Fort Hood and the Prophetic "IF"

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One reader wrote me to ask: " "What effect will the Ft. Hood shootings have on the American public's perception of Islam?" That question asks us to be foretellers, fortune tellers, to predict. But The Shalom Center has had the holy chutzpah to call ourselves a "prophetic voice," and that voice is about "forth-telling," not foretelling. About “If,” not “will.”

The Prophets spoke always with an "If" -- "IF the community chooses to oppress its workers into slaves, then the owners will themselves become slaves to Babylonia; IF the slave-owners will free their slaves, they will be freed from the yoke of Babylonia." (That was Jeremiah, as the Babylonian Army besieged Jerusalem, speaking forth a challenge, at once a warning and a promise, to the conventional practices and power structures of his society.)

From that perspective, the Prophetic question today should be a challenge to power and convention: "What effect should the Ft. Hood shootings have on the American public's perception of the Afghanistan War?"

For anyone who lived through the Vietnam War, Fort Hood recalls the epidemic of "fragging" late in the war -- that is, enlisted men throwing fragmentation bombs at the officers who were ordering them into hopeless, senseless battle.

In Fort Hood, if the reports and claims from the police and military are correct (we already know that a number of falsehoods were reported as facts), an officer, a physician, trained to heal traumatized people from the maiming of their souls, was refused an exit from the soul-destroying prison he begged to leave.

If the reports are accurate, it seems that he broke, choosing murder rather than the nonviolent forms of resistance he might and should have chosen. In that sense he replicated the violence of the war he abhorred and the violence that kept him in the Army against his will –- replicated the violence instead of resisting it in a deeper way.

The sense that he broke under enormous social pressure -- that our nation failed in meeting its social responsibility toward him and other soldiers -- does not mean that he is absolved of personal, individual responsibility.

What could we, and he, have done? The nation could have met our social responsibility by ending the endless, useless, self-destructive Afghanistan War, or at minimum, by letting Major Hasan leave the Army when he asked to.

(The Torah orders that men of military age be required to refrain from military service under a number of circumstances -- including if they are afraid of being killed or are too gentle-hearted to kill. See Deut 20: 1-9 and for an examination of its meaning by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, click here. )

But even if the society failed to meet our responsibility, each individual still is obligated to make responsible choices. For the Major, there were a number of nonviolent choices. Suing the Army. Or public, principled civil disobedience. Or flight as a deserter. Murder was not a responsible choice.

The "dichotomy" between individual and social responsibility -- in which conservatives salute the first and liberals the second -- is a false dichotomy. BOTH are necessary to a moral order.

And an attempt to diagnose or analyze whether bad behavior flows more from one or the other or equally from both should not be dismissed as an attempt to "justify" bad action. Diagnosis is necessary to both prevention and cure. To understand all is NOT to "pardon" all. It is the first step toward healing both individual and social irresponsibility.

One of the reasons that "fragging" came near the end of the Vietnam War is that the epidemic of fragging signaled to the higher officer corps that they had better end the war. Coming on top of more and more evidence that the US and NATO military presence in Afghanistan is itself multiplying the violent resistance it claims to suppress, the Fort Hood murders should signal the American public and its military and civilian leadership to take off the hoods we have put over our own eyes, see the truth, and take our soldiers out from Afghanistan.

If --- IF, the Prophetic word --- If we seriously want to help grow a grass-roots democracy there, we might send teams of women from American community banks to provide grass-roots micro-loans to those who are prepared to use them , especially including women, while abandoning the self-destructive effort to impose democracy with Predators. Then Fort Hood might help Americans grow into a new relationship with the hundreds of millions of Muslims who seek to shape their own futures in peace.

IF instead the American public chooses to define Fort Hood as proof that Islam is a world of hatred, then the cage of violence that some Muslims, some Christians, some Jews, some Hindus are helping build will clang shut upon us all.


Finally, we must let what happened at Fort Hood enter our hearts, not only our minds. Thirteen people are dead and others are seriously wounded because Major Hasan chose violence instead of nonviolence to protest the war and his orders to take part in it. Our country's social irresponsibility and his individual irresponsibility colluded to make a macabre massacre.

So it is the suffering friends and families of the dead and wounded to whom our hearts must turn. Violence creates not only a disaster for the perpetrator but much deeper, longer, broader disasters for its victims.

In this week's Torah portion, two estranged brothers –- Isaac and Ishmael –- survivors of their father's violence -- come together to mourn their dangerous father, Abraham. From their shared grief they are able to shape a life of sharing. May we, no matter what is our religion or our politics, learn to grieve together the dead of the Pashtun country and the dead of Fort Hood. May we learn to create the context of shared responsibility in which each one of us will find it easier to choose a life of individual responsibility.

To take action to end the US military presence in Afghanistan, click to the Take Action section on our Home Page.

Shalom, salaam, shantih --- peace, Arthur

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