More Questions than Answers

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

This is not justification for war, yet also I am no pacifist.

Why did Major Hasan do it????

On 5 November, Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people at a military base.

In the US, this event has already become deeply and divisively political.

But why???

Its still not entirely clear what his motives were. Some stress that he was an Islamic religious extremist. Others that he was angered by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and may have been victimised for this faith.

Some broad thoughts:

Militant religious extremism regardsless of the religion and I am not pointing fingers directly at Islam, can find a grievance if it wants one.

If its not Iraq, or Afghanistan, its East Timor, or Chechnya, or Palestine, or the Sudan, or forced marriage, or circumcision, or divorce, or headscarves, or heresy, or apostasy, etc.

But wars can very powerfully energise ideologies.
Clearly, radicals can be motivated even if we are not ‘over there’ en masse.
Yet that doesn’t mean the current wars are irrelevant. It seems highly unlikely that being at war is irrelevant to the momentum and will of people who kill for ideology..

Does that in itself mean that we shouldn’t fight these wars? I have always been uneasy with this line of argument. By definition, being at war does invite hostility on oneself. Australia could have forestalled Al Qaeda’s anger by not supporting East Timorese independence. We in Britain could have prevented the carnage of the Blitz by reaching a diplomatic settlement with Hitler, but that doesn’t mean it should have or that it would have been wise or prudent.

What however we should not do though is fight a war based on lies and mistruths.
And sadly that is an issue we face today.

If armed force is one necessary way to disrupt and weaken the capability of highly seasoned and expert killers who are at large ‘over there’, then it isn’t necessarily wrong to wage war, even if one cost is that it fires up radicals at home.

The question being was Afghanistan really a harbour for terrorism to spread to the West, to our soil.
This we will never actually full know but I feel Pakistan dos have several questions itself that need answered.

The overwhelming majority of attempted terrorist attacks on home soil fail or are prevented. Would it be better not to fight abroad, leaving domestic radicals less angered, but the most hardened terrorists far more free to operate? There are difficult tradeoffs here.

Whatever one thinks about that problem, it still seems clear that expeditionary wars do bring this cost attached, and that this must be factored into our decisionmaking. As a matter of causation, war does often radicalise, and not being at war in these countries would probably have made Major Nidal Malik Hasan less likely to carry out this killing. Not impossible, but less likely.

This isn’t about our intentions. I agree that the US and its allies do want to leave behind a stable, democratic and prosperous society in Iraq and Afghanistan, that this isn’t intended to be some kind of bloody-minded assault on Islam. The reasons for this may well be economic for the West, but a reason non the less.

A glance at the history books shows that the UK and America has very often fought on the side of Muslim populations against their enemies, and a country that was determined to annihilate Islam would not go to the trouble of extensive humanitarian effort, from earthquakes in Pakistan to tsunami relief to billions in aid to Egypt, nor would it take in so many Muslim immigrants, many of whom have made proud lives.

And yet it is easy for radical clerics and propagandists to portray the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as unjust attacks on Islam. There is so much footage to be manipulated, so much unintended killing of civilians, so many images of foreigners patrolling foreign soil. Whether we like it or not, this is a propaganda dream.

Back to Major Hasan......

Does this mean there is a domestic insurgency underway in the United States?

People will disagree on definitions. But one horrific shooting spree does not make an organised, sustained armed uprising. I base this not only on the assumption that concepts like ‘insurgency’ should be delimited to have coherent meaning. Its also on the assumption that the vast majority of Muslims are strongly against blowing people up. So before we rush to the excited conclusion that this is evidence of a domestic revolt, lets beware of characterising a mass of ordinary, unremarkable, human beings in our midst as potential fifth columnists.

The real difficulty with this case is that it has so quickly been wrapped up in the toxic politics of the ‘culture wars’, the ongoing and bitter struggle over the nature of American society, and the origins of violence within and against it. The simple question, ‘why did he/ they do it’ is now so ideologically loaded, that it is hard to tackle in a cold and analytical way.

I dont think we will ever know.
But the propogandists will continue to feed.

Cross posted from my own thoughts.


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