By Mikey Weinstein
president, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
We are learning more each day about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the man accused of senselessly and mercilessly killing 13 people, including 12 of his fellow soldiers, at Fort Hood earlier this month. It has now become reasonably clear that Hasan was in contact with radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi and may have incorporated aspects of Islam into his work as an Army psychiatrist. He allegedly argued in 2007 that Muslims should not be serving as American troops in conflicts with Islamic countries, because of the “risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly.”
This revelatory news is terribly saddening. But what is significantly worse is the revelation that the Pentagon was incontrovertibly aware of Hasan’s alleged actions of professional malfeasance and chose to do nothing. We have not heard any instance in which Hasan was meaningfully reprimanded, disciplined or told that his opprobrious actions and his communications violated military policy, military law and even the sworn oath he took to support and defend the Constitution vice his parochial fundamentalist interpretation of the Qur’an.
If it is proven true that Hasan was advocating for Muslims to be excused from combat operations and other U.S. military service, then he should have been aggressively and immediately court-martialed. If true, then he was criminally forwarding the wretched proposition that followers of Islam are less “American” than their Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist or agnostic brothers and sisters in arms. He was, in essence, exacerbating a horrid stereotype and actually helping to create, if not buttress, the hostile environment surrounding him.
The bedrock truth is that all men and women who have willfully and voluntarily taken the solemn oath to honorably and nobly serve their country in uniform are absolutely equal. Our United States Constitution so demands. Thus, the presumption must be that they all are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect their country. Even if that means the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their lives. Did anyone question whether Christian soldiers were capable of killing other Christians in World War II? They were American soldiers first and foremost, and they had a military mission.
In the wake of the Fort Hood tragedy, I have directly heard from many Muslim soldiers and their families who are facing odious hostility at bases both domestically and abroad, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. Loyal military families, who have become accustomed to stares and sneers, now face overt harassment from their brethren. We must as a country be adroit and human enough to understand what Hasan seemingly could not – that American military men and women are all on the same side, and must be treated with the same amount of respect.
We must use the Hasan case as a serious wake-up call to seek out those who try to unconstitutionally mix religion and the military, whether it is fundamentalist Muslims who place the Qur’an over their oath to the Constitution and obedience to the Uniform Code of Military Conduct, or fundamentalist Christians who tyrannically oppress those who do not embrace their “approved” form of gospel faith. The First Bottom Line is simply this; if the Pentagon had taken the matter of fundamentalist religious coercion and proselytizing seriously, Hasan’s alleged shocking words and actions in 2007 would have raised swift and significant alarms, and his ability to serve as a United States Army officer and psychiatrist would have been timely questioned and investigated.
As renown Rabbi Leo Baeck said, “In this life, we are judged not just by what we do, but also by what we allow to be done.” The Second Bottom Line is this; the men and women in uniform who claim to have heard or observed Hasan place his Islamic faith and/or the Qur’an over the United States Constitution and did nothing of significant moment at all, are equally responsible for him being allowed to continue to serve and for the heinous actions at Fort Hood. Specious claims of “political correctness” be damned, the simple truth is that they should have been court-martialed as well.
It is quite possible that our military personnel did not see the inherent conflict and breach of duty in Hasan’s alleged overtly religious words and actions because the Pentagon has systemically allowed, if not abjectly encouraged, one particular exclusionary brand of a religion and American military service to freely mix and ignominiously blend. For years now, the Department of Defense has paved the way for fundamentalist Christian military and civilian officials and organizations to boundlessly proselytize on armed forces installations around the world, and to make this extremely intolerant version of Christian religious observance an inherent requirement for the well being and advancement of subordinate military personnel. Perhaps those who claim to have heard Hasan’s words of similar religious triumphalism believed he was just expressing his faith in the same manner they had seen countless fundamentalist Christian military members do before and, thus, did not see that partisan theological screed for the blatantly dangerous Constitutional violation cum national security threat it truly was. But, alas, they were wrong; tragically wrong.
In Latin, there is a phrase, “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,” or “Who will guard the guards?” The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has consistently fought to protect the Constitutional religious freedoms of all U.S. military personnel, and to stop the relentless and ubiquitous fundamentalist Christian proselytizing on military bases. We call this aforementioned, national security plague a “fundamentalist Christian, parachurch-military-corporate proselytizing complex”. We are working day and night, around-the-clock to eradicate it and create a culture where our U.S. servicemen and women are treated equally and their contributions valued on their objective merits and not upon their personal choice of religious faith or lack thereof. Indeed, America, as a country collectively, must do a far better job of “guarding the guards,” so that they-in turn- can better guard us and our hard fought and precious freedoms, at home and abroad.
Mikey Weinstein is founder and president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, former legal counsel in the Reagan White House, former general counsel to two-time presidential candidate H. Ross Perot, and an honor graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.