Filed under: Afghanistan and Pakistan, War and Poverty | Tags: Afghanistan, anti American, conscience, Muslim, pacifism, peace
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.