Attempting to Make Sense of the Fort Hood Tragedy

S. Abdallah Schleifer

Posted Nov 9, 2009      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Attempting to Make Sense of the Fort Hood Tragedy

by S. Abdallah Schleifer

Attempting to make sense of the Fort Hood Tragedy.  It’s a brave attempt on Sheila Musaji’s part.  I doubt I have that sort of courage. I am too overwhelmed by the act.  But I will try.

Of all the articles in The American Muslim’s extensive collection the one that I find most moving is the article by Robert Salaam that also appeared in The Independent (UK). Perhaps because he was a Marine and I served in the infantry, we are both so similarly and so deeply shaken by this event.

What we must never lose sight of,  (yet we continually do) is that Islamophobia has stalked this, our American land since 9/11. And, as I have written before, Islamophobia is quite reasonable among non Muslim Americans who don’t live next door to a normal Muslim family or work next to a normal Muslim at office or factory. The problem is that Islamophobia is easily exploited by Muslim-Haters or Muslim-Bashers.  And it is our failure (and the failure of our very good non-Muslim friends) to distinguish between Islamophobics and Muslim-Haters, and that leads us to talk only with our most overt friends among
non-Muslims. That’s why I find Interfaith work so important and not with the obviously friendly “liberal” Christians (whose communions are rapidly declining in membership, perhaps precisely because of their “liberalism”) but with Evangelicals and Roman Catholics—which is why I have devoted so much time to A Common Word, and precisely why the dialogues I most appreciate and in a sense, the most successful were with Evangelicals at Yale in July 2008 and at the Vatican in November 2008.

The first story online about the killings didn’t mention the name of the killer for the first two or perhaps even the first three paragraphs. So, as I was reading those first two paragraphs I was praying “Ya Rabb, please..let this killer not be a Muslim.”  Now admittedly there is something very atavistic about that—no doubt my grandfather, an immigrant from Odessa as a young man in the late 19th century prayed when he heard about some outrageous act against morality, common decency and country, no doubt he prayed “God, please let this criminal not be a Jew.”  But probably more significant than that is the obvious inference, that in my heart of hearts, reading those first two paragraphs I feared the reasonable, even strong possibility that the killer could be a Muslim.

We live in very difficult times, very trying times in which encouraging counter-trends to the contrary, the prevailing trends seem to be either aggresive moral degeneracy reflected most visibly in our mass culture and mindless consumerism or a highly politicized religious reaction, in which religion has as much to do with a broadly political sense of identity as it no doubt has to do with a faith that can be characterized as a spiritually sterile, desacralising, Puritanism— whether occurring in the American heartland among Christians or in the convoluted “modern Orthodoxy” in the West Bank settlements or the “modern Orthodox” American Jews who are the only community, (and a minority at that) within American Jewry who support the settlements and oppose a two-state solution, or in growing fundamentalist or salafite currents in the Muslim world, and conceivably among American Muslims.  Even in a benign form, which is how this phenomena frequently plays out among American Muslims it still reflects a spiritually empty, highly politicized form of religion, and that void is invariably filled by self-righteous rage, that in the Muslim context is usually expressed in overly political terms.

People gripped by a puritanical,politicized, self-righteous religion, whatever the denomination, are often walking time bombs.

S. Abdallah Schleifer is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication at The American University in Cairo.