PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Fort Hood Shootings: Tragedy Waiting to Happen by peaceprobe

Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter was caught in an impossible matrix of shame.  As a Muslim he was asked to support the killing his fellow religionists.  Islam forbids the killing of other Muslims.  As a military man he was belittled and perhaps harassed for his growing Muslim convictions.  Good soldiers do not identify with the enemy.  Every day as a counselor and psychiatrist he was reminded of his impossible dilemma as he listened to the dreadful stories of broken soldiers caught in the vise of post traumatic stress syndrome disorder (PTSD).  Their stories of fatalism, guilt, suicide and other life changing experience in combat killing reminded him that he was a part of the system that kills other Muslims. He was caught between two shaming systems and there was no place to turn for help.

The military does not allow for selective conscientious objection.* Soldiers, including officers of all religious and secular persuasions who try to extricate themselves from previous military commitments are belittled.  And the bureaucratic path leads through months and even years of lonely and tortured hearings, appeals, reviews and rejections. Some go absent without leave (AWOL) only to grow exhausted over time with their semi underground life and loss of hope for a normal life. They may turn themselves in or even join the ranks of the homeless.  In previous wars they were welcomed in countries like Canada where they took up new lives.  Canada is no longer welcoming to objectors.

Objectors who are in uniform tend to act out of the deepest instincts of conscience that is available to them, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or humanist.  Major Nidal Hasan is one in a long line of soldiers whose deep inner conviction led them to refuse to cooperate.  He did it in a more destructive and dramatic form.  If you want to meet other objectors you can visit Under the Hood Café outside of Fort Hood where G Is with objections to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan congregate.  I met six of them in a recent trip to Austin.  All of them described thoughts of suicide, anguish over their desire to get their lives back, frustration at the way the military refused to believe them when they objected, and counselling sessions with people like Major Hasan that helped little.   In our conversations the group of objectors thoughtfully contemplated various versions of objection, selective conscientious objection (not recognized by the military), complete pacifism (recognized by the military) or continuing to run.   However in the confusion of their stress, I was not sure if one or more of them could turn to violence directed at their families or even aimed at the military.

Like Major Hasan the non Muslim objectors were people who believed what the military recruiters who are required to meet quota, told them.  They thought they would get money for advanced education.  They believed that they were going to fight and kill persons who may terrorize America.  They believed what they would do was right, good, honourable and even heroic.   The reality and innocence of the people they have now killed overwhelms them.  Their consciences were stirred by a more deeply rooted universal respect for human life. When they acted on their conscience it was interpreted as disloyalty to the military and to their nation and their lives are not celebrated like the media reverently acknowledges those who die in America’s wars.

Despite the macho cultures from which these non Muslim soldiers came their bodies and minds are now closed down to more war. For the young soldiers I met in Austin TX, massive killings by air, sea and land were enthusiastically approved and roundly supported by their superiors and political leaders.  Each soldier I talked with has his or her own story of willy nilly, random shootings that are never investigated.  In Major Hasan’s culture, suicide attacks are encouraged as the way to leave a mark or discourage the enemy.  The dominant thread in both cultures is the ancient model, an eye for an eye and both have teachings about just war that are ignored by commanders, soldiers and the religious teachers who back them up.

The lessons from the Fort Hood shootings is one that all of us must hear and believe.  There are great numbers of people returning from the modern battle field who are wounded in spirit.  The belief in a system that threatens, shocks and kills does not bring real security.  We all need to listen to people like Major Hasan and his colleagues at Fort Hood and help them find a way out of the system that is killing them and others.   One way out for them would be a system of selective conscientious objection.  We can press for that.

We can also push for a democracy that provides as many rewards for unarmed warriors, peacemakers and service workers outside the military as those promised to military recruits.  Maybe we should even advocate a draft that  recruits the sons and daughters of the ruling class first.  In the long term we need to press for a dramatic cut in the military budget.  And for all of us who dream of the day when a culture of peacefulness without killing might prevail we need to get serious about all kinds of experiments that build a culture where conflicts are settled without weapons.

*Major Nidal Hasan June 2007 notes for speech at Walter Reed Hospital advocating option for Consciencious Objector status for Muslims in the conclusion.


I Don’t Like America by peaceprobe

The guest is the editor of an Urdu Newspaper and a writer of fiction known in Pakistan and India.   His life in Pakistan began in 1947 when he moved with his parents here from India to find a safe home in this newly established Muslim state.  We are almost the same age.  From separate viewing platforms we have travelled from the 20th century into the 21st. His leathery wrinkled face betrays little emotion.   But his words are firm. You give billions to this government of traitors who use it for themselves and stupid schemes that bring false security.  I know he is right but can’t figure out what to say to make things better. He continues.  I listen. I ask about his life, about meeting the daily deadline of a newspaper, about books.  I see the excitement in his eye when he speaks of his love of writing.  One of his books is about to be made into a movie by an Indian group.  Occasionally he returns to more talk of traitors and the stupid international people who support them, his words.  He looks at me long enough for me to know he is really thinking of the Americans.

 He and his wife delivered a lovely gift of sweets in honour of the new baby that arrived six weeks earlier in the home where some of us are staying.  After tea, he leaves and another guest arrives with more gifts to honour the baby. I was introduced and tried in my clumsy Midwestern way to put my best manners forward.   No sooner was this second guest introduced to the visiting American and I was greeted by an even stronger barrage of anger about America.  I listened.  I am now  into week two of my Pakistan pilgrimage and I have come to expect this list of grievances as a kind reminder of the world where I travel.   Here is the list, – you want to use Pakistan when you need us, you supported the military which brought us the Taliban, 10 billion dollars  over the last 8 years, you supported the Taliban against the Russians and now we are terrorized,  now you support our military which destroys our democracy, and you support Israel, you make us corrupt,  you just send weapons and  now they are killing us.  The list is completed for the moment and then the guest and I talk about life here in Islamabad. 

I know and she knows that this is one of the voices of deep frustration laced with fear that is part of daily conversations here.  I stumble to find threads of common perception and curiosity in the present situation.   I know that identifying myself with a peace delegation will not overcome the deep feelings of betrayal,  and the  suspicion that I am part of the American program.   Every day there are new threats of bombs, new worries for children now completing their end of year exams. And the children are angry too.  I am told not to go on the streets, not to look like an American.

These moments of testing of my national citizenship are not new.  I am no longer interested in being the nice American so people can like us.  Polite interruptions won’t fix a pattern of barren relationships based on exploitation.  International relations based on aid programs and harsh actions of military interventions have been the standard of the meandering configurations of American big power relations for so long that even the potentially useful aid is not trusted. The pattern leads to fundamental distrust that cannot be fixed with a single speech or short term policies that fix things until the next election cycle.

 These tough conversations awaken me to the fears unleashed when I first viewed the falling trade towers.   The American response was laced with vicious condemnations of Muslims by people from whom I expected more balance.   I have heard anger before in Palestine, Iraq, Jordan and from a chorus of lips. I remember the mothers and fathers clutching their children as they pour out their soul.  I know this raw emotion of anger may continue for generations. I wish it wasn’t needed.   I remember my own contorted responses when 9/11 came into our American lives.  The towers came down and blood flowed because of the same anger, betrayal, hatred and disappointment that I am hearing here.  But I am not hearing it from Taliban.  No!  It is too insecure to go into the Taliban controlled territories.  I will be stopped by check points.  The people I talk to are afraid of the Taliban.   Beheadings, car bombs and  road side explosions are part of their lives. And they blame a long list of perpetrators including Americans. Anger is not always coherent.  Anger just is.
 At the time I hoped  9/11 would be a wake up call for a generation of fairness.  Naively I thought it could mark the end of CIA and military schemes of force that too often kill other people’s children.  I thought the better American lurking underneath in the shadow of bravado and star wars would be jolted and awakened.  Instead we have witnessed new faceless weapons of interdiction and  picture taking from the sky.  And anger in the Us increases as factories that might have provided economic  life fade into bankruptcy.  Is this our own Taliban in the shadow?
 Today I will continue my listening and I know I will hear more puffs of anger, some bold and hardened over  time, others muted and leavened by the culture’s surface harmony. As I leave my quarters I will pass near the site of a projected  $736 million dollar US embassy complex. Another Green Zone like Baghdad?  I want to turn those thoughts off.  Maybe they will give the embassy a new name.  I have a suggestion – Fortress of Anger Management   
 Today I can still burrow my way through the suspicions of most persons I meet here.  I wonder if future generations of peacemakers will find people with whom honest conversation is a still a safe possibility.  Or will the political culture be the completion of a Taliban revolution?

I learn of the pain in so many people’s hearts here over a national educational curriculum put in place by an impatient military dictator anxious to build a myopic vision of Muslim society.  I hear the words of regret and a testimony to the fruits of a confined educational policy in this generation of university students. Their stories of delayed protest remind me of my own delays.  When have I challenged the school teachers in my family, my city or community to tell the harsh truth of America’s blundering missteps of enemy making, horror, and terror.  We teach about Taliban honour killings but we don’t teach about our own honour killings.    Can we tell the truth in our schools and universities? 
The children here are not protected from the naked truth of  terror. There are real answers, albeit painful, to the question that rippled across America in the days after 9/11  – Why do they hate us?  They hate us because we are dangerous to have around.