Exclusive: Terrorism is a Tactic: Hasan is a Traitor

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS November 17, 2009
There has been a lively debate over whether Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan is a terrorist. His murder of 14 people, which includes a pregnant woman’s unborn child, at Fort Hood certainly looks like a terrorist attack in the context of Hasan’s political statements and contacts with foreign Islamic fanatics who have been urging acts of violence against the United States and its allies. Only the day before Hasan opened fire on his unsuspecting Army comrades, Nasir al-Wahayshi, leader of al Qaeda in Yemen, called for jihadists to conduct such “simple” attacks against a variety of targets around the world. The psychological impact of many small attacks, spread over a wide area and conducted in a seemingly random and unpredictable fashion, can do more to break down the civilian will to resist than a few spectacular actions spaced months (or years) apart.
 
Terrorism is a tactic used in a war waged for political ends. It is not an ideology in itself, but a weapon in the hands of an ideology or cause. It is this political aspect that separates what Hasan did at a military base from what a disgruntled employee may do at his workplace as the result of only personal grievances. Those who want to downgrade Hasan’s actions to that of a postal worker who has snapped due to the pressures of his job are trying to avoid their own uneasiness about the connection between ideological beliefs and violence. The issue is larger than whether Hasan’s increasingly militant interpretation of Islam led him to kill. The disquieting question is whether the advocacy of any ideology that expresses hatred for one’s own country can lead to what Hasan’s real crime was: treason.
 
In 1964, the renowned writer Rebecca West published The New Meaning of Treason, a sequel to her 1947 book The Meaning of Treason. Her work focused on the ideological motive for betrayal of the nation. Her first book had dealt with British followers of the Nazis, the second with those whose sympathies were with the Soviet Union. In both cases, people were lured by a utopian doctrine to favor a foreign power that supposedly embodied that idealistic vision over their own imperfect country.
 
In contrast, treason in the United States is still identified with Gen. Benedict Arnold, who changed sides during the Revolutionary War because he felt humiliated by shabby treatment from colonial authorities and wanted the money and prestige offered by the British. But West argued that modern traitors are sustained more by their ideology than by their personal resentments or greed.
 
In most cases, Cold War traitors knew little or nothing about actual conditions in their new promised land, or the true nature of the brutal regimes to which they transferred their allegiance. Think of Jane Fonda, sitting at an anti-aircraft gun in North Vietnam. They had created a fantasy land in their heads, and let that delusion guide their actions. The grass looked greener in their dreams than in the real communities in which they live. So the traitor turns against his country and its culture because they stand condemned by the ideology which has become the “true” measure of all things. People far away who the traitor has never known and will never know, are accorded more loyalty than neighbors, colleagues and even family because they fit into a belief system. It is an extremely unreal phenomenon. Those who are used to dealing in abstract environments, such as academic and religious zealots, are most vulnerable to ideological appeals. The Hollywood Left also counts among those who live in worlds created out of thin air, the nature of which can be changed by the stroke of a pen.
 
Hasan is said to have shouted the jihadist battle cry “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as he opened fire on his Army comrades. But it was his earlier alleged claim that he thought of himself as a Muslim more than an American that is the real key. It revealed a shift in loyalty and identity from which followed his condemnation of U.S. policy and the murder of those about to be deployed to carry out that policy. Maj. Hasan changed sides in a war, just as Gen. Arnold did, but from a different motive.
 
And it is the motive that drives the American left to seek ways to explain away Hasan’s actions. Hasan was born and raised in the United States. He joined ROTC in college and made a career in the military. He did not start out an enemy of his country. Somewhere along the line he was converted to treason by the “free expression” of ideas that liberals claim is healthy for society. He was allowed by our open system to communicate with avowed enemies of America both at home and abroad He started to criticize the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan not because he thought they were bad for America, but because they were an unjust war against Islam. His view is a patently false notion, but a mainstay of jihadist propaganda.
 
The jihadists have killed far more Muslims than infidels, and have concentrated most of their terrorist attacks inside Islamic countries. It is the jihadists who are seeking to overthrow Muslim regimes in the Middle East and subjugate their people to create a Caliphate. It is a civil war with mass Muslim casualties.
 
The U.S. is attempting to protect Islamic populations, while training Muslim police and soldiers to fight the jihadists.
Hasan moved from merely advocating the enemy’s position, which the Army was hesitant to curtail because it might be deemed a violation of his liberal rights to free thought and expression, to joining the fight when he felt forced to make a choice in the face of his impending deployment to a combat zone as part of the American war effort.
 
Many on the Left from the Cold War on have advocated the positions held by America’s enemies. Some were attracted by the Marxist ideology espoused by the Soviet Union, Communist China, Castro’s Cuba, North Korea, and North Vietnam. But with the rise of the New Left in the 1960s, there was a turn from embracing the enemy to simply hating America. Daniel Singer, then European correspondent for The Nation, the misnamed flagship journal of the anti-American Left, lamented the fall of the Soviet Union in the October 14,1991 issue, "While infecting all countries that entered its orbit with bureaucratic inefficiency, the Soviet Union was also the only potential external obstacle to the expansion of American imperialism." Many on the Left are still enamored with Castro and other Latin Marxists like Hugo Chávez, and also defend Islamic radicals and rogue states like Iran. The common ideological theme of these foreign alignments is the “anti-imperialist” struggle against the United States.
 
These activists do not want to be seen as traitors, and certainly fear any attempt to shut down their operations on the grounds of national security. Hence their constant railing against the Patriot Act and military tribunals. They call upon the authorities to protect their civil liberties, even as they use those liberties to destroy all national authority. Indeed, in some liberal-left-libertarian circles the very idea of “nationalism” is condemned as a threat to “individualism”, meaning the personal freedom to be disloyal without suffering any negative consequences.
 
It should be made clear, however, that simply adhering to an ideology is not the same as treason. Extreme partisanship has led to wild rhetoric on both the right and left accusing the other party of holding “un-American” values, but this is not the same as being “anti-American.” Cambridge scholar Charles Jones wrote a study of the realist thinker E. H. Carr. Jones noted that Carr “stood very close to Leninism at times and later in life would describe his most widely read work on international relations, The Twenty Years Crisis, as ‘not exactly a Marxist work, but strongly impregnated with Marxist ways of thinking.’ Yet Carr regarded his ideological position as wholly consistent with a thoroughly patriotic pursuit of British interests….and [was] consistently directed toward the maximisation of British power in the long run.” Debates over what policies are best for a strong and prosperous country are proper, debates over whether the country should be strong and prosperous are not.
 
The real issue is not philosophy but allegiance. When push comes to shove, what side a person is on; that of his own country or that of foreign interests or causes, is the question that matters. Hasan chose to act against his country and that was his crime.
 
There are some 15,000 other Muslims in the U.S. armed forces, but as long as they fight for America, their religion ought not to be an issue. But those who would work to turn their allegiance elsewhere, based on a religious or ideological appeal, must be dealt with as enemy agents and traitors. They must not be allowed to spread their anti-American hatred lest it trigger new acts of violence and terror.
 
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributing Editor William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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