"To Bigotry No Sanction"

In the ears of American Jews, among the golden words of American history are those of George Washington to a synagogue: "To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

God knows these words have rung false about many different communities in the dark-light-checkered history of our Republic. (Blacks, Mormons, the Irish, the Italians, the Chinese, the Japanese, gay people ---- )

There have even been moments in American history when those words seemed not so clearly truthful, about Jews. (See Philip Roth's amazing alternate-history novel, The Plot Against America, and its roots in real history.) But in this generation, in regard to Jews these seem engraved on American reality – not only in stone, but in glowing beams of light.

But in the wake of the Fort Hood murders, it is not so clear that these words apply to American Muslims.

Every sizeable Muslim organization in America has condemned those murders, and some have taken proactive steps to aid the families of those killed. These are ethically responsible actions.

I wish that Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and other religious communities could also come forward along with Muslim groups to say truthfully, "In the fabrics of ALL our different traditions are both broad spaces of peaceful and peace-seeking wisdom, and some bloody strands. These we need to address forthrightly and to explicitly reject or reinterpret so they cannot be used to justify violence."

The Shalom Center is now working on such a statement, and will seek support across the spectrum of American religious life.

I applaud spokespersons of the Army and other officials who say they do not intend to treat Muslims as suspects. Doing that would be just as reprehensible as treating all American Jews as suspect of espionage because Jonathan Pollard did spy for Israel.

And in that light, I denounce those radio and TV personalities and some politicians who have indeed blamed Islam and Muslims in general for Major Hasan's actions.

Fort Hood's aftermath is a reminder of how easy, and how mistaken, it is for many of us to focus on EITHER individual responsibility OR social responsibility when we assess either blame or causation of some upsetting event.

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

In this case, the US war against both Iraq and Afghanistan, plus added attacks on Pakistan and dire threats (probably also covert attacks) against Iran, plus strong US support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, all comprise an illegitimate and immoral and self-destructive war against major aspects of the Muslim world. There is plenty of reason for serious Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus to oppose each piece of this umbrella war -- not only Muslims for "tribal" reasons of "their own" being under attack, but all religious communities for universalist reasons rooted in all these spiritual traditions.

Just to deal with some expectable objections:

(a) The ethically correct US response to 9/11/01 would have been a police action to arrest and try, or if they resisted arrest, if necessary to kill, the actual perpetrators of the murderous attacks on the Towers. Making war on Afghanistan was analogous to responding to cop-killers on the streets of Newark by bombing the whole city of Newark.

(b) In 2003, the pre-Ahmedinajad government of Iran asked the US for a wide-ranging negotiation on all outstanding issues, including US sanctions, Iranian aid to Hezbollah, and the Iranian nuclear program. The Cheney-Bush Administration rejected the whole idea out of hand and even condemned the Swiss intermediaries who communicated this proposal. The rejection helped Ahmdinajad come to power. Imagine how different Iranian, American, and even Israeli history could have been!

These pieces of the umbrella war against many aspects of Islam were and are socially irresponsible actions by the US, and they helped contribute to the Fort Hood murders.

So also is the Army medical system that has enormously overburdened too few Army doctors in dealing with the war-wounded, especially with those wounded in soul by post-traumatic stress. This is irresponsible to the wounded, and to the doctors.

And so is the difficulty that the Army places in the way of soldiers who seek on grounds of conscience to leave.

All these are acts of SOCIAL irresponsibility.

(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 my own essay on the meaning of this passage and its interpretations in later Jewish/ rabbinic thought and practice, click here.)

And in the Fort Hood case, Major Hasan also committed acts of INDIVIDUAL irresponsibility.

He could have pursued a number of nonviolent paths for opposing or resisting the war he considered illegitimate. Suing the Army. Or public, principled civil disobedience. Or flight as a deserter.

Instead, he chose mass murder rather than the nonviolent forms of resistance he might and should have chosen. It is no excuse that he followed the logic of the institution he was "resisting." Indeed, worse than "no excuse" -- because he replicated the violence of the war he abhorred–- 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.

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.

But even if the society failed to meet our responsibility, each individual still is obligated to make responsible choices. Murder was the most irresponsible, most unethical choice he could have made.

Now it is up to us to choose how we respond. As a society and as individuals, do we make ethically responsible or irresponsible choices?


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