Willful Blindness and the Ft. Hood Massacre

Published December 2, 2009

Dan Henninger, whose Wall Street Journal column is aptly titled “Wonder Land,” put it best: “The only good news about the Ft. Hood massacre is that U.S. electronic surveillance technology was able to pick up Major Hasan's phone calls to an al Qaeda-loving imam in Yemen. The bad news is that the people and agencies listening to Hasan didn't know what to do about it. Other than nothing.”

Here in Washington, D.C. — where strategists are already game-planning What-Happens-After-the-Next-9/11 — one can only wonder whether any such horror will be preceded by other missed warnings: missed, not because the intelligence hardware is deficient, but because the programming of the software, meaning the analysts, filters out anything that smacks of distorted religious conviction.

In the eight years and three months since 9/11, the U.S. government has willfully turned a blind eye to the Islamist roots of the war against jihadism. The Bush administration was reluctant to name things for what they were, and are, in this clash of civilizations. The Obama administration seems to believe that appeasing the homicidal culture of victimhood that has warped the Arab Islamic world for decades — and that has now reared its head on a U.S. Army base — is more urgent than calling spades spades.

Perhaps the most obnoxious expression of this myopia is the instinct to warn the American people against over-reaction, rather than to name jihadism for what it is. That instinct was on display in the immediate aftermath of the Ft. Hood massacre, when Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano raised the alarm, not about jihadism, but about possible violence against Muslims by outraged Americans. Query to Secretary Napolitano: The overwhelming majority of victims of jihadist terrorism around the world are Muslims — like those little Afghani girls who want to learn how to read and have acid poured on their faces by Taliban thugs. Isn't identifying the sources of crimes like this, and like Ft. Hood, more important than politically correct posturing about American yahoos going bonkers and conducting anti-Muslim crusades in these United States?

When my small book, Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism, was first published in early 2008, it was read as samizdat — underground literature — at the State Department, the Defense Department, and the Central Intlligence Agency: or so I'm told by friends and colleagues. Evidently, even a primer on the war against jihadism that stressed the imperative of serious, sustained interreligious dialogue was too controversial for career civil servants to be seen reading, because the book also described the ways in which bad theology had led to lethal politics.

Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism has now been issued in paperback. In a new afterword, I stress two points: that our security remains threatened by our government's institutional refusal to take the religious roots of jihadism seriously; and that Pope Benedict XVI has pointed the way to new and potentially more fruitful Christian-Islamic dialogue by insisting than any such conversation focus on the hard questions — religious freedom as a fundamental human right, and the separation of religious and political authority in a just state. We'll see if the paperback shares the same samizdat fate as the hardback in the corridors of power.

Father Raymond de Souza, the Canadian columnist, identified another aspect of willful blindness in the aftermath of Ft. Hood. Noting the disinclination among English-speaking opinion merchants to connect the dots between extremist Islam and Ft. Hood, Father de Souza reminded his readers of the double standard at work here: for when late-term abortionist George Tiller was murdered in June, many of those same columnists immediately opined that the murderer was a “logical extension” of the pro-life movement.

That slander was quickly falsified when the mainstream pro-life movement immediately and publicly condemned Tiller's murder. We'll know that a corner has been turned when, after the next Ft. Hood, the immediate, public reaction of Muslims and non-Muslims alike is an unequivocal assertion that crying “Allahu akbar [God is Great]” while spraying bullets at innocents is a profanation of the name of God.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

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