Soon after news of the Ft. Hood shooting had reached the airwaves, the Council on American Islamic Relations released a statement saying, "We condemn this cowardly attack in the strongest terms possible." The name of the alleged assailant, Major Malik Nidal Hasan, had necessitated a quick response from the group because of the fear that Muslims as a whole would be assigned collective responsibility for the actions of one man whose religious affectations were, at that point, unknown. Some reporters began pontificating about the dangers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, which was just as irresponsible.
But CAIR's fears were sadly confirmed quite quickly, as John Nichols wrote yesterday evening. Michelle Malkin, whose book In Defense of Internment advocated for the use of racial profiling against Arabs and Muslims, quickly recycled a 2003 column suggesting that there was something wrong with allowing Muslims to serve in the armed forces. "Political correctness is the handmaiden of terror," Malkin tweeted. Don't you see? If we had just listened to her, and treated those people as enemies to begin with, this would never have happened. There are thousands of Arab-Americans serving in the armed forces, and many have given their lives defending this country -- Malkin would have us see all of them as potential traitors.
This is not unusual. In every community, there are those who make it their role to assign collective responsibility of the group's miseries to outsiders. Shortly after the shootings at Virginia Tech -- the immediate aftermath of which was rife with the same sort of Islamophobia -- Pat Buchanan was shrieking about immigration because the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was a South Korean national.
Indeed, the attempt to assign collective responsibility to Muslims worldwide for the murderous actions of a few is sadly predictable. Doing so is the first step in rationalizing the unthinkable and justifying the unjustifiable. But where this sort of reaction is to be expected from the likes of Malkin and Buchanan, far more shocking was the exchange between Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and FOX News anchor Shepard Smith. Upon discovering Hasan's name, Smith said "The name tells us a lot, does it not, Senator?" to which Hutchinson responded, "It does. It does, Shepard."
How shameful. At the time, it told us literally nothing. But here were a sitting senator and a man whose job it is to report the news indulging their personal prejudices on national television. They were as ready to assign collective responsibility for the Ft. Hood massacre to Muslims as a whole as the pundits who do it for a living.
In the past few months, we've seen a number of shootings performed by white men with right-wing fringe beliefs. But while an attempt to assign the responsibility for the murder of George Tiller, or the killing of police in Pittsburgh, or the assault on the Holocaust Museum to white men as a whole would rightfully be seen as idiotic, there are those who sit poised and prepared assign the alleged actions of one man to an entire people. This is, quite frankly, the best reaction groups like al-Qaeda could hope for: The strength of their narrative of a war between Islam and the West ultimately rests on our own actions. We should not indulge them or those that share a similar worldview.
I'm glad Hasan is alive so that he can be tried for his alleged crimes -- if he is guilty, he will be a martyr to no one's cause. His motivations will be clear in time. But even if his motives were religious or political, the responsibility is his and his alone. In the meantime, I only hope that Americans will listen to the better angels of their nature.
-- A. Serwer