goal was to achieve a free India that could initiate a new government with clean hands.[10] To do this, Gandhi believed that India had to break with modern secular Western society. He described the materialism of Western civilization as a sickness.[11] Britain’s industrialization, and all industrialization, relies on the exploitation of other countries. Engaging in industrialization would pollute India and India would become no better than the former masters’ whose yoke she had thrown off.[12]

1993 World Trade Center Bombers
1993 World Trade Center Bombers

According to Mark Juergensmeyer, the advent of modern Western society has devalued religious belief, replacing theology with secular morality and the Church with the nation state. Social identity has shifted from religious affiliation to national citizenship. Some religious activists believe that “secular society and modern nationalism can [not] provide the moral fiber that unites national communities or the ideological strength to sustain states buffeted by ethical, economic, and military failures.”[13]

In an interview with Mahmud Abouhalima, convicted of participating in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Mark Juergensmeyer asked him what it was that secular America was missing that caused it to not understand him and others like him. Abouhalima answered, “the soul of religion.”[14] He went on to compare secular life to an ink pen that was missing its ink. He said, “An ink pen, a pen worth two thousand dollars, gold and everything in it, it’s useless if there’s no ink in it. That’s the thing that gives life…”[15]

Western societies may see secularization as a positive process, a freeing of the population from archaic dogmas, but people like Abouhalima and even Gandhi were adamantly opposed to separating religion from life.[16] Without religion, Abouhalima would have no meaning in his life, and Gandhi would not have had the strength to free India. Thinking in those terms, any encroachment of Western society in the modern Middle East may be viewed by the locals as not only unbeneficial but harmful, and potentially as an attack on fundamental values and religion itself, which for Muslims constitutes a large portion of their everyday life and culture.[17] Gandhi believed that all change has to come from within to be lasting. It cannot be forced upon people, and attempting to use violence through sanctions that cause hardships or through rhetoric and demonizing will have no effect but to draw sympathy to the victimized, even if their cause is wrong.[18]

2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City
2001 attack and destruction of World Trade Center in New York City

In today’s War on Terror, responding to terrorism with acts of violence empowers the terrorists by cooperating with their ideology of hatred, by affirming that the secular West is indeed evil and intent on destroying the religion and culture of the average person. Mark Juergensmeyer wrote that “many secular political leaders have described [the War on Terror] as a war that must be won—not only to avenge savage acts as the destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, but also to allow civilization as the modern West has known it to survive.”[19] In a war between civilizations where the existence of each civilization’s future is at stake, only one can remain at the end of the conflict. The sort of rhetoric being used to promote the War on Terror is one of absolutes and only further justifies the teachings of terrorists: that the US must be defeated for Islam and Islamic culture to survive. The immediate response after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City was to launch a retaliatory attack, but has that attack actually solved anything? Did we not in fact validate the terrorists’ ideology of hatred by destroying the lives of the innocent along with the accused through long-term warfare?

Madanlal Dhingra
Madanlal Dhingra

In 1909, Madanlal Dhingra, an Indian student in England, assassinated Sir William Hutt Curzon Wyllie, a political aide to Lord George Hamilton, the Secretary of State for India. According to Sankar Ghose, “Winston Churchill regarded Dhingra’s last words “as the finest made in the name of patriotism…”[20] Gandhi had a completely different opinion of Dhingra: “It is not merely wine or bhang that makes one drunk, a mad idea can also do so… Dhingra was a patriot, but his love was blind. He gave his body in a wrong way, its ultimate result can only be mischevious.”[21] Gandhi, a man so religious that his last words after being shot by an assassin were “Hē Ram (Oh God),”[22] was absolutely opposed to violence in any form, for any objective, which makes it all the more surprising that terrorism today is most often tied to extreme religious views. In his own way, Gandhi was an extremist, but he was an extremist who used and advocated extremes of peace and love to achieve what he considered just ends. Today’s religious extremists are not so different from Gandhi, in that they go to extremes to ensure that their views are made known. In fact, Osama bin Laden’s goals were not that different from Gandhi’s.

In 1991, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, prompting a coalition force of Middle Eastern and Western nations (including the United States) to engage in military operations in defense of Kuwait. Military operations began on January 16th, 1991 with air and missile attacks on targets in both Kuwait and Iraq. After an unavoidable ground war, Iraqi forces were put into full retreat. On February 27th, 43 days later, President Bush declared a suspension of offensive combat. During the war, Saudi Arabia was used as a launching point for allied offensives against Iraq.[23] After the war ended, the US presence in Saudi Arabia remained, further outraging some religious conservatives that consider Saudi Arabia to be the holiest of Islamic lands, being home to both Mecca, where the Ka’aba resides, and Medina where the Prophet Muhammad established the first Muslim community. The Ka’aba is the center of the Muslim world. Muslims believe that the Ka’aba was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael. One of the five pillars of Islam is pilgrimage to Mecca, to circumambulate the Ka’aba.[24]

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden

Among those angered by the continued presence of US troops on Saudi soil was Osama bin Laden, head of the Al Qaeda network. On August 3rd, 1995, he issued a message called “an Open Letter to King Fahd,” outlining grievances against the Saudi monarchy, notably calling for a guerilla campaign to drive U.S. forces out of Saudi Arabia. In July 10, 1996, a British newspaper (The Independent) quoted bin Laden as saying that Saudi Arabia had become an American colony. He also stated that the real enemy of the Saudi people is America. In August of 1996, bin Laden issued a document known as the “Declaration of War Against the Americans Who Occupy the Land of the Two Holy Mosques.” The two holy mosques he references are Mecca’s Ka’aba in Saudi Arabia, where US troops were stationed, and Al Aqsa in Jerusalem. Osama bin Laden considered Israel to be a US puppet regime, so fault for occupying Jerusalem was transferred to the United States. In a CNN interview in 1997, bin Laden began to solidify his message with demands that may sound familiar to anyone familiar with India’s struggle for independence from the British Empire. He said:

We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation…. For this and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the US, because in our religion it is our duty to make jihad so that God’s word is the one exalted to the heights and so that we drive the Americans away from all Muslim countries…. The country of the Two Holy Places has in our religion a peculiarity of its own over the other Muslim countries. In our religion, it is not permissible for any non-Muslim to stay in our country.[25]

Almost a year later, he goes on to make the following demands:

For over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. We–with God’s help–call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it… in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.[26]

Osama bin Laden and Mahatma Gandhi both had similar goals. Both felt oppressed by foreign powers who meddled in local affairs, to the detriment of the native populations, and in both cases as a result of something Gandhi warned of: the need to exploit other countries to support the industrialization of modern Western culture.

The implied conflict for the survival of civilizations and the perceived attack on religion causes some religious activists to use violence to try to bring attention to their stated goals. From Gandhi’s teachings, we know that he could have in no way supported the terrorism of today to attain independence from foreign oppression, but it is reasonable to believe that he would have empathized with Osama bin Laden’s goal.[27] When Gandhi condemned Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie, he didn’t condemn his goal; he instead called him a patriot and condemned the means he used. This is where terrorists like Osama bin Laden differ from Gandhi, in the means they use to reach their ends. The results of the two methods have been drastically different. Where India gained the sympathy of the world and won her independence through Satyagraha, Osama bin Laden’s use of violence has escalated out of control. Osama bin Laden himself has met a foul end and the Middle East has not been freed of foreign influence.

Gandhi believed that violence created a cycle, saying “Who lives by the sword must perish by the sword, and if the Asiatic peoples take up the sword, they in their turn will succumb to a more powerful adversary.”[28] That teaching is just as applicable today as it was during his fight with the British. In 1998, when the US launched retaliatory missile strikes on Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, the attack “provoked a new round of terrorist bombing plots.”[29] The attacks also increased bin Laden’s image as an underdog and damaged the United States’ international reputation. In July of 2002, an Israeli plane bombed the home of Hamas leader Sheik Salah Shehada, wounding 140 people and killing 11 people, 7 of which were children. Another Hamas leader, Dr. Mahmoud al-Zahar, responded by opening up targeting of terrorist attacks to all Israelis, including women and children.[30] Violent actions only led to an escalation of the level of violence employed by each side. The only way to ‘win’ is by breaking the chain of violence. An example is the 1998 Omagh bombing by a fringe element called the “Real IRA”. The bombing occurred during peace talks that would stop the violence in Northern Ireland. Rather than retaliate with more acts of violence, the guilty parties were arrested and tried using the existing legal system.[31]

So, what is the solution for stopping violence in the Middle East today? Rather than dealing with the symptoms of terrorism, the violent actions, the US should instead tackle the source of the problem. Colin Powell, United States Secretary of State from 2001 to 2005 understood this and “spoke about the necessity of dealing with the social and economic grievances that fueled the anti-American disaffection in the Middle East and elsewhere as a way of undercutting al Qaeda support.”[32] Colin Powell was expressing an idea that Gandhi emphasized himself, in regards to responding to terrorism. Gandhi described Dhingra, the Indian student who assassinated Sir Curzon Wyllie as being like a drunkard, caught in a “mad idea.” It’s that mad idea that we need to tackle: the belief in the Middle East that the United States is incapable of good and morally unambiguous behavior.

The first step is to stop responding to violence with violence. Violent action only succeeds in causing the conflict to escalate. That’s not to say that nothing should be done in the face of violent terrorist attacks. Even Gandhi didn’t believe in inaction.[33] Gandhi believed that no one had a complete view of the truth and the very existence of a conflict was the proof. He believed that every conflict was an “encounter between differing “angles of vision” illuminating the same truth.”[34] The key, then, is to take the moral high ground and understand that a response of violence will be satisfying in the short term, but will yield no real results.

The second step to solving the problem would be to address the problem of public opinion of the United States in the Islamic countries. After many years of duplicitous behavior on the part of the United States, finding a way to positively engage the Islamic community may be difficult without inciting suspicion and distrust, so it would be a gradual progress, in much the same way that Satyagraha was a gradual progress. The first efforts would have to be in areas that are politically and religiously neutral, such as providing medical care, basic literacy education in English and Arabic, building homes for the homeless, and acting in advisory capacities for social programs that would address other needs of the country. It’s a small step, but small steps add up and 30 years of providing education to the poor will mean more to them than bombing their fields to smoke out suspected terrorists. Additionally, we could take the biggest step towards having a friendly relationship with Islamic countries by respecting their sovereignty and allowing the people to determine their own futures through their own elected governments. Additionally, we could remove the US troop presence from Islamic countries and allow the people to fight for and affect their own social reforms. That would mean more to them than having the reforms handed to them with the help of Westerners. As Gandhi said, lasting change has to come from within.

One of Gandhi’s favorite quotes from Tolstoy sums up this policy best:

…if we would but get off the backs of our neighbours the world would be quite all right without any further help from us. And if we can only serve our immediate neighbors by ceasing to prey upon them, the circle of unities thus grouped in the right fashion will ever grow in circumference till at last it is conterminous with that of the whole world.[35]

 


[1] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 1, p. 3.
[2] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 6, p. 77.
[3] Ibid., p. 79.
[4] Ibid., p. 78.
[5] Ibid., p. 81.
[6] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[7] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 15, p. 59.
[8] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 10.
[9] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[10] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 7, p. 102.
[11] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[12] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 22, p. 249.
[13] Ibid., Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 229.
[14] Ibid., Chapter 4, p. 70.
[15] Ibid.
[16] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 171, pp. 364-365.
[17] “Introduction to Islam”, describes Islam as a comprehensive way of life.
[18] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 18, p. 220.
[19] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror In The Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 233.
[20] Sankar Ghose, Mahatma Gandhi, Chapter 10, p. 98.
[21] Ibid.
[22] “Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’: book”.
[23] “1991 Gulf War chronology”.
[24] Rosemary Pennington, “What Is The Ka’aba?”.
[25] Osama bin Laden, “Osama bin Laden v. the U.S.”.
[26] Ibid.
[27] Mahatma Gandhi, The Essential Gandhi, Chapter 10, pp. 132-134.
[28] Ibid., Chapter 5, p. 71.
[29] Barbara Elias, “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired”.
[30] James Bennet, “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home”.
[31] Henry McDonald, “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing”.
[32] Mark Juergensmeyer, Terror in the Mind of God, Chapter 11, p. 234.
[33] Mark Juergensmeyer, “Gandhi vs. Terrorism,” p. 4.
[34] Ibid., p. 3.
[35] M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha), Chapter 46, p. 112.

 

Works Cited

<!–[if supportFields]> BIBLIOGRAPHY <![endif]–>”1991 Gulf War chronology.” 3 September 1996. USA Today World. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Bennet, James. “A Hamas Chieftain Dies When Israelis Attack His Home.” 23 July 2002. The New York Times: World. Web. 23 January 2012. .
bin Laden, Osama. “Osama Bin Laden V. The U.S.: Edicts And Statements.” n.d. PBS Frontline. Web. 17 January 2012.
Elias, Barbara. “1998 Missile Strikes on Bin Laden May Have Backfired.” 20 August 2008. The George Washington University: The National Security Archive. Web. 22 January 2012.
Gandhi, M. K. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha). New York: Dover Publications, 2001. Print.
Gandhi, Mahatma. The Essential Gandhi. New York: Vintage Spiritual Classics, 2002. Print.
“Gandhi’s last words not ‘Hey Ram’:book.” 29 January 2008. hindustantimes: news. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Ghose, Sankar. Mahatma Gandhi. Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1991. Print.
“Introduction to Islam.” 2000. islam.com. Web. 22 January 2012. .
Juergensmeyer, Mark. “Gandhi vs. Terrorism.” 2007. Mark Juergensmeyer: Global Studies, UCSB. Web. 16 January 2012. .
—. Terror in the Mind of God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Print.
McDonald, Henry. “Four Real IRA leaders found liable for Omagh bombing.” 8 June 2009. The Guardian. Web. 23 January 2012.
Pennington, Rosemary. “What Is The Ka’aba?” 22 October 2008. MuslimVoices.org. Web. 22 January 2012. .

What Does It Take To Get Put On The Terrorist Watch List?

More than 200 individuals who were on the federal terrorism watch list passed background checks and were allowed to buy guns in 2010, according to a new government review.

via ABC News

I saw this (above quote) in the news this morning when I was on my way to class, and it got me thinking.  I’ve read previously that it’s pretty easy to wind up on this list.  I read about a news anchor (or maybe it was a journalist?) that found out he was on the US Terror Watch List simply because he complained about the TSA and their ridiculous screening procedures.  So, what does it really take to get put on that watch list?

In 2008, I took my first trip outside the United States since I was a kid.  Back then, I was traveling because my dad was in the military and we lived in Germany for a few years.  Great place, by the way.  Some kids in the US go to a shitty local museum for a school field trip.  We used to go to castle ruins that were hundreds of years old, or older.  That was so much cooler it can’t even be measured, and it is probably one of the main reasons I’ve had a fascination with sword & sorcery novels ever since.  Anyway, on that 2008 trip, I went to Singapore and then the Philippines.  I had a really good time, but hit a minor speed bump on the way back into my own country.

When I was trying to re-enter the United States, I got asked questions about why I was in the Philippines.  I didn’t even give the trip any thought beforehand, at least not in terms of making it back through customs, until that moment, and then it all sort of clicked together in my head.  The Philippines is a hotbed of terrorism, especially in the southern islands, which is home to the comically acronymed MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front, not Mom I’d Like to F***).  I spent about a week and a half there, so it must have raised a red flag when my passport was scanned at US Immigration.

What followed was a long discussion about why I was in the Philippines, what I did there, if I was planning on going back, and where I was going in the US.  Not helping the situation, I was still in the US Army at the time and I was heading back to my duty station, fresh from a ‘dangerous’ country that’s full of people who want to blow things up.  I’m just glad they didn’t have ‘enhanced’ (i.e. legal sexual assault) pat-downs or radioactive nudie machines back then or I’d have caused a scene and likely would have wound up being detained, as well as miss my connecting flight.

Later that year I moved to Asia, visited quite a few different countries in the region, including one that is ‘Islamic’ and even has shariah courts.  I even lived in the Philippines for a while.  When I re-entered my country, I again had a long discussion about my reasons for being there, coming back, etc., etc.

You might say, “But dude, you’re no one special.  Why would they watch you?”

To that I’d say no one is really special until after they blow something (or some people) up, or try to.  No one ever heard of those morons who flew planes into the sides of the World Trade Center buildings until after they did it right?  Or that idiot that tried to detonate an explosive in Times Square, or that lunatic disgrace of a military officer that turned on his own in Fort Hood.

So, I wonder if my name is on that list, based on my past military experience and the fact I’ve visited certain countries?  That’s kind of a scary thought.

Malaysia’s Church Bombings A Disappointment

“I think Singaporeans must have a care not to bring problems like this to themselves,” said DPM Wong at a community event in Singapore on Sunday.

“We live in an inter—connected world, we cannot be divorced from what happens in other countries. But at the same time we must be rational, and examine: when we bring such problems to our shores, what are we trying to do? Are we trying to express sympathy only, or will doing so result in more problems for our own community?”

Race and religion have always been seen as a potential minefield in Singapore.

via Yahoo! News

I’ve been following the news about the church bombings in Malaysia off and on and I think this guy’s message is pretty important.  It’s good to understand what’s going on in the world around us, as long as we don’t let it affect us so deeply that we begin to act on other people’s problems.  For all its ethnic and religious diversity, Singapore is probably the most peaceful country in the world.  It should stay that way.

This issue in Malaysia is one that boggles my mind.  Who knew that some people could be so deeply offended by such a small thing?  The universe is large, and God, or Allah, created all of it.  Do we really think that he would be so concerned over such a petty thing as non-believers using the name typically reserved for himself (in Malaysia)?  And even if Allah’s anger was piqued by non-believers using his name to refer to another idealization of God, isn’t it up to him to mete out Justice?

From my limited understanding of the use of Allah, it is typically used by Muslims when they reference God.  However, “Allah” is not a Muslim word.  It is an Arabic word, and as such is not subject to a monopoly by any certain group of people just as “God” isn’t subject to monopoly by Christians.

“The Allah ban is unusual in the Muslim world. The Arabic word is commonly used by Christians to describe God in such countries as Egypt, Syria and Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.”

via cnews WorldWatch

I also read that one argument against allowing the Catholic publication to use the word Allah is that it may confuse Muslims and lead to unwitting conversions.  That seems really weak to me though.  Do they have so little faith in people’s intelligence?  Or in their convictions?

The most disappointing part of this incident is that it has led to violent reactions allegedly on the part of Muslims.  Violence isn’t an answer.  It’s not going to make anyone change their mind.  Not in this day and age and especially not with petty acts of arson.  If anything, these actions have galvanized public opinion against extremist Muslims and painted Christians as the victims, lending public and international  favor to the court’s ruling to allow them the use of the word Allah.

On the other hand, this does is cast Malay Muslims in a poor light, even to other Muslims, since Islam as a religion is struggling to overcome international bias as a religion of war, terror and extremism.  There have been statements from the Malaysian government stressing that these actions are not condoned by the majority of Muslims in Malaysia.  There are also many Malay Muslims who have made contributions to have fire-bombed churches repaired, in a show of national solidarity against extremist attacks.

The controversy has pushed locals to turn to the Web in a bid to rally support for the affected buildings. A blogger who started an Internet fundraising campaign for the Metro Tabernacle Church, which was attacked by arsonists, raised 8,467 ringgit (US$2,493) in four days.

Mohamed Rafick Khan Abdul Rahman, 45, started the donation drive on his blog after learning about the attack in Kuala Lumpur. He said donations poured in nationwide, and from the U.K. and Europe.

via ZDNet Asia

I don’t pretend to understand Islam, since I’m not Muslim myself, but what I do know is that we as human beings should be able to settle our differences peacefully.  Any religion that purports itself to be a religion of peace can not, by definition, support violence as a mean’s to an end so committing violent acts in the name of Islam or Allah is contradictory.  People shouldn’t be so offended on religious grounds by a practice that’s already widely accepted by Muslims around the world.

In closing, it’s nice to see that while Singaporeans have taken in the news of religious strife in Malaysia, they’ve simply consumed the information for what it is and not let it affect the peaceful prosperity that Singapore is currently enjoying.

More Thoughts On The Fort Hood Incident

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news about what’s going on with the incident at Fort Hood and it looks like Nidal Malik Hasan is going to be facing the death penalty.  Well, that’s what prosecutors are pushing for anyway.  He’ll be tried in a military court, rather than a civilian one, and if he is executed it will be the first time that an active duty serviceman is put to death since 1961.

That’s all well and good but honestly I’d rather the guy spend the rest of his life in a Federal penitentiary, without the possibility of parole.  It would be like throwing a child molester into a general population prison.  This guy killed soldiers in a cowardly act of domestic terrorism and I think it would be much fairer for him to get his ass beaten in jail every day for the rest of his life.  Ya, the other people in the Federal penitentiary may have broken the law as well, but I have a feeling that the majority of them won’t take kindly to a person who killed a bunch of soldiers on a US military base, especially given his terrorist ties.

Something that’s bothering me is that the papers and online news sites are still referring to him as a Major.  They’re also still referring to him as a soldier.  While both of these are technically true, I think he’s lost the right to be accorded that honor.  Yes, it’s an honor to be called a soldier.  It’s an honor to be addressed by the rank you’ve been awarded.  It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of the country’s finest.  He’s a domestic terrorist with ties to known Middle Eastern terrorists.  He killed real soldiers.  He’s not a soldier.  He’s not a Major.  He’s just an asshole.

Also, people seem to be trying to paint Hasan as the victim, or at least a victim, in this whole scenario.  He’s not a victim.  In fact, I read that he wasn’t even a therapist.  He was just one of the people that processes paperwork and occasionally prescribes medication.  It’s likely he never spent more than 15 minutes with any single person.  He certainly wasn’t putting them on a couch and trying to couch them through personal problems or help them deal with PTSD.  That being the case, you can’t even claim that he was suffering from some second-hand PTSD, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be.  Does anyone else notice how medical illnesses seem to create themselves whenever someone does something f*cked up and wants to justify their actions?

It’s pretty clear what happened to him.  This guy never felt like he was an American.  He never felt like he belonged.  He had an ideological difference with how the US does business.  For whatever reason, he joined the Army as an officer.  That was the stupidest thing he could’ve done.  People join the Army for a lot of different reasons, but to some degree all soldiers are patriotic.  So, if you don’t believe in what your country is doing why be in the military?  I refuse to believe that he didn’t have ample time to resign his commission.  Instead of doing that though, he reached out to Islamic extremists and used his position of trust as a military officer to do as much damage to the Army as he could alone.

People are arguing that if this guy was a Christian his beliefs wouldn’t be at the forefront of the investigation, but we’re not at war with a Christian country and we’re not at war with groups of extremist Christians.  Hasan is a Muslim with ties to Muslim extremists, who committed this atrocious act with the idea of protecting his Muslim beliefs in mind.  His religion has everything to do with the investigation and with the cause of the killing of 12 US Soldiers and 1 devoted contracted medical professional.

I’m in no way saying that we should take a hard stance against having Muslims in our military.  I know a lot of Muslims, especially after having lived over here in Singapore, and for the most part they’re good or just average people.  They live their lives more or less the same way any other person does.  Hey, there are even gay Muslims.  I think people have the misconception that all Muslims are hard ass extremists.  That’s simply not the case.  What I am saying is that we need to take a harder look at Muslims who are put into positions of authority and trust, at least for the time being, to make sure they have no ties to any extremist groups.  Consider the minor loss of privacy to those individuals a temporary necessity of war.  At least we’re not throwing them all in concentration camps like we did to the Japanese during the second World War.  Hasan had obvious and known ties to extremists and it was brushed off by top government agencies as legitimate professional and educational research.  I call bullshit on that.  I think someone just dropped the ball.  At a time when we’re at war with Muslim extremist groups I think more care should be given to those who are obviously reaching out to them, especially those who are within our military ranks.  I’m getting really tired of seeing our government drop the ball when it comes to stuff like this.  First the September 11th, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC.  Now this.  What next?  Are we going to miss connecting the dots and have a whole city get blown up?

I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long drawn out process.  The legal proceedings I mean.  This guy will probably push for appeal after appeal, and the final execution order would have to be signed by the President himself, since he’s technically in the military.  For example, remember the other guy that rolled a grenade into a tent full of soldiers in Kuwait?  Well, that guy, then Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar, was sentenced to death four years ago.  His case is still held up in the first level appellate courts.

Responding To The Fort Hood Tragedy

On Thursday afternoon at around 1 PM CST at Fort Hood, Texas, there was a tragedy involving an Army major opening fire on fellow soldiers. The result was that 12 soldiers died and 28 were wounded. I can relate to this incident because I spent 8 years in the US Army. I don’t have a degree in Military Science. I was just a soldier, a Sergeant, but something like this really hits home for me, because I spent 8 years of my life living through the Army experience. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either, and what I miss most about it is the people. And, the people are who suffered in this tragedy, so after reading the news articles and watching some of the videos, I can’t help but wonder what happened. I didn’t get along with everyone I served with. In fact, I had a serious dislike for some of those bastards, but there was never a day where I’d have chosen an outsider over another soldier, for whatever reason. It may sound cheesy, or like some line from a movie, but you do form a bond with each other and on some level you feel like you belong.

Most of the reports indicate that the shooting took place in the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood. Just to clarify what that means, it’s a place where soldiers go to verify paperwork and ensure medical readiness prior to and after deploying. I’ve been through one on two occasions. I can’t remember every step, but there are medical checks including verifying whether or not you’re current on vaccinations, audiograms, and getting your eyes checked, as well as paperwork checks to make sure your last will and testament are complete and up to date. You can also have powers-of-attorney made to allow family members to handle your business for you while you’re gone. Typically, whole units at a time, and usually more, will go through these checks at once, for the sake of ensuring it gets done and everyone gets processed. It’s a really busy place with a lot of ‘stations’. It’s crowded, chaotic, and I can very easily see an incident happening in one area of an SRC without the rest of the poeople there being immediately aware.

The shooter in this incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was a mental health professional, whose job was to help soldiers returning from deployments deal with post traumatic stress syndrome. Every day he listened to soldiers tell him about their troubles, about the things they’d done and seen, and about how they couldn’t adjust to ‘regular’ life again. This is a pretty serious issue in the Army. The first time I came back from a deployment, when I was returning from Iraq, there wasn’t any sort of training about dealing with these kinds of issues. As the war dragged on, though, the Army recognized the problem and addressed it by providing training before and after deployments about PTSD. I distinctly remember watching the videos after my second deployment and thinking they were cheesy, but they addressed a serious problem. In addition to these videos, soldiers who self-reported problems could receive additional therapy and consultation, which is what I assume Major Hasan’s job entailed. With Major Hasan already dealing with a lot of internal struggles about the possibility of having to confront other Muslims in combat, hearing these details daily must have piled on the stress tremendously.

I spent some time in Iraq during 2003, when the initial wave of US troops entered the country. I was in Kuwait when the war started on a training deployment and our unit was pushed forward to provide logistics and repair support. Ya, I wasn’t in a combat unit. I was a supply specialist. Most of my duties involved warehousing operations, logistics convoys and vehicle recovery operations, since I was certified to operate the large forklifts sometimes required to flip over and lift vehicles, or pieces of vehicles onto trailers. I didn’t see much of any combat. I was only fired on once during the time I was there. I did see the results of combat though. It wasn’t pretty. Still, living in the middle of a foreign country where every person you encounter could potentially end your life, going to sleep each night wondering if a mortar would land in your tent and you’d never wake up again… Well, it was stressful. I still think about it sometimes.

I can only imagine the kind of mental problems combat troops come home with. I really felt for those guys. Sometimes they would come through our camp in Bradley Fighting Vehicles or M1 Abrahms tanks, and I would mentally wish them luck as they rolled by. I knew I had it easier than they did. I remember one time I was on guard duty at a checkpoint and a Bradley (if I remember right) stopped and the hatch popped up. The driver offered me 20 bucks for a pack of smokes. The American money we brought with us didn’t mean much out there. I tossed the guy my pack and told him to keep it. It was the least I could do. I never even knew the guy’s name, or whether he’s still alive today. Just the same, some of the chopper pilots running supplies up from Kuwait would give us cartons of cigarettes, because they knew we didn’t have a way to get any. It’s the small things that reminded us that we were all in the same boat, that we were part of a larger family, and we were taking care of each other as best we could.

So, it really disturbed me to find out that a solider, a Major no less, opened fire on fellow soldiers. It’s disgusting to me that soldiers died on a military base in the US, under fire, without a chance to defend themselves because one guy couldn’t handle the pressure. These are people that, for whatever reason, made an oath to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Who could’ve guessed that the domestic enemy would be one of their own, a person who had been entrusted with the rank of Major and also entrusted with the mental health of soldiers returning from combat. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, but officers, at least those that get promoted to Captain and above, are supposed to be the kind of guys you should emulate. They’re supposed to be the ones who have things under control and set the example for the troops under their command. They’re held to a higher standard. Perhaps that was part of the problem though. Enlisted soldiers or the ranks E-6 (Staff Sergeant) and below are pushed through all of the hoops and are scrutinized carefully. I have no clue, but I assume the same is true for the officer ranks of Captain and below. Once you get above those points, though, you’re golden and are often able to excuse yourself from training or appointments. You get away with more and are therefore more likely to fall through the cracks if you have a problem. I think people forget that they’re still human despite their rank.

The reports I’ve read say that Major Hasan was a Muslim, and that he’d been harassed by other soldiers because of his religion ever after the September 11th incident. They also said that he had tried to leave military service but hadn’t been successful. I really don’t understand that part. What contract had he signed that required him to stay in for 8 years past the time when he first expressed the desire to resign? Some officers have to stay in for a term of four years, to pay back college loans. Beyond that, I believe they can tender their resignation at their convenience, barring the setting of a “stop-loss” just prior to their unit deploying. If this guy was really serious about getting out of the military he had ample time to make it happen. Maybe he thought he could handle it. Maybe he thought he could deal with the occasional taunting. Maybe he thought he’d found a safe spot where he wouldn’t get deployed. Prior to my completing my contract and leaving the military, a lot of folks were very interested in finding out which bases had the lowest deployment rates and then finding ways to get assigned there. Maybe he got comfortable, and then was suddenly presented with orders to be deployed to the Middle East.

I remember when I got deployed to Kuwait the first and second time, and was informed that we would be moving forward to Iraq during the first deployment. You really have no choice but to accept it. You might not want to go, but no one does. You see, when you get orders like that you either go, or you go AWOL. When you go AWOL you can’t work because the IRS will report you to the military and you’ll be picked up by Military Police. When you get orders, you have to suck it up and push forward with the mission until the mission is done. That doesn’t mean you don’t bitch and moan about it along the way, but you don’t go apeshit and kill your buddies either. In short, when you get orders you’re locked in. I was actually extended past my contract date for a deployment. My discharge paperwork reads “extended XXX days for the convenience of the government.” So ya, there’s really no way out, even if your discharge date was close at hand. He was locked in. I imagine he must have tried to fight the deployment, possibly using his rank to try to sway someone into reassigning him elsewhere, but it must have failed, and after failing, he must have felt trapped.

This guy had some serious personal conflicts with the deployment. From what I gather he seems to have been very conflicted about the potential of having to kill other Muslims. It wouldn’t be likely, given that he was a health care professional, but it was possible. Even if he had never pulled the trigger he might have felt as if he were an accomplice to the murder of other Muslims, depending on his view of the ‘rightness’ or legality of the war. Feeling trapped, feeling conflicted about killing other Muslims, and feeling afraid of what might happened based on the stories he was told by his patients, it must have caused him to snap.

He apparently disposed of his personal belongings prior to going in to work Thursday morning. It seems as though he had reached the decision much in advance of his actions. What I wonder is why did he choose a path of violence? He could have simply refused to go and accepted the consequences. It might have resulted in his being jailed and losing his rank, but isn’t that a better option than killing your comrades, possibly dying, and swaying public opinion of Muslims into a much worse light than they already are? Let’s face it. Most Americans see Muslims as fear mongering, hate filled people who are all potential terrorists that are not to be trusted. Some Americans even feel that all Arabs and/or Muslims in the US should be rounded up into internment camps like the Japanese-Americans were during World War II. His actions have definitely not helped the situation any.  The weirdest part is that the morning before he did this, he handed out copies of the Koran to his neighbors.  What a way to advertise!  “What’s up guys! Here, have a copy of the Koran.  It’s great and will help you lead peaceful lives devoted to Allah.  Now, pardon me.  I have a readiness center to shoot up, Praise Allah!”  I just don’t see this going over too well.  If things were bad for Muslims in the US, and Muslims in the Army specifically, it’s only going to get worse now.  Oh, and after that he went to his regular convenience store and bought breakfast and had a chat with the store owner.  I guess he wasn’t too disturbed by what he was about to do.

Almost as disturbing as the tragedy itself are some of the reactions of people on the Internet. Mostly people are posting out of ignorance, but some people are outright lauding this man’s actions. It’s infuriating. What people fail to realize is that the soldiers themselves shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of the government. I’m sure there are some nutballs in the Army that can’t wait to go to combat, but for the most part soldiers are just like everyone else. They’re normal folks that go to work during the day, then go home at night to their families, or to their computers and XBOXs. They’re just people who got a job they could do to put food on the table for themselves or their family. Some soldiers don’t even want to be in the Army at all and are just doing service to pay off loans or save up money so they can do something else. Still, they’re all bound by contracts and they can’t just quit. And, they all have to follow orders or risk going to jail, which could put their families in jeopardy and sacrifice their future careers. I just wish people would ask questions and think a bit before blurting out ridiculous statements about soldiers. It’s also a bit ridiculous that some people have asked why Majar Hasan was able to kill and wound so many people before the police showed up. A military post in the US is like a town. There aren’t tanks rolling down the streets, or armed soldiers on every corner. There are no choppers flying through the air monitoring the situation. The firearms are all locked up in armories and require a unit commander’s approval to be released for cleaning or use at a range for annual qualification (which makes me wonder how Major Hasan had those two pistols in the first place). There are usually a mix of military police officers and contracted civilians. Response time for law enforcement on a military base is generally the same as or a bit better than that in a regular town.

The whole situation is disgusting. I kinda understand where the guy was coming from, but I just can’t understand what he was thinking when he decided that killing a bunch of people was the way to solve his problem. I’m actually glad Major Hasan is alive. Now he can stand trial for what he’s done. And, after all that shame, embarrassment and knowing that he’s made the US a worse place for Muslims, I hope they hang his ass.

(Photos snagged from CNN)