Saturday, December 12, 2009


Ever since the Ft. Hood tragedy made the news, the Rabid Right has engaged in all manner of race-baiting and religious xenophobia to explain the catastrophic event. The most recent argument to come out of this camp is that the military and federal authorities failed to prevent the shootings because they were behaving in a “politically correct” manner. They argue that to resolve this problem our nation needs to condemn Islam at large and revert back to a version of racial/religious profiling.

A recent Op-Ed piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht in the Wall Street Journal refined the extremist expressions into a more subtle polemic. Making the case for “respectable racism,” Gerecht blames the spasm of violence by Major Nidal Hassan on American law enforcement officials, generally, and President Obama, specifically. Gerecht’s rationale is that the President – as the icon of political correctness – has been unwilling to identify Islam as the nation’s enemy and, in failing to do so, has allowed terrorism to strike where it should not have. In short, Gerecht’s larger argument is that federal investigators could have stopped Major Hassan’s rampage had they not been concerned with the feelings and reactions of Muslims.

To support his position, Gerecht claimed that the FBI “reflects American legal ethics,” thereby casting the Bureau as innocent and na├»ve when confronted with domestic “jihadists.” Given the multitude of well-researched works regarding the FBI’s coordinated attacks on American citizens under COINTELPRO, this assertion cannot withstand serious scrutiny as Clayborne Carson’s “Malcolm X: The FBI Files,” Brian Glick’s pithy “War At Home,” and Jeffrey Haas’ recently published “The Assassination of Fred Hampton” all dramatically demonstrate.

Even in the present period, the FBI has engaged in “racial mapping” of ethnic/religious communities and intimidated individuals into becoming informants. And lest we forget, FBI agents killed Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Detroit – a community leader supposedly linked to “radical” Muslims like the former Black Panther H. Rap Brown – roughly a week before the shootings at Ft. Hood.

The rhetoric of the Rabid Right – that “political correctness” may be killing us – is all the more disingenuous because there are a number of viable alternative explanations for the shootings at Ft. Hood. Even if the investigation into Major Hassan's affairs proves that he was indeed a terrorist, it does not mean a priori that political correctness (read: racial sensitivity) was the culprit. Given what has already come to light about the case--like the fact that Hassan was promoted after receiving a poor performance evaluation--, the true culprit here is more likely internal corruption, incompetence, and bureaucratic in-fighting. Government whistle-blowers Coleen Rowley and Sibel Edmonds showed us that those three factors, at the very least, played a role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But the Right would have us sweep to the side all of these inconvenient truths. The arguments of Gerecht and his ilk suggest that scapegoating and racial/religious profiling are necessary to keep Americans safe. By turns, Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. Democracy and fairness be damned.

But, alas, proponents of this thinking should be careful what they wish for. Racial profiling does not work; it casts too broad a net to be effective and rewards racism and laziness. Like torture, it is a tactic that provides a sense of comfort and control to the perpetrator but provides little, if anything, in terms of collective safety. In addition, it comes at a tremendous cost of blindness. Not only does it distort the dominant culture's perception of the "othered" groups, but it also distorts their vision of themselves as "innocent" and rational thinkers.

Thus, I leave you with a story from the PBS series “The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow.” In one of the episodes, groups of Black folk described inter-personal interactions with whites during the years of legalized racial segregation. One man told the story of walking along a road, seeing something disturbing at a nearby house, then rushing to warn the occupants. As he approached the structure, a white woman appeared at the front door and began cursing and threatening him: “What do want here, nigger? What’s the meaning of you coming up to my house? You better get out of here!” In the face of such invective, he turned and headed back toward the road. As he strolled, he yelled over his shoulder, “I was just coming to tell you that your house is on fire.”

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