The Fallout From “Spinning Ft. Hood”

Hussein Rashid’s Nov. 11th article Spinning Ft. Hood generated some very strong feelings and a number of comments that violated our commenting policy. As a result we closed comments and invited readers to send a letter to the editor (a format we’ll be moving to on all stories when we relaunch early next year. Blogs will continue to feature comments).

The following is one such letter:

Burk Braun writes:

“Criminal acts involving murder are forbidden explicitly [in Islamic traditions].”

Wow-do you really need a historian to jump in here and say that this willfully denies the core texts of Islam and Islamic history? I am all for reforming Islam and encouraging a milder and more enlightened version, especially here in the US. But Islam has been from its beginning a religion of the sword, offering infidels the choice of conversion or death, sentencing apostates to death automatically, and taking an explicitly military jihad to all corners of the earth as a duty of faith.

There is no need to tar all Muslims with the brush of their faith’s darker aspects and history, but we can and should be cognizant of its inherent violence as a matter of current events and past history. Much like in the case of the right-wing militia movement fifteen years ago, there are various toxic ideological brews that we need to be conscious of and keep a lid on, so that diversity does not trend into chaos by way of over-indulgence and willful blindness.

The case of Major Hasan, in the absence of any conspiracy, is not very serious in that regard, except that the many signs of his disgruntlement were not attended to, as sometimes happens at the postal service as well. But ideologies of hate, long-standing in the case of Islam, and of more recent vintage among the FOX news tea-baggers et al., deserve our attention and full gaze.

They should not be swept under the rug in the interests of the sensitive feelings of those who, as apparently exemplified by the quotes in this article, do not fully understand their own traditions. Sensitive feelings can be genuine, but they can also be, as rioting after various blasphemous events has made clear, yet another tool in the armamentarium of Islamic bigotry.

Hussein Rashid responds:

Dear Sir:

I think a historian would be appropriate. As you mention “core texts of Islam” and “Islamic history,” without defining either or proffering examples, I am unsure where to begin. I, and other scholars of religion, have written ad nauseam about the use and misuse of religious texts, from members of a faith tradition and those outside it.

Broad assertions without evidence do not make for a strong argument. Perhaps we should look at South Asia, where prior to partition, the vast majority of the sub-continent was under Muslim rule, with no mass conversion. Even if we combine Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh again, less than 1/3 of the population is Muslim, for an empire that existed for several centuries, it seems to give lie to your assertion that Muslims are forced to convert people.

We can also look at Spain from the 8th-15th centuries, which is considered a golden age for Jews, Christians, and Muslims because no one was forced to convert. There is also the Ottoman Empire that held sway over parts of Europe that remain predominately Christian.

If you want to go earlier, you can look at the work of Richard Bulliet (Columbia University – History), Carl Ernst (UNC – Chapel Hill – Religion), or Bruce Lawrence (Duke University – Religion), who have all written extensively about the myth of conversion by the sword.

Is there a nihilistic destructive strand within Islamic thought? Undoubtedly. Most faith traditions, and non-faith traditions, exhibit these tendencies. The point of the article was that we cannot jump to conclusions about the cause of Maj. Hassan’s actions. Even a month after the event, we still have no information as to what caused him to shoot people.

Implicit was a critique of the internalization of stereotypes and uncritical consumption of myth as fact. In this regard, basic science education would serve us well. Work off of empirical evidence, rather than “conventional wisdom” and personal bias. So please, let us get in a historian. Preferably a professional one.

Hussein Rashid