Monday, November 09, 2009

Hugh Fitzgerald on NPR Coverage of Ft. Hood Massacre

He calls it "A Nest of Ninnies"
Though I watched many different programs, one stuck in my mind. Because I could listen to it first in the morning and then to the rerun the same evening, I managed to take more complete notes (the first time round, I was too stunned by the varieties of idiocy on parade to do so). This was Tom Ashbrook's "On Point" on NPR. His guests, along with his fellow commentator Jack Beatty (who is permitted to phone in his work from Hanover, N.H. and never need make the trek to Boston and WBUR) were Hendrik Hertzberg, who writes for Talk of the Town in The New Yorker, and an editor on the Dallas Morning News, Bill McKenzie.

Ashbrook got the whole thing going on a note of youth-wants-to-know gosh-darn-it puzzlement, asking "what could have driven Major Hasan to this?" What, indeed? What could it have been? During the entire program there was not a single mention of Major Hasan's deep commitment to Islam, not a single attempt to ask what might be in the Qur'an, the Hadith, the Sira, that might, conceivably, possibly, explain not only the behavior of Major Hasan, but of the thousands of Muslims picked up, before, during, and after planned, or foiled, or unsuccessful, or successful, attempts at waging Jihad violently, and directly, rather than waging Jihad through other means. There was not a syllable about Islam inculcates, not a question about it, for it was simply nervously assumed that of course it couldn't be Islam - how could it be? For if it could, what in god's name would that mean? What would that require us to think, or - horribile dictu - even possibly to do, in policies both foreign and domestic?

The calls came in, fast and furious, no doubt most of them vetted for their contents ahead of time. Anyone who was likely to mention the little matter of Islam was kept out, or kept out until the very end, when one tiny one-sentence mention managed to slip by Ashbrook's call-vetters and handlers, who are given instructions as to what to allow on, and what lines of inquiry or inquirers are to be kept, under one pretext or another ("we'll get to that in another show" or "we don't think this is the time to focus on that" or "we already have a question about that lined up" or "gee, we are running out of time but we'll see if we can get to you" and so on) to keep ruthlessly off (I know this, from informants on the inside).

One person, a former army psychiatrist during the Vietnam war, was chosen to offer a comment about Nidal Hasan's performance as an army psychiatrist -- "he had a subpar performance evaluation" - which of course makes one think that Hasan may have sought vengeance as a "disgruntled employee." In other words, his massacre had nothing to do with his deepest lifelong beliefs, and everything to do with that comforting alternative, "going postal."

Then someone else offered her (or was it his) two bits. "This guy was a graduate of Virginia Tech. A lot of stuff went on there. This guy was a time-bomb." Get it? It's all the fault of that campus killing a few years ago at Virginia Tech. He went there. He was therefore a time-bomb, just waiting to go off. I wonder how many parents, siblings, employers, are expected to now be eyeing uneasily their children, siblings, employees, the ones who made the fatal mistake of going to Virginia Tech and are now walking "time-bombs" like Major Nidal Malik Hasan.

Then someone else called to Blame The Army (And The System, And While We Are At It, Amerikka Too). The army has taken "an enormous toll on clinicians" who are "already on the edge." And Nidal Malik Hasan was "very affected by the physical and mental injuries." Do you think so? Do you think Nidal Malik Hasan was "very affected" by the physical and mental injuries suffered by the Infidel servicemen he was supposed to treat? Or do you think, rather, that he wasn't upset with those injuries at all, but only with what he learned, or what he imagined, about the injuries suffered by Iraqis, or Afghans, or any Muslims at all, non-Iraqi and non-Afghan, who might have been lending a hand in either country to the war against the American infidels? What a preposterous and ludicrous idea! A devout Muslim such as Major Nidal Hasan made no secret of his views. To classmate Val Finnell he was "a Muslim first and an American second." He posted on websites under his real name (Nidal Hasan) that "if one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory" a few months before he tried to kill "100 enemy soldiers" (falling 87 short, but not for want of trying - rather, only because someone armed, a policewoman, appeared on the scene). It is absurd to think he would have been upset - as others were upset - by the spectacle of any Infidel suffering.

But other callers kept up that theme: "The strain these people suffer." Who? Army people? Army psychiatrists? People who served in the war or people who are about to be deployed, even if, like Major Nidal Malik Hasan, in non-combat positions? No doubt the army is understaffed and psychiatrists often find themselves troubled, because they feel sympathy with, identify with, those who have come back deeply scarred in one way or another. But there is no evidence that Major Nidal Malik Hasan felt any sense of identification, any sympathy whatsoever, for those he was assigned to help, and it is silly to believe, or pretend to believe, that he would. And it is doubly offensive given that this belief or pretend-belief is offered in order to deflect attention from what Major Nidal Malik Hasan so obviously and openly believed deeply truly madly in -- Islam.

Punctuating these phone calls were approving comments of both Ashbrook and his two guests, Bill McKenzie, whose voice, and the sentiments that he expressed, made one think of Ned Flanders, the comically goody-goody neighbor of Homer Simpson, while smooth nieuw-amsterdamer Hendrik Hertzberg (Jonathan Schell! Jake Brackman! The Crimson! Mr. Shawn!), though slightly more urbane, was equally comical in his amazing ability to avoid the obvious.

More, more, more calls, all about the psyches of American soldiers. You see, still another of those vetted callers-in "joining the conversation" said, "the kind of war we are fighting is much harder on the psyches of soldiers." And yet again, someone said (it doesn't matter who): "In Afghanistan and Iraq our soldiers are subject to almost a 24/7 anxiety." Oh, I have no doubt it is hard on the psyches of American soldiers, who are deeply demoralized by what their generals and civilian leaders tell them, and what they observe, up close, about the people, the Muslim people, whom they are expected to trust, and in some cases trust with their lives, in order to make life better for these Muslim people who seem so strangely ungrateful, and whining, and treacherous, and dangerous, and yet the generals keep saying we must do this, we must do that, to win their hearts and their minds - and that is a very large part of the psychic distress from which our soldiers and Marines suffer, the disconnect between what they are told is the mission, and what they must believe in order to accomplish that impossible mission, and what they see, what they experience, for themselves.

But the subject of "On Point" was not supposed to be the psychic damage done to many of our soldiers and Marines coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was not supposed to be about the post-traumatic stress disorder (mentioned again and again, as a leitmotif of that particular edition of "On Point") of "our soldiers" as in the phrase that was uttered by yet another caller - or was it Ashbrook himself (I forget): "In Afghanistan and Iraq our soldiers are subject to almost a 24/7 anxiety." The subject was supposed to be not "our soldiers" but one particular Muslim soldier who killed "our soldiers," that is the mass-murderer Nidal Malik Hasan, who hasn't spent a single second in Iraq or Afghanistan, who has been consumed not with pity for the squandering of American lives, and the miserable missions they have been asked to fulfill, but rather consumed with hatred for the very Americans, the non-Muslim Americans, who trust him so much that they allow him to live among them, even to treat them, even to be deployed, possibly, as an army psychiatrist, to Afghanistan or Iraq, where the army naively assumed he would not pose a threat any more than they thought he would pose a threat at Fort Hood. But there was every sign that this man took his Islam seriously. Nothing more need be known.

Still, the program continued in its complacent display of idiocy. Ashbrook alluded a little nervously, I thought, to the American military, which was now "a military of such diversity, a diversity which we celebrate" and therefore, apparently, it would be A Very Bad Thing Indeed to raise any issue or matter that might impinge or infringe on that celebrated Diversity Of Which We Can All Be Very Proud.

Then, toward the end of the program, one lone voice somehow got through. Was it because there had been dozens of would-be callers who wished to express the same thing, and Ashbrook decided to let one short call stand for all of them, in the interests of "fairness" in order to head off potential future complaints? Or was it a case where the caller simply lied about what he intended to say, in order to get on, and then said it, quickly? He said something of such obvious truth that it startled the proceedings. And this is what he said. He said that all the attention deflected onto PTSD and other forms of craziness ignored the main point, and the main point was this: "An American Muslim who has decided to be a Jihadist in the military."

An uneasy silence, and then, after that single moment of illumination, they put out the light. Or rather, they dimmed those lights, dimmed them quickly. Tom Ashbrook, and Jack Beatty, and Bill McKenzie, and Hendrik Hertzberg dimmed them, so that listeners would, as it were, see once again as through a glass, darkly, and it was quickly back to the dismal mixture as before. You know, the terrible "stress" felt by soldiers who had been in Iraq and Afghanistan (where Nidal Malik Hasan, remember, had never been), and the terrible "stress" felt by the overworked psychiatrists who had to deal with those soldiers who had felt that stress in Iraq and Afghanistan. But their suffering, as Infidels, would have been a matter certainly at most of indifference to Nidal Hasan. More likely their suffering, mental and physical, was a source of great secret pleasure by Nidal Malik Hasan.

Jack Beatty intervened quickly with "we just don't know enough.... the horrors of war... affected him." And then Beatty outdid himself, by choosing to deflect attention not to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and overwork in the military, but to a theme of Injustice. And what was the Great Injustice? It wasn't the fact that the bigshots, in the government, in the military, and in the media, have done their damnedest to prevent any of us from seeing steadily and whole the texts, tenets, attitudes, and atmospherics of Islam, which might make both soldiers and civilians much more secure, and not incidentally, save a few trillion dollars along the way by pointing up the folly of military intervention, as a way to combat the worldwide Jihad, in Iraq and Afghanistan. No, what exercised the voice-from-Dorchester Jack Beatty, who never forgets the Plight of the Common Man (of which he is a perfect exemplar), is that many soldiers enlist, he said, because of "lack of economic opportunity" (as well, he hastened to add, also out of "patriotism"). And that, somehow - don't ask me how - the fact that many people enlist out of the economic injustices of our society, that by allowing the current system of enlistment, we in the larger society engage in "ratifying the injustice of our own society."

Tiens! Now there is no doubt that there is plenty of injustice in our society, and there is no doubt that one reason rich people tend not to enlist is that they do not need to do so for economic reasons (so that anyone well-off who joins the army is doing so for quite different reasons), but for god's sake, Jack and Tom and Hendrik and Bill, the program today, On Point, was supposed to discuss what prompted someone who was born and raised in this country, whose entire medical school costs were borne by the American taxpayers, to decide to mass-murder as many of his fellow soldiers as he could. And the "economic injustice" of American society, and the fact that no doubt many of those he murdered were from the identifiable class of economically "disadvantaged," is utterly irrelevant. Or it is irrelevant unless your goal is to quickly make everyone forget the caller who mentioned, in a moment of rare truth on this comically confused and confusing program, that Nidal Malik Hasan was "an American Muslim" who had decided to be a Jihadist, and on an army base. He was just like Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan who try to kill Infidel soldiers on army bases, or like some Muslims a year or two ago were planning to attack an army base in New Jersey, or the attack on the recruitment center just a few months ago, or any of the many attacks by Muslims, in this country, and in Canada, and in Great Britain, and in France, and in Belgium, and in Germany, and in Denmark, and in Italy, and in Spain. All that carefully went unmentioned by Jack, by Tom, by Bill, by Hendrik.

Apparently neither Ashbrook, nor the equally egregious Beatty, nor ned-flandersish McKenzie, nor child-of-refugees-from-Hitler Hertzberg, thought they had any duty to treat their listeners with anything other than contempt, a contempt expressed in their apparent belief that they could get away without addressing, without coming close, to Islam - to at least asking, just once - gosh, shouldn't we look into the texts of Islam to find out what it was this Major Nidal Malik Hasan believed? Shouldn't we demand that they, or those who one hopes will soon take their places, take all of their places, do so? Don't we owe it to the living, and the dead?