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Individualism vs. Communitarianism

Dr. Hasan's rampage was preventable

A case of individual liberty beyond the limit of common sense


David Sirkin

8 November 2009

For years, US Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist, was open and vocal about his fundamentalist Islamic beliefs, and his opposition to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began after he first made his commitment to military service by enrolling in the military's medical school. For six months, US officials were aware that Hasan had posted an essay on the internet that extolled the courage of suicide bombers. Then, on November 5, 2009, Dr. Hasan, who was about to be sent to Afghanistan to treat US military personnel there, entered the Army base of Fort Hood, Texas, where he worked, with a semi-automatic handgun he had purchased in a nearby gun store. He walked into the crowded waiting room of the medical screening area for soldiers about to deploy overseas, and opened fire, killing 13 and wounding more than 30 others.

Many officials, experts, and commentators have suggested that Hasan may have cracked under various strains he was under, including stress or anxiety he may have experienced from listening to soldiers who had had traumatic experiences in Iraq or Afghanistan. At the present time, there is no strong evidence that Hasan was crazy (at least not in any reports I have heard or read). He may or may not have been crazy. However, it is manifestly obvious, from the bare facts of the case, that the US Army, and US laws and policies are crazy.

Think about it. On the one hand, the US does not allow persons who are openly gay to serve in the military. On the other hand, we not only allowed a man who openly held the same radical religious beliefs as the enemy to serve in the Army, but we forced him to continue to serve after he begged to be discharged. And then we let him walk around the base carrying a semi-automatic weapon. Is that rational?

A military man who was interviewed on TV after the shooting said the Army was forced to be "politically correct," which was why it tolerated Major Hasan and his views. Yes, of course: it's the liberals' fault. Nice try, but no. If keeping Major Hasan in the Army, and allowing him to have his semi-automatic handgun, was an example of political correctness, then it would have to be political correctness vintage 1789, the year of the Bill of Rights, which includes Amendment 1 of the US Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and Amendment 2, guaranteeing the right to "keep and bear arms."

German-Americans who were openly Nazis were placed in internment camps during World War II. Japanese-Americans were also interred. The latter were subsequently released, and some were drafted into the Army, but only after they were questioned as to their loyalty to the US. I doubt that persons who openly identified themselves as Communists and enemy sympathizers were serving in the US armed forces during the Korean War or the Vietnam War.

In our current military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, our adversaries are mainly radical fundamentalist Muslims and their supporters. Dr. Hasan apparently was such a person. In that case, hearing the stories of returning soldiers would be expected to anger and frustrate him; it likely would remind him repeatedly that fellow fundamentalist Muslims were fighting against mostly non-Muslim Americans, whom he was forced to help. It is understandable that the prospect of going himself to Afghanistan to help the Americans there in their fights against the Taliban would be more than he could stand. He might have decided that it was preferable to die in a suicidal attack against the American forces, especially if he believed, as the Koran would have him believe, that if he died in such an act of holy war, his soul would go to a paradisal heaven. He would not have had to be crazy; not any more than any of the other jihadists who have died in suicide attacks.

According to the Associated Press, when Hasan was in a military graduate medical program, other doctors in the program complained to the faculty about his "anti-American propaganda," but no one filed a written complaint because they all feared it would be construed as anti-Muslim. Apparently, their concern about infringing to any degree Hasan's freedom of religion blinded his colleagues and superiors to the danger of being blown to bits by him.

If the views Hasan expressed had been related to a political ideology instead of to a religion, it is doubtful that anyone would have had a compunction about filing a complaint or discharging him from the Army. But freedom of religion is protected by the first amendment. Perhaps the strong religious beliefs of many Americans tend to make us give even more weight to this particular freedom than to others guaranteed in the Constitution. Too many of us are inclined to follow religious doctrines, as well as principles stated in the Constitution, to a degree that, if not fanatical, can go beyond the point at which it is no longer rational or reasonable.

Most Americans have such reverence for the Constitution, they consider it to be almost a sacred text. However, it provides for the convening of another constitutional convention, for the purpose of writing a new constitution that would replace it. Most liberals, as well as conservatives, are aghast at the thought, yet a more modern, progressive, constitution might put freedom of sexual orientation and freedom of political belief alongside freedom of religion, and might also allow for the abridgments of certain individual liberties, such as restrictions on hate speech, and on the right to bear arms, for the benefit of the community, for example, to reduce the dangers from persons or groups whose religious or political ideas would cause them to attack our military, or attack other branches of our government, or attack providers of certain health care services, or whose racial hatred would cause them to attack members of ethnic groups they hate.

In Japan, very few people are allowed to own guns. In Germany, it is a crime to deny the holocaust. These are the countries we defeated in World War II, which govern themselves with constitutions that are newer by 150 years than ours, and which we helped them write.

In today's world, we have nations of hundreds of millions of people believing fervently in their ancient religious texts. Many of them are deeply dissatisfied with lives of poverty. And the numbers keep growing, partly because many people in many places, including places of power, have religious objections to birth control. And in the most powerful nation of them all, we govern ourselves according to a two-hundred-year-old constitution, which is overdue for major revisions, if not outright replacement. And at the same time, we have the fabulous technological accomplishments of the last several decades, including towering skyscrapers, jet airplanes, semi-automatic pistols, and nuclear weapons. It is a terrifying situation.


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