Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Alternate Reality

In the wake of the tragedy at Fort Hood, the right in America has spent hours deconstructing the event, largely because it both undermines their assumptions about the world and also confirms their fantasies about Islamic Extremism. How it operates in the latter fashion is clear - a Muslim man shot several soldiers in an army camp in Texas, killing many of them. And yet, there's a clear element of disbelief and incomprehension, strewn amidst the calls for mandatory debriefings of Muslim soldiers and the increasingly too familiar demands for identification and surveillance of the entire Muslim American community.

Major Nadil Malik Hasan was a native-born American citizen. Fox News returned to that point several times, unable to reconcile it with his actions. Why can't they accept that an American who had faced relatively constant attacks on his character because of his religion become angry with this country? Why can't they accept that though his course of action was truly disgusting and deserving all the reprimand in the world, that his politics had a basis in an utterly human response to their cultural bigotry?

This goes beyond their forced blindness to their enemies' perception of the United States and resultant political opposition. To its core, islamophobic reaction to 9/11 in America has built its base over nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment, casting undocumented immigrants, even non-Muslims from Haïti, as security threats. Within a matter of weeks of that terrorist attack, the legal immigration status of the actual perpetrators of that attack was forgotten, and hundreds of undocumented Muslims were being rounded up because of their religion.

The status of terrorist and Muslim becoming the same fit into a larger narrative of both being foreign. The Bush era undermining of attempts to study domestic terrorism and explanation of the Iraq War as a fight against "them" over there so "they" don't fight us here all contributed to a perception of Islamism as not only an ideology introduced from far away countries, but tied to foreigners and outsiders, never members of American society. This reconciled with an equation of terrorism and Islam by an overarching xenophobia, casting all of these weakly related ideologies and statuses as inherently linked and inherently outside of the American experience.

Already, however, the far right has continued to build up this illusion of utter foreignness of Islamism. Leading Republicans have pronounced this a sign of how thoroughly the American military has been "infiltrated", infected with Muslims as the subtext to this statement. Considering Hasan joined the army in 1995, long before the War on Terror, and was a native-born American, this talk of ideological contamination rings false. He didn't arrive from a distant shore bringing harsh words for the American military. He found himself rejected and trapped within the military and turned to violence as a solution.

In response to the various parts of the case which contradict a narrative of Islamism in favor of a more complex interaction between anti-military sentiment, instability, and a religious justification, various pundits have labeled this as an act purely driven by religion. Retired General Barry McCaffrey has already claimed that murders as a response to an unwilling redeployment. In spite of serving in the Vietnam War, the killing of fellow military servicemen as a desperate attempt to avoid deployment seems a completely foreign attitude for him.

As per usual, the right wing perception of the event has a limited basis in reality and largely ignores evidence contradictory to a larger worldview with xenophobia as a central pillar of their understanding of the universe. They're living in an alternate reality, where the political correctness of the American military is making them too nice to Muslims.

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