Welcome to Kalamna, the student blog of the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at NYU.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


In light of the recent tragedy at Fort Hood in which Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 29, we are seeing a variety of responses from the media. Some criticize the US Army for its failure to recognize that Hasan was unstable and a potential threat, and others criticizing President Obama for his efforts to quell the fear that permeated the Bush Era, neglecting that the "war on terror" could still threaten us at home. Then there's the quite obvious backlash that we all anticipated, against American-Muslims in general. Reports emphasize that Hasan had recently become more religious, that he called up the name of God before beginning the brutal shooting and that he had anti-American sentiments related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But there are also sources from the US Army who emphasize that while they need to be more careful about the mental stability of their men and women, they are not using religion as the basis of who they must observe more carefully.

In a recent NY Times article, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army’s chief of staff asked that the Army be careful "not to jump to conclusions based on early tidbits of information... What happened at Fort Hood is a tragedy,” General Casey said, “and I believe it would be a greater tragedy if diversity became a casualty here.”

This type of reaction to the shootings seems to be what NYU Stern Professor Tunku Varadarajan was reacting to when he wrote his op-ed piece in Forbes magazine, "Going Muslim," causing a backlash from observant Muslims and non-Muslims alike. While Varadarajan's article includes a criticism and accusation of the US Army's emphasis on being "PC" as a contributing factor to the incident, he also begins the article by heavily criticizing the idea that we need to "not jump to conclusions," as General Casey recommended. Instead, he argues that perhaps "we are confronting a new phenomenon of violent rage" from Muslim-Americans. While other reports stress that we should not generalize this incident as proof that Muslim-Americans could be silent threats in our midst, Varadarajan seems to encourage it, mentioning the friendly local donut vendor in the same sentence in which he refers to Hasan.

He writes:
"The difference between "going postal," in the conventional sense, and "going Muslim," in the sense that I suggest, is that there would not necessarily be a psychological "snapping" point in the case of the imminently violent Muslim; instead, there could be a calculated discarding of camouflage--the camouflage of integration--in an act of revelatory catharsis."
He goes on to say:
"How to address the threat posed by the fact that, of the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our midst, there are a few (perhaps many more than a few) who are so radicalized that they would kill their fellow Americans? Must we continue to be neutral in handling all people from different groups even though we know that there are differential risks posed by people of one group?"

He is clearly suggesting that we need to reconsider the basic American principles of not judging people or discriminating on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion- if tragedies like what took place at Fort Hood can still happen, maybe we're being too nice to the Muslims. He writes that "the appearance of equality is not infinite in its appeal--especially if it flies in the face of common sense and self-preservation." Essentially, it sounds like a nice way of saying "fear for your lives!"

Whether or not we agree with the sentiments in Varadarajan's article, a new question came up in the midst of the backlash- to what extent is NYU Stern Dean Thomas Cooley responsible for apologizing for the article, and insisting that this is not the general stance of NYU faculty? After the condemnation from many Muslim and non-Muslim students, faculty and alumni, Cooley's response (as is circulated by email) was that :

"I think it is a very distorted reading to call this hate speech. Read it carefully. In any event I would not censor it or rebuke him for having written it. We are an institution that treasures free speech and open dialogue. You need to think more about what this means since you don't seem to understand it."

While this may sound harsh, and while we may disagree with some of Varadarajan's remarks, I wonder what difference it would make if Dean Cooley spoke out against an article written by one of our professors, and how that would both complicate things and change the way we feel about the incident. No matter where we are coming from, we all acknowledge that this is a tragedy and most of us believe Hasan must be mentally unstable to have committed it. For Dean Cooley to comment on the incident or the article is not going to change the way Muslims are treated on a daily basis as a result of the incident. Also, the fact that Varadarajan's article sparked so much debate only allows us a space to talk about it, rather than knowing that many Americans would agree with the statements made in the article, but would never say it out loud. Of course I don't condone generalizing the tendencies of any religious group or ethnicity, and find it ridiculous to try and instill fear of the local donut guy because he has a beard, but at the very least, those who take issue with this mentality have something concrete to respond to.

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