Fort Hood: The Jewish Response

Now is the time for the Jewish community to do its part in ensuring that the Fort Hood outrage does not lead to anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hysteria.

As Josh notes, this is going to get very dark.  Maybe it is better to light a single candle.  My best effort in that vein was to write a letter to the Jewish Journal.  To wit:


The grisly and brutal massacre at Fort Hood earlier today should, of course, outrage all civilized people everywhere. The Jewish community, however, should be especially strong in its response — both by condemning the terror and standing against potential discrimination.

The suspect in the shooting is a US Army Major, Nadal Malik Hasan. It requires little imagination to see that Hasan’s name could potentially lead to a dark wave of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim hysteria. Despite our often profound differences with the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities over the Middle East, members of the Jewish community should take this opportunity to insist that the crazed brutality of one person not lead to witch hunts, guilt-by-association, or ethnic demonization. Our community knows all-too-well how fears, libels and rumors can spiral out of control, and it is incumbent upon us to do all we can to prevent it from happening here. Jewish organizations throughout our nation and our city must speak out strongly and be vigilant against those who would use Fort Hood to divide us by religion or ethnicity.

By standing against terror and against prejudice, we can renew and strengthen the finest aspects of our tradition and demonstrate the true universality of Jewish values.

And a political/moral tactics point: standing with a threatened community before they ask is usually better than waiting for a request.

Maybe we can nip this in the bud.  Maybe.


Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

18 thoughts on “Fort Hood: The Jewish Response”

  1. You know, the reaction to the killings of 3000 people on 9/11 by Muslim extremists didn't lead to witch hunts, guilt-by-assocation, or ethnic demonization, so I'm not sure why someone's first thought would be that this comparatively smaller atrocity would. Obviously we should condemn witch hunts, etc. But we shouldn't pretend that our fellow citizens are bigots-in-waiting just to make ourselves feel better.

  2. What color is the sky in your world, Thomas?

    In the America I've been living in for the past decade, we responded to 9/11 by locking up hundreds of people without trial (in and outside the U.S.), effectively legalizing torture, and invading a Muslim country that had nothing to do with 9/11.

    Bigots "in waiting"? There's no waiting going on that I can see. And, no, observing all of this has not made me feel better. It has been making me feel ill, depressed, shocked, and enraged for, hmm, eight years and counting.

    Your preachy, self-satisfied tone (unless you're engaging in some fairly deep sarcasm that I've failed to detect) sure sounds like you've made yourself feel pretty good though.

  3. It's early to draw conclusions from what happened. Early indications do seem to be (as you imply) that this was a somewhat unstable person acting alone.

    That said it's reasonable and important to ask, what kind of community (virtual or otherwise) was he living in, what kind of conversation did he engage in, what kind of feedback did he get. Were there external indicators that he was going down a dark path, did anyone notice, and what did they do about it?

    I'm not an expert like some of the people who write here genuinely are. But when unstable people (and that includes a lot of us at some point or another in our lives) get social validation for and from overheated rhetoric, it seems to me that that's a problem that can lead to this sort of tragedy. I think that's what happened with McVeigh and it wasn't unreasonable to ask those kinds of questions about the culture he was living in then and how it might have contributed to his attitudes and his disposition to act on them. It's one of the reasons why we get concerned about people attending public political events carrying guns — what does that convey and how does that message affect people who might be prone to act out?

    So there does need to be some thought and inquiry given to what moved this guy beyond his obvious individual emotional problems. That includes whether the Army did enough to confront possible prejudice he might have experienced or to help support him against a sense of alienation as a result, who might have been aware of these circumstances, and what they did about it. But it also includes whether he had conversations, online and off, that might have stoked that sense of alienation, who might have been aware of those circumstances, and what they did about it.

  4. Yeah…we shouldn't let a few MILLION bad apples spoil the whole bunch! Apparently we can't make any assumptions about HASAN until they find a "Glenn Beck/O'Reilly Book" in his house! Pray for our troops!

  5. I blame handguns. They make life too easy for angry and crazy people. I know someone will inevitably argue that if more people had them, he couldn't have killed so many, but I wonder if the *non*-crazy handgun owners of the world actually carry them much. That would be interesting to know. And this was a place with many people trained to fight, gun or no gun. Surprise is a huge advantage for bad people to have.

    And I suppose that this guy would have known how to beat any psych test, so maybe there was no way to prevent this one, other than metal detectors. It's a crying shame, and just what we didn't need more of.

  6. Dan G — not that I think you're the kind of person who should be taken seriously, but — I have no problem with making some assumptions about the shooter, based on the information that has come out at this point. It seems extremely likely that he is a Muslim fundamentalist and that his beliefs had something to do with his committing this atrocity. But there's a huge difference between making assumptions about the shooter and allowing "the crazed brutality of one person" to "lead to witch hunts, guilt-by-association, or ethnic demonization," as this blog post puts it. Nidal Hasan can go to hell, but what he did isn't the fault of the vast majority of American Muslims. It seems almost inevitable that they will be demonized and blamed for this (and it has already started), and that's just wrong.

  7. "I blame handguns. They make life too easy for angry and crazy people."

    Parody, right? I don't imagine even the most fanatical of the gun control movement want to deny Army Majors handguns.

  8. Funny thing, Brett. With the exception of Military Police, when in garrison, Army personnel don't generally carry weapons. The weapons are locked up in Armory, except when issued for training.

  9. "With the exception of Military Police, when in garrison, Army personnel don’t generally carry weapons."

    Yes, I'm aware of that; That's why Hasan could be confident of facing less armed opposition than he'd have met in your average shopping mall in a state with shall issue CCW.

    Leaving aside for the moment the lunacy of not trusting our own soldiers with guns, you really think any plausible policy is going to prevent a Major in the army from easily getting his hands on a gun?

  10. But this is a distraction, and I guess it's meant to be.

    Hasan didn't go postal out of the blue, without warning. The really horrifying thing about this is that he was giving warning signals up the wazoo, and they were ignored, apparently because everybody who might have done something about it was more afraid of being accused of anti-Muslim bigotry, than of him doing… exactly what he did.

  11. Hasan's crazy, and I say that in the most dispassionate way. The important thing about craziness is that it is never explanatory or predictive. It has no meaning and our automatic tendency to try to impose meaning on it is useless. Four-fifths of what passes for "news" is just crazy people doing crazy things. As such, none of it forms a pattern.

  12. Brett Bellmore says:

    "Hasan didn’t go postal out of the blue, without warning. The really horrifying thing about this is that he was giving warning signals up the wazoo, and they were ignored, apparently because everybody who might have done something about it was more afraid of being accused of anti-Muslim bigotry, than of him doing… exactly what he did."

    I would ask about your evidence, but I know better.

  13. Tom: I have heard a number of reasons for why we invaded Iraq, weapons of mass destruction, oil, violation of U.N. agreements, even as revenge by Bush for trying to assassinate his father,but this is the first I have heard about invading Iraq because it is a Muslim country. As I recall, Iraq had been described as the most secular of the middle east countries (not counting Israel). Moreover, removing hundreds of persons mostly from the field of battle hardly qualifies as a "witch hunt." Ironically, only the irrationality of your response to Thomas lends support to Zasloff's admonition. And as for "Anonymous" comment, any one who needs to remain "anonymous" is hardly in a position to accuse another of living under a rock.

    As a part of the Jewish community, I find Zasloff's admonition to Jews both condescending and offensive. It implies that we differ over middle east issues we are either (1) more prone to letting emotions overwhelm reason, (2) or would intentionally seek to use this aberration to attack Muslims. To those who feel a need to remind members of the Jewish community not to act crazy in response to craziness, I wonder if they felt the same impulse when Baruch Goldstein went berserk, or when an abortion doctor was murdered. Did they feel a similar impulse to remind everyone not to seek retribution against Jews or pro-life advocates?

  14. Of course, Barry, if you're following the news, the amount of evidence that Hasan was sending up warning signals just keeps mounting. The problem appears to have been that everybody was just too afraid of being labeled an anti-Muslim bigot to do anything about it.

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