The Real Shock of Fort Hood

It's not that the massacre occurred. It's that it hadn't occurred before.

The greatest shock of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's murderous spree at Fort Hood last week may not have been the spree itself, but the fact that it was the first of its kind in the United States. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Muslims in America have been subject to innumerable stresses, including discrimination and the strain of divided loyalties in their country's eight-year-long war against Muslims in the Middle East and Central Asia. The confusion is enough to inspire conflict in the minds of even the most patriotic of American Muslims in the U.S., let alone young Muslim GIs directly exposed to enemy propaganda. The fact that one unstable member of this community finally erupted in violence should be no surprise.

The conventional wisdom is that unlike Europe's discontented Muslims, America's Muslims are prosperous and happy, having benefited from the welcoming embrace of our "melting pot" nation. This is basically a complacent fiction. According to a Gallup poll released in March 2009, while Muslim integration in the United States has been more successful than in Europe, Muslims remain less civically engaged in American society and less inclined to view their social position positively than any other religious group.

These attitudes have hardened since the attacks of Sept. 11, with American Muslims increasingly choosing not to assimilate into American society and instead finding solace in their religious identity. For example, exclusionary Muslim students' associations on college campus have grown, as have Islamic schools and Muslim radio stations and publications. These initiatives may resemble those taken by other religious and ethnic groups in the United States since the nineteenth century to promote acceptance and assimilation.

But the Muslim situation differs. As a relatively well-integrated minority, Muslims were able to protect their considerable stake in America -- American Muslims' income is slightly above the national average -- by keeping a low profile. Sept. 11 rocked their quiet world, abruptly placing them in a conspicuous and tortuous position. The domestic aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, including physical attacks on Muslims in the streets, being singled out for airport security screenings and in other forms of surveillance, and biased media treatment, implied that suppressing their Muslim identity was better for their health, that they couldn't take their civil rights for granted, and that their interests depended on the absence of serious future attacks within the United States.

At the same time, many Muslims also found the moral territory of those years murkier than the average American did, results from a 2007 Pew Research Center survey suggest. The Sept. 11 attacks appeared to be retaliation for policies, like unbending U.S. support of Israel, that American Muslims themselves tended to disapprove of. Muslims were also less supportive of the American reaction to the attacks: military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan and indefinite detention and torture of terrorist suspects. And many Muslims perceived the implementation of the U.S. Patriot Act as biased. Thus, to most U.S. Muslims, maintaining a low profile simply by demonstrating unalloyed approval of their adopted country's policies would have been unprincipled and unpalatable. Yet the absence of a fervently patriotic response only confirmed the suspicions of many non-Muslim Americans.

In turn, the evolving attitudes of non-Muslim Americans toward their Muslim compatriots have been more conducive to Muslim alienation than assimilation. According to a 2006 Gallup poll, a third of Americans admire "nothing" about the Muslim world. Nearly half of all Americans believe the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslims. A July 2007 Newsweek survey indicated that 46 percent of Americans think that the United States is accepting too many Muslim immigrants, 32 percent consider American Muslims less loyal to the United States than they are to Islam, 28 percent believe that the Koran condones violence, 41 percent are convinced that Islamic culture "glorifies suicide," 54 percent are "worried" about Islamic jihadists in the U.S., and 52 percent support FBI surveillance of mosques. Since Sept. 11, Muslims have faced increasing racism, employment and housing discrimination, and vandalism. Media coverage dwelling on the violence associated with radical Islam and ignoring the respectable lifestyles of most American Muslims, along with Christian right-wing rhetoric casting the campaign against terrorism as a clash of religions, has contributed to the public's misunderstanding of Islam.

Despite all this, American Muslims have generally resisted radicalization, and have almost universally rejected violent protest or reaction. Post-9/11 fears that a Muslim fifth column would coalesce in this country have not remotely been realized. But the Fort Hood massacre arguably showed that the continued civility of the Muslim population against undeniable pressures cannot be taken for granted. To preserve it, the American public will have to resist the paranoia to which last week's tragedy could potentially lead.

Instead, Barack Obama should use his bully pulpit to fight for the better treatment and monitoring of vulnerable Muslim service-members, to avoid another tragedy. Following his stern and eloquent eulogy, Obama should offer another speech emphasizing that Fort Hood was an anomaly and that the very rareness of such incidents illuminates the overall loyalty of American Muslims and the need to protect that population.

Then, he should follow up his words with policy changes. The fact that Hasan was psychologically disturbed does not negate the larger point that soldiers cannot be expected to function well in the service of their country for a cause that they oppose. Accordingly, with the United States in direct combat with Muslims on two fronts and engaged in a broader global counterterrorism campaign in which the antagonists are Muslims, the attitudes of Muslim service members need to be closely monitored. The sharp opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the belief that Muslims should not be sent to fight other Muslims voiced by Hasan at Walter Reed Hospital in mid-2007 should have raised a red flag even without evidence of mental imbalance or contact with radical clerics because the military imperatives of unit cohesion and strong morale would have counseled against his continued service. The White House should ensure that the services, the Pentagon, and the Joint Terrorism Task Force institutionalize better interagency early-warning mechanisms for detecting attitudes that render personnel unsuitable for service before they become alienated from their country.

Second, evidence has emerged that Hasan's turn toward radicalism and violence was partly driven by the taunts of fellow soldiers. The relative ease with which the Army was integrated after World War II demonstrates how effective military discipline can be in advancing individual rights when purposefully applied. Since military service is an extraordinarily sensitive issue for Muslims, Obama should immediately direct the chiefs of staff of all of the military services to redouble efforts to enforce antidiscrimination standards. Then a broader antidiscrimination effort, perhaps informed by a General Accountability Office study on anti-Muslim bias, should be extended to other agencies.

Increased vigilance for the few Muslims who may stray from the nonviolent norm is essential. But Fort Hood's principal legacy should be a greater commitment to ensuring, through accommodation of political and religious sensitivity and equality of treatment, that American Muslims don't suffer for their loyalty to their country.

Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images


Bosnia’s Continuing Chaos

The killing may have subsided, but the mess in the Balkans lingers on.

Fourteen years after its brutal war ended, Bosnia is today in political, if not literal, turmoil. Half of the country is deadlocked in a feud with the international governor, the High Representative. And a meeting this week of the Peace Implementation Council, setup in 1995 to monitor the peace accord, could prove decisive in moving forward. With the status quo unviable, the council will have to decide between reinforcing the existing, international executive authority in Bosnia or transitioning to a new, forward-looking approach based on ever-increasing integration into the European Union and NATO.

The trouble started back in September. Bosnia is divided into two main political-territorial parts, and the Serb half, Republika Srpska, rejected a series of decisions imposed by the Office of the High Representative, Bosnia's international governor. Some were technical and innocuous, but others -- relating to control over the electric monopoly -- were controversial. In theory, the High Representative can impose virtually any law without review by national authorities. But this crisis shows his practical ability to enforce decisions has been weakened or even curtailed. The Serbs have since threatened to pull out of common Bosnian institutions if the High Representative imposed any other laws. There is no obvious way out of this confrontation, and further escalation would threaten Bosnia's hard-won stability and viability as a common state.

Rather than backing the High Representative as they have done in the past, the United States and the European Union launched talks in October between Bosniak, Bosnian Serb and Bosnian Croat leaders to break the impasse. At the "Butmir talks" -- so called because they are taking place at the Butmir military base near Sarajevo  -- Washington and Brussels presented a package of constitutional reforms. These are part of a broader attempt to move the country toward EU and NATO membership, thus stabilizing it and allowing the Office of the High Representative to close.

Ideally, Bosnia's leaders would accept the EU-U.S. proposal in its entirety. It is a good compromise and the most that can be hoped for under trying circumstances. But time is running out. The High Representative's conflict with Republika Srpska has been frozen for two months as the Butmir talks have been ongoing. But it will not stay frozen for much longer, as Bosnia's parties gear up for what promises to be a tense campaign leading to next year's general elections. If negotiations achieve little or only partial agreement on the proposed reforms, as now looks likely, the international community will be left with only two choices.

The first option would be to strengthen the Office of the High Representative. That may require sacking obstinate Bosnian political leaders -- something the High Representative has the right to do but has not done in years. The trouble with this option is that the office has no public support among Serbs, meaning that enforcing decisions might entail a very real show of force, potentially from the small peacekeeping mission still in Bosnia. Forcing tough political choices would also entrench Bosnia's position as an international protectorate, where ultimate political responsibility lies with international rather than democratically elected leaders. It would buy stability at the expense of a big step backward in Bosnia's viability as a state.

A more forward-looking approach would be to reinforce the Bosnian state, close the Office of the High Representative, and put in place new, strong stabilizing measures based on close EU engagement coupled with continual U.S. and NATO involvement.

The EU has long been eager to take on new responsibilities in Bosnia. A new special representative should have a stronger mandate that enables the envoy to call out parties and persons who are in noncompliance with the Dayton Agreement, barring them from further EU benefits. The EU will equally need to be the guarantor of the Dayton Peace Agreement, seeing the process through to final implementation.

What makes this arrangement different from the current High Representative is executive power -- which the new EU representative would lack. He or she would be there to facilitate Bosnia's political process, and make decisions on the disbursement or restriction of EU financial aid to Bosnia. Such a mechanism would ensure that political pressure would remain while still giving Bosnia's leaders something they have never really had before: responsibility for their country.

At the same time, the U.N. Security Council should renew the mandates of both EUFOR and NATO for at least one more year, endorsing their authority to maintain Bosnia's security under the Dayton Peace Agreement. In addition, both the EU and NATO should invite Bosnia to apply for membership and spell out the conditions for joining both organizations.

Meanwhile at Butmir, the EU and United States should work toward getting agreement on the urgent reforms necessary for Bosnia's next stage in EU integration: candidacy status. These include authorizing the state to make commitments to the EU and implement obligatory EU reforms, including ensuring that the constitution is compliant with the European Convention of Human Rights and improving the state's administrative and legislative capacity.

There is no viable middle ground here between these two options. The current situation -- an endless stalemate -- risks bringing the state to a standstill and derailing its EU ambitions. Keeping the High Representative's office in its present form, with broad authority but without the ability to enforce it, is dangerous. It's time for a new approach. Full Bosnian responsibility, reinforced by the EU and NATO, offers the best insurance against fragmentation and stagnation and the best chance to for Bosnia to become the mature and normal state its citizens deserve.