yes we get that hasan is a radical but must everything be a sign

Yes, We Get That Hasan is a Radical, But Must Everything Be a “Sign”?

Ever since Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed over a dozen people two weeks ago, a lot of people have spent time investigating what prior evidence existed that would have pointed to Hasan’s status as a radical.  Some of it, like the revelation of an FBI investigation into some postings he made on an Internet forum six months ago, his presentation of religious material at a seminar meant for medical lessons, his apparent attempted contact of Al-Qaeda, are all great and valid evidence.

Then there are some things passed as evidence but are really just scrapings from the bottom of the barrel.  Things that are mentioned in order to make an ideological point, and perhaps to scare people.

The first one I noticed was on the day after the shootings.  The AP had an article on the events leading up to the massacre, including Hasan shouting “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great) just before firing his gun.  Scary, huh?  Guess we better watch out for anybody saying that.  They might pull a gun on..

Hey, wait a minute.  Haven’t I seen that phrase somewhere before?  Yes, I’m sure I have.

Oh, that’s right.  The protesters of the Green Revolution in Iran have been shouting it night after night since the theocracy over there rigged the election last June.  But that’s okay, because Iran is many thousands of miles away.  Besides, it’s not like anybody of another religion would ever say anything like that, right?  Of course, 250,000 results on Google says otherwise, but what do I know?  Caveat: If someone actually is shouting the phrase, then you might cast a wary eye.  I’m not going to deny history, and even a Christian shouting “God is great” might get some weird looks.  But, if they’re just using it in normal conversation, or during a service, then you’re probably good.

The latest being pushed is that Hasan apparently signed his emails with “Praise Be to Allah.”  Lets of course forget that “Praise God” and “Praise the Lord” are fairly ubiquitous among Christians.  Is an email signature (presumably these reports are about his professional email signature) the right place for it?  Maybe not.  It is being passed off as a jihadist calling card by some, though a quick search shows it to be relatively common among the saner of Muslims.  Besides the fact that the phrase’s grammar sucks, I see little to fear of the phrase in of itself.

Which of course means that we need to apply context to situations where these phrases are being used.  If they are among other pieces of evidence that show a history of radicalism, then yeah, there’s probably something to worry about.  Otherwise, get on with your day.

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  1. Patrick Glenn

    November 20th, 2009 at 04:25

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    #1

    Michael, I hear what you’re saying. The analysis shouldn’t get too far ahead of the facts. I agree, totally. We could talk about the 21st century information cycle, etc., but that’s been discussed in depth many times elsewhere.

    Keep in mind, though, that the flimsy assumptions and weak analysis cut both ways. Hasan was a terrorist – simple as that. Where did people get the idea that a terrorist necessarily has to be part of a group and/or taking orders from someone? The (hard) left has a long history of redefining terms for political purposes. After a while, the newly distorted meanings lose seemingly all connection to their original intent and/or no longer have any precise value, other than to obfuscate, and to entrap poor suckers who don’t know how to play the games. That process is very unhelpful to encouraging rigorous, fact-based analyses. There’s a tendency for some people to become more cynical in response to being inundated with absurd p.c.-speak like “Overseas Contingency Operations” and go overboard in the opposite direction.


  2. Jeb

    November 20th, 2009 at 06:30

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    #2

    Hasan was a terrorist – simple as that. Where did people get the idea that a terrorist necessarily has to be part of a group and/or taking orders from someone? The (hard) left has a long history of redefining terms for political purposes.

    The definition switching goes both ways.

    I have looked at quite a few definitions of terrorism and terrorist and all the definitions I have seen include that the intent must be to terrorize or intimidate for a political or religious agenda. As far as I know he continues to refuse to comment on what his motives were. Refusing to speak your motives speaks against this attack intending to terrorize for political or religious motives. Most definitions of terrorism also include that the target be civilian which his target decidedly was not.

    http://www.thefreedictionary.com/terrorism

    http://terrorism.about.com/od/whatisterroris1/ss/DefineTerrorism_5.htm

    http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/terrorism

    I can understand wanting to call this act terrorism, but sticking with the dictionary and/or legal definition is not hard left redefining of terms for political gain. I can understand the desire to linguistically tie this act to a broader conflict against violent extremists and using the term terrorist as a shortcut, but that is stretching the definition and I am certain that there are politicians out there who are making that stretch for political gain.


  3. Patrick Glenn

    November 20th, 2009 at 18:27

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    #3

    Jeb, fair enough. Yes, the “definition switching goes both ways,” especially when we’re talking about politically/culturally-loaded words like terrorism/terrorist. That’s why I’m arguing for a more earnest, direct, and simplified definitions of such terms. It’s much easier to maintain useful and precise working definitions of politically-loaded terms when the definitions do not try to accomplish too much and/or promote disguised political agendas.

    Dictionary.com provides a better – albeit still flawed – definition to terrorist/terrorism compared to Oxford English Dictionary, which insists that all terrorism must be proven to have been politically-motivated, as if we could actually determine motivation a lot of times. Dictionary.com – Terrorist: “1. a person, usually a member of a group, who uses or advocates terrorism.” Terrorism: “1. the [extralegal] use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, esp. for political purposes. 2. the state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization. 3. a terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.”

    These no-nonsense definitions end up “capturing” a lot of people who don’t fit the Baader Meinhoff/Al Qaeda stereotype – such as Dylan and Klebold, and others who have “gone postal” – but there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s why we have MODIFIERS.

    Of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, blah, blah – for example, the American Revolutionary War militias, etc. That different definitions/meanings of different politically/culturally-loaded terms relate very strongly to differences in cultural values, world views, etc. is UNAVOIDABLE. If the U.S. or Israel were to [legally] drop bombs on Iranian nuclear facilities and significant “noncombatant” casualties happened as a result that’s NOT terrorism. But if Iran tried to [illegally] do the same thing in reverse, that would be terrorism. Who says so? The vast majority of the free, democratic persons who live in those free societies, bound by the rule of law, say so. By all means, argue vehemently about the policy of whether such an action would be justified, warranted, pragmatic, strategically-sound, moral, etc., but when we start accepting the creeping, insidious, culturally-insecure re-definitions of our own language/terminologies (an old tool of Cultural Marxism), then our enemies come ever closer to winning the “long war” without firing a shot.

    One question we should ask ourselves when we see previously comprehensible definitions of politically/culturally-loaded terms get redefined in new ways that no longer seem comprehensible (e.g., many thousands of pages devoted to defining terrorism): What masters are these new definitions serving?

    For example, consider the State Dept.’s circa 2001-02 (since revised?) politically-motivated and self-serving definition of terrorism, which has a decided leftist slant: premeditated, politically [or religiously] motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents. This definition protects members of the “international community” (national governments) from being defined as terrorists (not just state sponsors, etc.). That could be a good policy in that it protects the U.S. from bogus claims that it perpetrates terrorist acts, but it also lets off the hook countries like Iran, which clearly are terrorist states (not just “sponsors”). It also lets international leftists pretend that groups like Hamas aren’t really terrorists because, e.g., “no Israelis are really non-comatants.”

    Anyway, before I go too long with this: American society should strive to maintain clear, concise, culturally-confident definitions of politically/culturally-loaded terms that serve our language’s rightful masters – the free people of the U.S. and the world.


  4. Jeb

    November 20th, 2009 at 19:50

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    #4

    as if we could actually determine motivation a lot of times

    If motivation cannot be determined it doesn’t serve the purpose of terrorism which is to strike terror for a political purpose. If someone kills even a million people but no one ever knows why then it does not make a statement for any agenda and is at best (worst?) a failed attempt at terrorism. That doesn’t mean that it is less horrible, it just means that it doesn’t fit the definition.

    Even the definition you have chosen requires that the intent be to coerce or intimidate so there is an element of intent. Hasan has refused to speak of his intent so far. Was he trying to “intimidate or coerce” any more than a bank robber, a mugger, or an ordinary murderer. If we broaden the definition enough to include Hasan at this point then we have broadened it to the point that most violent crimes become terrorism.

    Of course, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, blah, blah – for example, the American Revolutionary War militias, etc. That different definitions/meanings of different politically/culturally-loaded terms relate very strongly to differences in cultural values, world views, etc. is UNAVOIDABLE.

    Which is why there is no internationally agreed upon legal definition of terrorism.

    If the U.S. or Israel were to [legally] drop bombs on Iranian nuclear facilities and significant “noncombatant” casualties happened as a result that’s NOT terrorism. But if Iran tried to [illegally] do the same thing in reverse, that would be terrorism.

    Both would be acts of war and both would be “use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce” and both would be “for political purposes”, the only difference left is the legality. With that in mind, if it happens that our attack on Iran in your scenario is against international law would that make our attack terrorism?

    I am not certain what would make the US or Israeli strikes legal short of a UN resolution or Iranian attack, neither of which is very likely. Preventative strikes, as opposed to preemptive strikes, are not currently legal.

    One question we should ask ourselves when we see previously comprehensible definitions of politically/culturally-loaded terms get redefined in new ways that no longer seem comprehensible (e.g., many thousands of pages devoted to defining terrorism): What masters are these new definitions serving?

    In the case of the thousands of pages on terrorism it indicates an international debate where the players have widely divergent interests. In the case of Webster’s and OED the definitions have remained concise and I don’t think that they have recently substantively changed.

    The US legal definition is only a little over 300 words (a marvel of brevity for a legal definition with all qualifiers included). The core elements of this definition have remained consistent since at least 1994, thought the Patriot Act definition is a bit more expansive.

    For example, consider the State Dept.’s circa 2001-02 (since revised?) politically-motivated and self-serving definition of terrorism, which has a decided leftist slant

    How does the definition that follows have a leftist slant?

    It is slightly more expansive than the previous definition.

    It was forged by a centrist bipartisan committee and agreed to by the Republican controlled House, the Republican controlled Senate, and the Republican President.

    This definition protects members of the “international community” (national governments) from being defined as terrorists (not just state sponsors, etc.).

    What would change if state sponsors of terrorism were instead labeled terrorists?

    It also lets international leftists pretend that groups like Hamas aren’t really terrorists because, e.g., “no Israelis are really non-comatants.”

    Any definition will allow a fringe to believe something stupid and changing the definition won’t change that.

    American society should strive to maintain clear, concise, culturally-confident definitions of politically/culturally-loaded terms that serve our language’s rightful masters – the free people of the U.S. and the world.

    I agree that definitions should be clear and concise. I think that when terms are ‘loaded’ it is more important that they remain consistent and do not change with the political winds. In this respect I think that the OED or one of its American cousins Websters or American Heritage are the go to source. The definitions remain largely consistent, clear, precise, and concise; and they are a politically unbiased source for definitions agreeable to most parties.

    I am leery of changing definitions for the political purposes even if I agree with the political ends.


  5. Patrick Glenn

    November 21st, 2009 at 06:11

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    #5

    Jeb, you make several good points. I think we actually agree in many areas, in general. Several of our key disagreements, however, reflect divergent views on fairly “existential” matters like American exceptionalism, elite internationalism, and the primary roots of political-moral corruption in 21st century democratic societies with mixed economies. The extent of our disagreement on these themes is often quite narrow. And yet, over time, on these particular matters, I fear that seemingly moderate differences might be compounded into very signigicant divisions.

    You wrote, “How does the definition that follows have a leftist slant? It is slightly more expansive than the previous definition. It was forged by a centrist bipartisan committee and agreed to by the Republican controlled House, the Republican controlled Senate, and the Republican President.”

    You’re right to question my perhaps lazy labeling of the 2001-02 State Department definition of terrorism as having a “leftist” slant. Ironically, in comments where I was complaining about incomprehensible definitions, it was imprecise to use the “lefty” labeling in that particular context. What I should have written was that the State Dept. definition was consistent with elite internationalism – a mindset not unique to Democrats, liberals/progressives, or even career State Dept. bureaucracts, diplomats, and international specialists, but also many elite-educated Republicans. Correcting that example of mislabeling, I think my above comments hold up well. And I’m still not as confident as you are that the effort to redefine Hamas, Hezbollah, et al into non-terrorists is the exclusive contrivance of a stupid fringe. Those attitudes/views have a lot of support in the elite international community. Many DC-based elites play along with that mentaility in general, if not in particular cases, for a variety of reasons.

    Btw, one of the more clear-cut examples of an individual who committed terrorist acts but was not really a terrorist is Charles Whitman. But Whitman was definitely mentally deranged and seemed to have very limited interest in politics. Hasan was somewhere on the opposite end of the spectrum, although time will tell to what degree. The other thing to keep in mind is that many jihadists: 1). are clinically insane; 2). die before definitively verifying that they committed their final act of violence purely/mostly for political/religious reasons rather than because they just snapped that final time.




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