Be sure to thank Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg and the paper’s editors for Neil’s brave and heartfelt article, “Before you generalize about the major”, which criticizes those who are implicating Muslims in the wake of the Fort Hood shootings.
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Before you generalize about the major
By Neil Steinberg
See? This rampage by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan who shot dead 13 people at Texas’s Fort Hood Army base Thursday, confirms everything I’ve been saying all along — psychiatrists are dangerous, unbalanced individuals; they go into the profession seeking the mental help that they themselves need . . .
Scratch that. Bad joke. But of course, Hasan does represent another suspect group in our society — Virginians. Edgar Allan Poe was from Virginia. Shirley MacLaine, too. They’re not stable people . . .
No one is suggesting that, maybe because the bias against psychiatrists is more of a mild suspicion, and general dislike of Virginians began to ebb after 1865.
But Hasan is also a Muslim, and people who would laugh off the psychiatrist/Virginia slurs view that aspect differently, because it scratches a shameful itch.
“We should seal the borders!” said a friend of mine, someone I generally respect when he isn’t saying stuff like that.
“Tell me,” I challenged him “how the actions of this Muslim American indicts all Muslim Americans?”
He sputtered, and I went on.
“If a lady murders her kids and says that Jesus told her to do it, does that indict all Christians? All ladies?”
I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. There are two false logic threads that define racism. The details don’t matter, you can plug in anything.
The first is extrapolating from the specific to the general. You meet someone from the Netherlands and they need a shower. You therefore conclude the Dutch are a dirty people. That’s racism.
The other is to go from the general to the specific. You meet a guy from Iceland, and you automatically pat your wallet, because your dad taught you that Icelanders are thieves. That’s also racism.
The killings at Fort Hood might say something about the strain that overtaxed U.S. soldiers are under. It might say something about security on Army bases. But if you think that it says something about religion, what you’re really doing is saying something about yourself, and it isn’t something good.
We don’t do that kind of thing
Here’s another example.
A few days before the Fort Hood massacre, one of my depressingly regular correspondents sent in the following brief, taunting e-mail:
“What, no comment on the Richmond rape? No thoughts on the richness that the perps add?”
The first sentence refers to the vicious gang rape of a 15-year-old girl two weeks ago after a high school dance in California. The second refers to my oft-stated opinion that, rather than ruining the country, as bigots claim, Hispanic immigration enriches it.
I’ve learned long ago that it’s not my job to argue with everyone who can type an e-mail. Don’t bother trying to teach a pig Latin, the saying goes: it only frustrates you and upsets the pig.
But the attitude of that message — See what these people do? — screams for reply. He doesn’t mean high school students or Californians. He means Hispanics. Sometimes you have to answer.
I wrote back:
“One of the keys of being a racist is to hold other groups accountable for things you dismiss in your own group. The crimes committed by whites don’t undermine your status, so why should crimes committed by Hispanics undermine theirs? Oh right, because you hate them already. Thanks for writing.”
Assuming the Fort Hood murders are an act of extremism and not a symptom of mental illness — it can be hard to tell — then what could the killer possibly have hoped to accomplish?
Well, an American soldier of Islamic extraction committing such an atrocity will be seen by some as supporting the notion — embraced by both fundamentalists and bigots, ironically — that Muslims are somehow not part of the American story, that they don’t belong in the U.S. Army. That they don’t belong here.
There are Americans — many, I would guess — who draw that conclusion, oblivious that they are doing exactly the thing that the terrorists, knowingly or not, want them to do. Highlighting our differences, embracing sectarianism, strife, disharmony, jihad.
So how does the patriotic American try to thwart negative results of such a crime? Only one way, obviously, by rebutting the fundamentalist message, by reaffirming that America is an open tent to all who would come and peacefully accept our values, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that lone unbalanced individuals who do barbaric things do not sweepingly indict their co-religionists, even if thinking they do feeds into our comfortable prejudices.
Especially if thinking they do feeds into our comfortable prejudices.
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