No, Hasan and Bales Are Not Equivalent

Earlier this week, Omid Safi, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, used his blog "What Would Muhammad Do" at the Religion News Service to claim a moral equivalency between Ft. Hood jihadist Major Nidal Malik Hasan and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.  "When Americans Kill vs. When Muslims Kill" is a morally repugnant attempt to claim a double standard in the way Americans react to mass murder.  In this, Safi echoes the party line of the Middle East studies establishment, which blames the West for the region's political and technological backwardness while largely ignoring its systemic social problems, from the subservient roles of women to the glorification of terrorism.

Rather than proving his claim, however, Safi highlights what he attempts to deny -- that the double standard in Americans' treatment of Muslims leads Americans to turn a blind eye toward Islamic radicals while condemning non-Muslims harshly.  Willful blindness, not bigotry, is the hallmark of the contemporary West's treatment of Islamic radicalism.

He writes:

When Americans kill, it is portrayed as an aberration, an act of a tormented and troubled individual. When Muslims kill, it is covered as a signal of a communal, global genocidal tendency.


In short, the assumption that [sic] when we Americans kill, it is an aberration from our good nature. Even if the act is abominable, it is said to be purely an individual act totally disconnected from any larger institutional or political context. However, when Muslims kill, it is a sign of a world-wide, evil ideology of jihad and terrorism.

Hasan, a psychiatrist who slaughtered thirteen fellow soldiers while shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great"), psychologically abused his patients -- weary, sometimes mentally fragile Iraq War veterans seeking medical treatment.  He condemned their service to their country, attempted to convert some to Islam, and told an Army captain that she was an infidel who would be "ripped to shreds" and would "burn in hell" because she was not a Muslim.  His file reveals years of unprofessional, highly aggressive behavior toward Army personnel driven by his desire to carry out jihad -- holy war -- against Americans.  Private business cards found in his apartment after his arrest stated that he was an "SoA (SWT)," an acronym found on jihadist websites that stands for "soldier of Allah" and "Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala," or "Glory to God."

Yet, in spite of a mountain of evidence against Hasan, official government reactions to his murderous rampage and to other actions by radical Islamists reveal anything but bigotry against Muslims:

  • The official Department of Defense report on the murder of the thirteen servicemen at Fort Hood does not mention Hasan by name, nor does it mention the words "jihad" or "Muslim," while "Islam" occurs only in a reference footnote.
  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to state that radical Islam played any role in the Fort Hood shooting or the attempted bombing of Times Square in New York City in 2009.
  • Federal officials regularly resort to euphemisms, including "overseas contingency operation," "a campaign against extremists who wish to do us harm," and "countering violent extremism" to describe America's wars against radical Islamists and terror-sponsoring nations.

That Hasan got away with his actions without being expelled from the Army, if not prosecuted, is testimony to the West's pusillanimity in the face of radical Islam and its apologists, not its bigotry against them.

Hasan is entirely representative of jihadists who infiltrate Western institutions and kill in the name of Islam.  Bales, who gunned down sixteen innocent Afghan civilians, is undeniably unrepresentative of U.S. military personnel, whether in Afghanistan or elsewhere.  Countless Americans have given their lives to protect Muslims from those same Muslims' brethren, including Americans lost through the implementation of military tactics that place U.S. personnel in increased danger of death in order to spare civilians from casualties.

Safi's analogy fails also because Hasan was in fact in contact with radical Islamists and jihadist websites around the world (although Safi claims he acted as a "lone person"), including the late Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni cleric with whom Hasan exchanged ten to twenty e-mails and at whose mosque he worshipped in Virginia.  In the wake of Hasan's actions, al-Awlaki called him a "hero" and wrote:

The fact that fighting against the U.S. army is an Islamic duty today cannot be disputed. Nidal has killed soldiers who were about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to kill Muslims.

There is utterly no evidence that Bales acted from any religious motivation, or that he was part of a larger network.  Moreover, where is any praise of Bales, from anyone?  Both President Obama and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta called Afghan president Karzai to apologize for Bales's act.  Bales is under arrest, held in solitary confinement, and faces charges that could lead to the death penalty.  Safi, desperate to link two disparate killers, is grasping at straws.

Safi has a long history of defending radical Islamists and smearing his critics, all while posing as a progressive Muslim fighting for justice.  From classroom assignments in which scholars with whom he disagrees are labeled "Islamophobes" to charging falsely that Robert Spencer threatened to kill him, Safi lashes out at those who would expose his efforts to shill for Islamists.  In his latest apologia for terrorists, he insults the professionalism of the American military, the decency of the American people, and the truth.

Winfield Myers is director of academic affairs at the Middle East Forum.  This essay was written for Campus Watch, a project of the Forum.