The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life
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Sunday, November 15, 2009
Current Affairs ...

A lot has been said in the press and in the blogosphere over the past few weeks about Major Hasan and the massacre that he carried out at Ft. Hood, Texas, seemingly in the name of radical Islamic beliefs. To many people, however, the Islamic angle does NOT seem to be relevant, even though a lot of evidence points to Major Hasan’s involvement with “jihaddist” proselytizers and his acceptance of their dogmas. They point to Hasan’s many problems in life, and conclude that his actions were a function of universal human weakness and not specific beliefs.

I myself sympathize with those who espouse that line of thought, including many high-level commanders within the Army itself. They are trying to take the high road, so as to discourage others from taking the low road (i.e., blanket prejudice against all Muslims or Arabs). However, I myself feel that semi-conservative (or sometimes quasi-conservative) NY Times columnist David Brooks came close to getting it right on this point. In a recent column, Brooks concluded that although the dangers of Hasan’s actions fanning irrational hatred and prejudice in our nation against those with an Islamic heritage are quite real, the truth is that certain quarters of modern Islam do put forth dangerous ideas; ideas that a disturbed person like Major Hasan might act upon in violent fashion.

Yes, radical jihad emanates from a small and non-representative portion of the “Islamic spectrum” of belief, practice and culture. But this small faction seems to be very vocal and assertive, and the balance of mainstream Islam seems afraid to strongly challenge and condemn it (perhaps with good reason; the jihadists reserve a special fury for those who claim to follow The Prophet but act, in their eyes, as infidels).

Radical Islamic thought focusing on violent jihad has become what certain philosophers and linguists call a “meme”. The term and concept of meme is from the 1976 book by Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene. In a nutshell, a meme is “a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation.” It is meant to be compared with the genes of a living creature and how they participate in the process of evolution. Genes mutate in all sorts of ways, and those changes that help a creature to survive in its particular environment and reproduce are rewarded with survival and multiplication. Those that don’t become extinct. Memes are also selected (theoretically) for their survival benefits in a particular environment.

As we know, some genes that thrive in certain environments cause havoc with creatures from different environments. Viruses and bacteria come to mind. Most of these microorganisms are harmless to most other living things, but now and then some real killers come along. I can’t help but wonder if we need to look at radical Islamist thought as a dangerous infective “meme”. Unfortunately, though, we have no way of curing it, no antibiotic or anti-viral agent that can stop the disease without harming the host. Or even how to slow the spread.

But then again, for most of human history, we couldn’t do that with microbial disease either. If we put our minds to it, we might eventually come up with something. But for now, we do need to be on the lookout for symptoms of “jihadist meme infection”. At the same time, we must not confuse it with normal religious piety, as not to violate our Constitutional mandates. This will not be an easy task. But if this infection spreads and finds its way to our shopping malls and subway stations and restaurants and schools, our nation is in for some real trouble. In that light, I hope that the people who explain Major Hasan mainly as a psycho psychologist (I’ve heard that more than a few psychologists have some screws loose) are correct. Stay tuned.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:32 pm      

  1. Jim,
    I certainly agree that there is a problem with Major Hasan and his deadly rampage at Fort Hood. However…..

    As I read your very reasoned opinion regarding why radical Islamic thought makes (portions of?) the Muslim community a danger to society (and maybe their own society too?), I could not help but think of the White Power movement and some of the other radical militia groups in the United States. Specifically, I thought of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols who belonged to an American militia movement group who blew up the building in Oklahoma City in1995.

    I find that absolutely everything that you mention David Brooks concluded and also the "meme" concept put forth by Richard Dawkins applies equally to the radical White Power/militia groups in the United States. Rather than make a comparison to microorganisms, I think a better comparison is of the radical jihadists to radical white groups. Such radical white groups seem to me to be a much better comparison to the radical jihadists. How do these two groups differ when one thinks in terms of David Brooks’ comments and Richard Dawkins’ “meme” concept? Not in any way I can find from your description.

    Furthermore, I also see some very serious danger in painting a group of Americans (of whatever cultural and/or ethnic group) with the broad strokes of being a serious danger to the United States as a whole. I have lived long enough to remember World War II when the Japanese–even those who were second generation Americans–were interned in concentration camps because they “posed a danger to the U.S.” I also remember my father telling us children not to tell anyone we were of German extraction; he feared the talk at the time that Germans also should be remanded to concentration camps during WWII as the Japanese had been. On my father's side I was a second generation of Austrian-Hungarian extraction, and on my mother's side I was at least of 3rd (and maybe a 4th) generation German extraction. No splitting of hairs would have mattered if all "Germans" would have been interred as the Japanese were during WWII; I myself would have been in a concentration camp. Thus, I find it dangerous to paint a group with the broad strokes of a few.

    Lastly, I must comment on your "psycho psychologist" and "a lot of psychologists have some screws loose" comments. As a person who has a graduate degree in psychology and thus might be considered a "psychologist", I wonder: Am I included in the "psycho psychologist" group? Am I a "psychologist who has a screw loose"? There likely are a few people around who may think that of me; however, I tend to think that I do not fall into those categories. Again, one paints whole groups with broad strokes very inappropriately.

    Major Hasan may simply be a very sad individual who happens to be of Middle-Eastern extraction who also has taken his religious beliefs to extreme extents. Yet, one can say the same of the White Power groups and some of the other extreme, militant white groups. Furthermore, he may also just happen to be a psychologist who himself needs some help.

    I cannot help but wonder if under the guise of a reasoned argument lies some real prejudice….

    Comment by MCS — November 16, 2009 @ 3:21 pm

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