He went to the local mosque in his American Army fatigues and the grocery store in his traditional Arab garb; no doubt about it, Major Nidal Malik Hassan had some serious problems. Or did he? From what we have learned from politics of identity in the post-colonial world, ”identity” is not only the sense of being; it is the perceived differentiator, it is what distinguishes us from others.
Gladly, there are very few crackheads like Major Nidal Malik Hassan. But with politics of identity so prevalent, I worry someone else may also snap. Ever since the unfortunate events of 9/11, Muslims around the world have had it really tough. They are pigeonholed by the reactionary politics of identity.
Before I go any further, here is a note of caution to my American and Western friends: Major Malik was an aberration, not the norm. My name may be Malick, but that doesn’t mean you have to hassle me at the airport, or in banks and bars.
From what I have gathered so far, it seems the mass killer Hassan was a victim of a reactionary obsession with his identity. I am no Dr. Phil, but it appears he was unable to locate himself in public culture, even though public culture provides formal, and often ample, settings for definitions and experiences of identities. Identities are defined and experienced in settings that differ from the social spaces of public culture in multiple ways. The intimacy experienced within the family or in the process of worship or watching news or playing video games are all examples of identity-forming experiences. No matter where and how identities are defined, a pathological obsession with identity is repeatedly constructed on the politics of reaction.
This is exactly what has happened to many Muslims around the world, and I can cite several personal anecdotes to prove my point. For example, my cousin grew a beard and started to pray five times a day after 9/11 and my erstwhile socialist friends built mosques in the U.S. But these are personal stories and I’m sure you have several as well; just take a look at your Facebook and you will find religion pouring out of the “info” pages of your Muslim friends.
Why have we become so hyper-sensitive? Why have we become so consumed with only one aspect of our identity at the expense of all others? Why are Muslims doing poorly in the areas of economy, education, and social work? Granted, there is a worldwide economic crisis, but the economies of 57 Islamic countries have been hit the hardest by the global financial crisis, with the real GDP growth at a historical low of 1.2 percent, according to the Islamic Development Bank. I have not seen any paradigm shift in processes, any scientific innovation, any cultural breakthroughs or enviable examples of entrepreneurship coming from the Muslim world.
Morons like Major Hassan abound; there is an abundance of suicide bombers, but Muslim scholars are few and far between. There are no conferences on science, technology and progress, but rather Mullahs and tote scholars in our country hold conferences on creationism. Now there is something they have in common with fundamentalist Christians. Come to think of it, crazy Muslims have plenty in common with crazy Christians and crazy Jews and crazy Hindus. But I digress.
One can argue that Major Hassan was mentally ill and he might have been belonged to any religion, gender, or race. Agreed! After all, none of the previous mass shootings in the U.S. were perpetrated by Muslims. Anyone can go postal, if I may use the expression.
But when a Muslim-American commits such a heinous crime, his identity has a multiplier effect. He allegedly felt harassed as a Muslim in the U.S. military, and wasn’t treated as any American and soldier should be. He wore his religion on his sleeve, wearing his military uniform to services and a cap and tunic around his apartment complex. But one day, he discovered his car keyed and his “Allah is Love” bumper sticker ripped to shreds. A fellow soldier was charged, and the apartment manager where the two lived said the serviceman had recently returned from Iraq and was upset that Hassan is Muslim.
Whatever Hassan’s complaints may have been, there is no excuse for his actions; there are thousands of Muslims in the U.S. military, and they don’t go shooting fellow soldiers. There is no exact count of Muslims in the military. The Pentagon lists 3,557 Muslims out of 1.4 million U.S. service members, but the figure is likely low because disclosure is voluntary. This nut-case psychiatrist has made it seriously difficult for all Muslims in the military; his violent deed has the potential to unravel all the work of other Muslims to be accepted as loyal, dedicated soldiers. There is a great likelihood that the reputation of every Muslim in the armed forces may be yet another casualty of Hassan’s foolish bloodshed.
I have plenty confidence in the kindness of American people and I feel any backlash will be limited. I am glad that Muslim organizations did not waste time condemning this incident. A good friend from the Islamic Circle of North America said he was praying that this reprobate will turn out to be anything but a Muslim. Unfortunately, in this particular circumstance his prayers didn’t work.
Muslims are caught in a very vicious cycle of reactionary politics of identity. Coming out of it is extremely critical and will be the most challenging struggle Ummah has ever faced.