November 06, 2009

Reporting Non-Default Religion

I've been reading about the Fort Hood shooting this morning, like most everyone else. There's lots of bad and misleading information being passed around this close to the confusion, I'm sure. A few things stood out in the reporting, though, most of them having to do with the alleged shooter being Muslim, or more specifically, not Christian.

  1. Major Hasan apparently received a load of flack from fellow soldiers over the last eight years about how his religion has allied him with the enemies of the U.S. We are currently involved in two wars. In both wars, our allies and our enemies share a religion, although the details vary. If we can't distinguish between the two better than that, we're in incredibly deep trouble.
  2. Major Hasan was reportedly reprimanded for proselytizing. Considering the current state of our evangelical armed services, this is galling. How much did the unequal treatment contribute to turning fellow soldiers into targets?
  3. Major Hasan reportedly shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" before shooting. This is being treated as evidence of motivation in several venues. This is a ritual phrase. If he had shouted, "Help me, Jesus!" instead, would it be so widely reported? Would anyone think it was a clue to anything aside from a religious person being terribly upset?
We don't know what happened with this shooting, or why. It's going to be some time before we do--to the extent we ever know. In the meantime, beware of people trying to play on your own internalized narratives. Watch out for reporting that creates stories out of stereotypes and xenophobia.

The shooting has stopped. We can afford some uncertainty. We have time to figure out what happened. And we've seen enough in the last eight years to know how well it goes when we lay blame and act before we do that.


Becca said...

This incident is just the most convincing in a stream of such events that we need to start taking seriously. I don't care if it's not PC, there is a certain type of person who does this sort of thing. A certain type of person we can identify, but if we say anything about it, oh NOES! We're just being SO discriminatory! Screw that. These people are VIOLENT. They want to KILL good, decent, innocent folks. We need to start saying something about it.

Soldiers are primed to be terrorists.

His orders come from far away no more.

Harvey said...


I think you are missing the point here.
There was a time, not so long ago, when people with brownish yellow skins and Japanese surnames, albeit American citizens born and bred, were segregated and imprisoned on no more evidence of "fifth column" intentions than these isolated genetic facts.
Your concern is understandable, but there is no real way that there is "...A certain type of person we can identify," as you have implied. For starters, by no means every Muslim in the world is either dark skinned or has a name that sounds middle eastern. If we were to apply your reasoning, we would need to restrict the activities of all of the relatives of Timothy Mc Vey (A self-described Christian), of anyone German or Japanese in descent (see above), of anyone who has ever vistied in any Muslim country for more than a few days, etc, etc,.
Please note: none of these observations has anything to do with discrimination, per se. Rather, I am trying to point out the futility of what your post seems to be suggesting we should do. And...oh, yes, your recommendations would also be against the rights preserved to us in our Constitution, for whose support and protection most soldiers are willing to give their lives, including many thousands of Muslim descent who have made these same sacrifices on our behalf in the past.

Rich said...

"These people are VIOLENT. They want to KILL good, decent, innocent folks. We need to start saying something about it.

Soldiers are primed to be terrorists."

I'm for doing something about soldiers.

Becca said...

Damn. Too subtle. Knew I should have used "psychiatrists are primed to be terrorists".

Jason Thibeault said...

I don't think the fault is yours, Becca.

ScientistMother said...

Well said stephanie. My heart sank when I heard the shooter was muslim. I immediately thought of all the american-muslim soldiers. How they must feel, how they are probably trying so hard to prove their loyalty. As you said, its is very similar to the american japanese during WWII.

Becca - I am shocked to read your comment, I did not expect that from you. I'm not sure if you're trying to be sarcastic.

Jason Thibeault said...

Most of the cause of this particular situation, in my estimation, is due to the casting of these wars as "good Christian America vs bad Muslim [Afghanistan / Iraq]". It's no wonder the Muslim soldiers are sympathizing with "the enemy", if indeed that is what's happened here, considering everyone tells the Muslim soldier that his religion is the enemy. Religious folks have integrated their religion into their personhood to such a degree that it's no wonder I've chosen to fight religiosity itself, when it causes travesties like this one.

ScientistMother, I'm sure Becca was a) pointing out that the folks agitating to purge the country of Muslims are being ridiculous, and b) pointing out that soldiers are, indeed, primed to be violent (and violent people are more prone to terrorism than non-violent people).

Maybe I was too quick to defend your subtlety, Becca. Sigh.

RPS77 said...

I hope that Becca's comment was designed to point out the ridiculousness of lumping people together based on a single characteristic, rather than a sincere expression of hostility toward people in the military.

Jason Thibeault said...

Obviously I can't speak for Becca, but the fact that some people are agitating for a purge of Muslims while saying that they're primed to be violent in attempting to achieve a goal (e.g. terrorism), is horribly hypocritical when they support soldiers, who really ARE primed to be violent to achieve a goal, just one that's supported by the state. Yes, soldiers make a great sacrifice; yes, soldiers do their duty. But they're being trained to be violent. Much moreso than any Muslim I've ever known.

Grouping people by their primary characteristic is especially stupid when there are other groups, groups you support, that are better primed for the action you condemn.

rystefn said...

I've known a few soldiers who also happened to Muslims, so I can't say that, but as a general rule, I would definitely say that when comparing all the soldiers I've know to all the Muslims I've known, the soldiers, as a group, have been more primed for violence.

Muslims seem to be, in my admittedly limited experience, right about equal to Christians on the "primed for violence" scale. Same for the "looking for a fight" scale, the "looking for a reason to start a fight" scale and the "violently condemns people for nonviolent thoughts/action/appearances/traits"scale.

Considering that on any given day, I encounter approximately twenty times as many Christians, and easily three or four times as many soldiers and former soldiers, as Muslims, I think you can guess who I consider the more likely threat. I'll give you a hint: I'm a more or less sane and reasonably rational person.

I sympathize very little with a person who would shoot up a crowd of unarmed people like that, but I will say that there's only so much of being demonized by people who are supposed to be on my side and in whose hands my life may one day literally lie before I'd probably snap. I'm not saying that's the reason this happened, but I'll damned well stand up and say it sure as Hell didn't fucking help.

Becca said...

ScientistMother- It is sarcastic in that the main purpose is to call attention to how ridiculous it is to stereotype. I was assuming that, given this context, most people could hear that argument as an echo of others made about muslims.
At the same time "his orders come from far away no more" is a line in the song "Universal Soldier" (look it up if you want to understand- a bit- how I feel about soldiers. Although, I've gradually matured to the point where I feel significant respect for their intentions, if nothing else. A little bit the opposite of 'respect the badge not the cop'- I respect the vast majority of soldiers as individuals, but not because of the whole killing people part).

Incidentally, I meant the "psychiatrists are primed to be terrorists" in the same sarcastic/not sarcastic way. But this could just be because my the only grandparent I had who lived long enough for me to meet, I didn't get a chance to. He was a psychiatrist who attempted suicide by shooting himself in the head and my Mom decided I'd be better off without that particular source of potential chaos.

Jason Thibeault said...

A link for everyone's edification: the Christian group American Family Association is calling for Muslims to be banned from military service in America.

rystefn said...

Well that's the opposite of helpful, isn't it? I'd much rather see the banning of Christians in the military, as they've been the source of far more trouble.

(No, I'm not actually advocating that. Just to clarify before anyone jumps on me about it.)