Parsing Ft. Hood

I’ve been voraciously reading the various editorial reactions to the Ft. Hood shooting – and have found much of it to be confused at best and patently offensive at worst. If you’re eager for some intelligent commentary, I recommend this post from my friend Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer, who took NY Times columnist David Brooks to task for his recent piece that explored the nature and causes of religious extremism, focusing exclusively on Islam.

Nancy writes:

Yes, there is evil in human hearts. Yes, religion can be the carrier of malevolent narratives. But it is both historically and ethically flawed to write a whole column devoted to this theme and never once even mention that Islam is not the only tradition that has this problem. Brooks speaks about suicide bombers and terrorists but he does not mention that we have seen these troubled tales of “us and them” played out by many other religious folks.

As a Jew, David Brooks might have had the grace to remind us that in 1994 an orthodox Jew,  Baruch Goldstein,  killed 29  Muslims and wounded 150 while they prayed in Hebron.  Like Dr. Hassan, Dr. Goldstein, also a physician,  was both a deeply troubled individual and a product of a deeply problematic version of his faith tradition.

Another adherent to a deeply problematic version of our faith tradition is Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, head of the Od Yosef Chai Yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar, who recently published a book in which he opined that gentile babies and children can be killed if they pose a threat to the Jewish nation. This followed on the heels of the arrest of Jewish terrorist Yaakov Teitel, a West Bank settler who was charged with murdering two Palestinians in 1997 and bombing the home of a prominent Israeli professor last year.  (Teitel reportedly had this to say when arraigned in an Israeli courtroom: “It was a pleasure and an honor to serve my God. I have no regret and no doubt that God is pleased.”)

Intolerance is intolerance, regardless of the faith tradition to which it is attached.  As Nancy correctly points out, all religions can be carriers of malevolent narratives. And when deeply disturbed individuals such as Teitel and Hassan attach themselves to these toxic world views, we can predict all too well the tragic results.

27 thoughts on “Parsing Ft. Hood

  1. david

    A careful reading of Brook’s article should note his mention regarding of Islamic Fundamentalism:

    “This narrative is embraced by a small minority.” But it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

    This narrative is embraced by a small minority according to Brooks. His brief op-ed does not attempt to speak of all the injustices that have occurred throughout history in the name of religion. His focus is the present and the advent of Islamic Fundamentalism.

    At the very heart of the matter Rabbi Fuchs-Kreimer is correct, all terror and intolerance seems to stem from the hearts of individuals and are only shaped or fanned by ideology (whether it be religious, cultural, philosophical etc)

    The bigger question is not whether individuals will murder in the name of religion or any other self serving ideology, but rather what does the culture surrounding this individual do to ensure justice. Are the actions of individuals denounced publicly and prosecuted?, or is a blind eye turned to this intolerance, celebrated and even encouraged? This to me is the defining characteristic in this argument.

    I would argue that extremism in most cultures have been marginalized. Had Baruch Goldstein lived after his killing spree, would he have been arrested? Sentened for murder and jailed? I would venture to say yes. Regarding Yaakov Teitel he is currently arrested and has admitted to a string of attacks. Will he be sentenced to jail. I would hope so and believe he will be. Even the blog stand for Israel mentions that Israelis from all ends of the spectrum have condemned him and his actions:

    Had Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan performed this act in a Muslim nation would he have been arrested and prosecuted or celebrated as a martyr?

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

      Yes, David Brooks only focused on the advent of Islamic fundamentalism – and this is for me precisely the problem. The first half of his article deals quite eloquently with the ways we all attach ourselves to collective narratives – but when he came around to discuss what happens when these narratives turn malevolent, he discusses this problem only in the context of Islam. I would argue that this pedagogy is intellectually dishonest and – in a time of rampant Islamophobia, also profoundly irresponsible.

      I agree with you that the larger issue of society’s response to religious extremism is critical. I was interested to read that you left your final statement as an open question:

      Had Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan performed this act in a Muslim nation would he have been arrested and prosecuted or celebrated as a martyr?

      To me this is a sweepingly general question. I’m also interested in what your answer would be. Whatever it is, please explain what an equivalent “act” might be and be more specific about what you mean by “a Muslim nation.” I also hope you will not allow this statement to remain as a hypothetical and back up your claim with actual examples.

  2. Shirley Gould

    The task remains to identify extremism wherever, whenever and in what context it disrupts the peace and then the larger task to figure out how to interrupt it so it does not do damage.

    Maybe what we need more of is ordinary citizens of all disputants working, studying, living together on a daily basis, getting to know one another in a non-combative way, discovering the humanity in one another. How to arrive at this? Slowly in small groups. There are some commendable projects; we need more.

  3. YBD

    Ah, yes, the old “moral equivalence”. “They have their extremists and we have ours”. Then we hear about Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein and the handful of other Jews who have carried out murders and atrocities.
    Are you aware there are suicide bombings EVERY DAY in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan carried out by people who claim to be devout Muslims? There are frequent rampages by Muslims against Christians in sub-Saharan Africa that killl hundreds or thousands ? Thailand is suffering a scourge of Muslim violence. So are others, besides ourselves here in Israel, of course.

    If you are interested in Muslim extremists read this from the New York Times:

    Do you think there are a lot of religious or non-religious Jews running around with the attitudes these bombers have?

    Major Hassan complains he faced “anti-Muslim sentiment” in the US military. My father served in the US military in World War II and he and hundreds of thousands of other Jews faced antisemitism in the service. How many reacted the way he did?

    The question is NOT ” Is Islam an extremist or tolerant religion”. It has been both throughtout history. The question is HOW IS ISLAM OBSERVED TODAY? Are most Muslims extremists or are they tolerant? And, even more important…HOW DO THE MODERATES RELATE TO THE EXTREMISTS? Do they honor them as “true Muslims who go all the way with their faith? Or do they view them as “well meaning fellows who went a little too far”? Or do they react to them will abhorrence, as did most religious Jews did to the acts of Yigal Amir and Baruch Goldstein.

    The official Palestinian Authority names streets after suicide bombers who wiped out whole families. They honor them. Families of Palestinian suicide bombers were given $25,000 each in public ceremonies with the money donated by the late Saddam Hussein. I recall a report in the New York Times of a city-wide celebration in Jordan honoring the suicide bomber who killed something like 30 civilians in Iraq. A reporter asked the people what there was to celebrate. One answered that , since the victims were Shi’ites, “they had it coming”.

    So pleae don’t say “well, they have their extremists and we have ours”. There is NO moral equivalence.

    1. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author


      I believe your mixing in of political polemics is unhelpful here.

      Just to be clear – you write:

      Are most Muslims extremists or are they tolerant? And, even more important…HOW DO THE MODERATES RELATE TO THE EXTREMISTS?

      So what is your answer? Do you believe that most Muslims are “extremist” or “tolerant?” (I’d say “tolerant.”) And are you suggesting that moderate Muslims do not abhor and denounce Islamic extremist violence? (I believe they do.)

      1. YBD

        I’m curious as to how you arrived at the conclusion that most Muslims are “tolerant” or moderate, in the sense of strongly opposing terror carried out in the name of Islam. I fear a large number are in the first two categories I outlined , i.e. (1) feel the terrorists are “true Muslims” or (2) “mean well but go a little too far”. Since there are 1 billion Muslims in the world, even if only 10% feel this way, that is 100,000,000 people.
        I don’t have any polls at hand, but the reason I feel this way is because EVERY DAY there are atrocities being carried out in the name of Islam, by the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and by radical groups in Iraq, not to mention ongoing violence in Africa, Southeast Asia, and of course, the Middle East , including Israel.
        Let’s take an example. A couple of weeks ago there were massive bombings in Peshawar, in the shuk, in which over 100 people were killed, mostly women and children shopping there. About the same time, a huge bomb went off in Baghdad, near the Green Zone and one group of victims were children in a school. Now, since the ‘progressives’ are claiming that the vast majority of Muslims strongly oppose this, I would expect to see outgraged demonstrations around the world, just like I see outraged “progressive Jews” denouncing Israel for the war in Gaza, for example . Particularly in a place like Paris, where some 1 million Muslims live and they have freedom of speech and assembly and could organize demonstrations opposing these horrors. I have NOT seen demonstrations of this type. I do not consider press releases put out by an organization like CAIR to be representative of true public feeling.
        Another gauge I have is an interview many years ago with then-Crown Prince Hassan of Jordan on the BBC. He was explaining about his belief in Islam. Someone called in a question about what he thinks about Ayatollah Khomeini’s view of Islam. Hassan’s reply was simply “he has his approach and I have mine”. Obviously he was afraid to say anymore. If moderates like Hassan are not willing to speak out, this shows that there is either a lot of support or a lot of intimidation going on in the Muslim world.

      2. Rabbi Brant Rosen Post author

        To YBD (and anyone else who believes the canard that Muslims do not denounce terrorism),

        Please watch this clip carefully from beginning to end:

        Then read this:

        A study of public opinion in predominantly Muslim countries reveals that very large majorities continue to renounce the use of attacks on civilians as a means of pursuing political goals. At the same time large majorities agree with al Qaeda’s goal of pushing the United States to remove its military forces from all Muslim countries and substantial numbers, in some cases majorities, approve of attacks on US troops in Muslim countries.

        People in majority-Muslim countries express mixed feelings about al Qaeda and other Islamist groups that use violence, perhaps due to this combination of support for al Qaeda’s goals and disapproval of its terrorist methods.

        However large majorities support allowing Islamist groups to organize parties and participate in democratic elections. In some majority-Muslim countries, Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are forbidden from participating in elections.

        Steven Kull, director of, comments, “The US faces a conundrum. US efforts to fight terrorism with an expanded military presence in Muslim countries appear to have elicited a backlash and to have bred some sympathy for al Qaeda, even as most reject its terrorist methods.”

        You can read the entire report of the poll by clicking here.

      3. Darrell Moneyhon

        Rabbi Rosen, I agree with the sentiment of your above response to YBD. I have watched the Christian right rise to greater political power in the U.S. , and I read Carter’s book Our Endangered Values, in which he, even during his presidency in the 70’s was taken aback by a growing religious intolerance building within Christianity in the US. Below is an excerpt of one of the early fundamentalist shock waves President Carter recieved:

        (page 32 of hardbound version of Our Endangered Values)

        A few weeks before our hostages were seized in Iran, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention cam to the Oval Office to vist me. This had been a routine ceremony for many years, especially when the president of the United States happened to be a Baptist. I congratulated him on his new position, and we spent a few minutes exchanging courtesies. As he and his wife were leaving, he said, “We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion.” This was a shock to me. I considered myself to be a loyal and traditional Baptist, and had no idea what he meant.
        Later, after attending worship services at First Baptist Church, I met with our pastor and asked him to explain the troubling comment. He replied that a small group of conservative Southern Baptist leaders had marshaled adequate political support at the convention to elect the new president, an event about which I had been only casually aware. Without knowing how further to answer my questions, he surmised that I had made som presidential decisions that might be at odds with political positions espoused by leaders of the newly formed Moral Majority and other groups of conservative Christians. Some of the things we considered were tht I had appointed many women to high positions in government, rejected using government funds in religious education, established an independent Department of Education to enhance the public schools, accepted the Roe v. Wade abortion decision of the Supreme Court, worked with Mormons to resolve some of their problems in foreign countries, normalized diplomatic relations with the Communist government of China, called for a Palestinian homeland and refused to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and was negotiating with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms control and other issues.
        Both my pastor and I were still i a quandry, but I had no alternative except to ignore the condemation and continue doing what I thought was best for our contry (and also compatible with my traditional Baptist beliefs). At the same time, I began to learn what I could about both Islam and the generic aspects of fundamentalism.
        For generations, leaders within my own church and denomination had described themselves as “fundamentalists,” claiming that they were clinging to the fundamental elements of our Baptist beliefs and resisting the pressures and influence of the modern world. This inclination to “cling to unchanging principles” is an understandable and benign aspect of religion, and a general attitude that I have shared during most of my life.
        I soon learned that there was a more intense form of fundamentalism, with some prevailing characteristics…

        (he goes on to list some of these characteristics)

        My reason to include the above excerpt is to show how a new, more aggressive, form of fundamentalism has grown in recent times in more than one faith. To say which faith tradition is doing worse at radical fundamentalism seems to entirely miss the point of the problem of radical fundamentalism and what may be contributing to its growth. The rise of the Christian right became even more problematic since the time of Carter’s initial “shock”.
        I agree with you, that blaming a faith tradition is of little use in addressing the “fundamental” (punn) issue and its contributing factors.

        Darrell Moneyhon

  4. Edie Canter

    Brant, I was a little disappointed that your criticism of Brooks’ focus on religious extremism in Islam gave as the only counter-example religious extremism among Jews. Where I thought you were going was to talk about how religion has been used so many times in history to justify terrorism, murder, ethnic cleansing, persecution etc. The crusades were a medeival example. The Ku Klux Klan is a modern era example in our country. In my pro bono political asylum work, I recently represented a woman from Eritrea who suffered severe persecution (imprisonment for 9 months in a shipping container with 35 other women; regular beatings, rape, etc.), because she was a Pentecostal Christian and wouldn’t follow the country’s Orthodox religion. Another client, from Togo, was persecuted because she was a Jehovah’s Witness and refused to practice the religion that country deemed appropriate. I’m sure many other examples abound.

  5. Edie Canter

    To sum up my thoughts above, extremist Jews and extremist Muslims do not have the corner on the market of linking religion with their acts of violence and persecution. Instead of arguing about whose acts are morally superior or inferior, perhaps we should be questioning what it is about “religion” that makes so many people persecute others. So many religions have been used to foment persecution. So many religions have been used to justify persecution. What does this say about religion?

    1. david


      I do not believe that religion, in and of itself, is the center or source of persecution. As was stated before it is my view that, “all terror and intolerance seems to stem from the hearts of individuals and are only shaped or fanned by ideology (whether it be religious, cultural, philosophical etc)”. Did the persecution of Hitler’s Germany have at it’s core a religious motivation? It is my belief that if religion was eradicated from society, humans would find other reasons to persecute one another whether it be in the name of nationalism or even in the struggle for the necessities of life.

    2. Darrell Moneyhon

      Edie, Yes, it is time to look for cultural dynamics which contribute to such radical fundamentalism. Of course authoritarian personalities are succesptible to culturally transmitted radicalism. Such individuals are low hanging fruit for those who are selling wrong and destructive ideas via religious (mis)teaching or otherwise.
      But I generally agree with Demming, the author of the concept of continuous quality improvement, that it is unproductive to merely blame the individual. Instead, we must look at the system and how it might be cultivating the problem.
      Recall the saying “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime?” We could alter the saying to fit the mistake of blaming individuals (or, for that part, blaming individual faith traditions): “Blame an employee (or religious follower) and you solve the problem for a day, but address the systemic issues causing the problem and you create profitability for the whole company (or effectiveness for the whole religious community).”
      Below is one stab at the possible dynamics. While it does have a psychologizing flavor that Nancy warned against in the original post leading to these comments, it also includes an emphasis on cultural influences to such violent acts “in the name of religion”. I also suggest the beginnings of possible corrective strategies.
      The following ideas might hint to the possible dynamics contributing to Major Hassan’s violent acting out. Ken Wilber, in his book Integral Spirituality, and elsewhere, describes a cultural “pressure cooker” which began during the Renaissance when a split between science (or other expressions of reason) and religion. Over the years, according to Wilber, the culture has increasingly leaned toward science and technology, which, in turn, rejected religion as being pre-rational. This rejection is one half of what Wilber calls a “steel lid” on the pressure cooker. Science-leaning culture has been “repressing” religious thought and spirituality. College students taste the fruits of the Age of Reason and become confused about thier faith, now mistaking it to be merely pre-rational. They must choose between reason and faith. They either reject their own faith (throwing the baby of transrational faith out with the bathwater of antiquated religious dogma), or worship in the closet. Such is the modern and post-modern world’s repression of faith.
      But faith traditions themselves have provided the other half of the “steel lid”. By defending the legitimacy of their dogma and practices, faith traditions “fixated” at a mythic and ethnocentric level of development. They/we, in effect, clung to traditional understandings while the world left them behind. Over time, the world got bigger. Religion felt encroached upon. The more tradtional one’s religious cognitions, the more encroached upon one feels. At this point in time sociologists (Ray and others) estimate that the sociological group called the “Traditionals” are now surpassed in number by an emerging group called the “Cultural Creatives”. While the core of the Cultural Creatives group identifies with spirituality and values spiritual growth, it is likely that their voices only add to the Traditionals’ sense of losing the battle with the world. Put any being in a corner and what do you get? Major Hassan – perhaps.
      The way out of the corner and the pressure cooker? According to Ken Wilber, the faith traditions themselves are in a unique position to almost heroically remove the pressure, by counteracting the fixation factor. This would be accomplished by the faith community’s increased support for higher stages of faith understanding and of spirituality.
      In my own unpublished book, The Marketing of Virtue: Allsberg Rising, I, like Wilber, attributed some of the “walls between religion” to traditional faiths’ bais toward simpler, early-stage, forms. These simpler forms also tend to be more rigid and dependent on concrete thinking, thus contributing to divisive “walls”.
      Unlike Wilber, who views the fundamentalism from more of a cultural evolution point of view, I posited a more economic factor to the bais toward more fundamentalist forms of faith. I proposed that each religion is in a kind of marketplace competition with other religions. An emphasis on instant salvation makes for more “sales”(more converts), not to mention that such a magic pill mentality resonates with the spiritually hungry masses who are not yet schooled in the ways of true spirituality. Faith traditions dummy down their “product” in order to speak at the level of understanding (still “worldly” thinking) of the target group.
      In my opinion, religion in general has overemphasized the quick sell, and has underemphasized development of deeper and deeper (or higher and higher) levels of spirituality within thier ranks. I speculate that the traditional faiths justify the bias by assuming that once the recruits sign up, they will more or less do the deep stuff on thier own as they mature in their faith. Unfortunately, it looks to me that external prompts and supportive education is often needed to effect spiritual acualization. The assumption/rationalization amounts to a faith version of letting our members “pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”!
      Wilber attributes the rift between religion and science-leaning modern culture to an equivocation of pre-rational and trans-rational thought as regards spirituality. He calls this error in thinking the “Line/Level Fallacy” (in which the whole line of spiritual development is wrongly equated to the mythic and ethnocentric stage of faith). The scientific world wrongly assumed that all spirituality was prerational, dismissing the possibility of a higher-evolved transrational mode. Of course, modern physics is starting to glimpse the transrational (A funny thing happened in the lab!), but most of science and the modern world has not yet caught up. The modern world still tends to pit “rational” against an indiscriminate “irrational”. I would suspect that the largest of the three sociological groups, the Moderns, would tend to make this Line/Level Fallacy error.
      In the intro section of The Marketing of Virtue: Allsberg Rising, as well as in the opening section of my current project, Christians Thinking Like Energy, I suggest that we begin a process of unifying the Cultural Creatives with the Traditionals, in order to have more leverage and sway with Moderns. My fictional account of the development of a model interfaith (or “transfaith”, as I prefer to call it) community is an attempt to give the Cultural Creatives an actual venue to invite Traditionals into our “town”.

      Edie, thanks for your nudge to look at systemic issues within religion. I hope it was OK that I included systemic issues outside of religions. I believe that larger cultural influences are huge in shaping the minds and lives of both individuals and individual religions. In fact, my first attempt at writing a book (The Marketing of Virtue: Allsberg Rising) is partly based on an activist notion that religions are standing idly by and allowing secular culture to go as it may, rather than to take responsibility to shape culture in a spiritual way. Of course, this would require a unification of the faith communities. For such unification, I borrow a page from cognitive psychology, in that I think we need to find core spiritual cognitions (beliefs/principles) that all major faith traditions can consent upon. Then we would have a sort of spiritual community constitution to build spiritual communites with. From small communities, then would (or could) come a whole new social order, as the communities would become an example of a more spiritual version of collective living – a living example.

  6. Anya

    The thing I always find amazing when I read or hear pronouncements about “Muslims” (referring to Muslims in general) is that the speaker/writer typically never mentions the vast number of Muslims in the world, well over 1 billion.

    It seems absurd to me to assume that one can generalize at all about who Muslims are. I am Jewish, I know many Jews, and still could not presume to make blanket statements about Jews.

    It seems to me that as Jews, we certainly don’t like hearing statements that start “Jews…..[this] or Jews….[that]”.

    Interestingly, I wonder how many of those who are making the pronouncements actually know any Muslims, have Muslim friends, have ever hosted a Muslim in their home, or been a guest in a Muslim’s living room, traveled to countries where Muslims predominate, visited a mosque, etc.

    For starters, I recommend watching all the episodes of “Little Mosque on the Prairie”, a very enjoyable Canadian sitcom, available on YouTube (4 seasons worth…just be sure you start at the beginning.)

    Common logic tells me that most people, worldwide, are simply trying to survive, to feed, clothe, educate, and shelter their families, to live in peace if possible, to have some pleasure from whatever comforts they can afford, a garden, music, holidays, etc., if possible–and that committing or condoning violence would be the last thing on their minds. (As I write about condoning violence, however, it seems to me that many of us–Jews, Christians, Americans, etc.–condone much violence that impacts plenty of innocent people…we call it war, so I guess that’s supposedly different.)

    When I read all the big proclamations about Muslims I recall times when all black men were suspect, with a whole host of associations of predatory menace attached to them, or blacks were ‘scientifically proven’ to be subhuman–and that these arguments were put forward by scholars, in ‘academic’ papers, etc. Isn’t this exactly what was done to the Jews, as well–a whole case carefully built to persuade vast numbers of why Jews were a subclass. When people speak so negatively of “Muslims”, overall, are they hoping they could somehow simply disappear or imagining how they might be ‘disappeared’? This is a chilling thought.

    “Thank you for your program. I’m Muslim, but no one here knows it.”

    This was what a local high school boy, said to me, quietly, after I finished a presentation at his school. To me, this comment spoke volumes about the climate of our times, and why a perfectly innocent student might feel he had to “pass” to be safe.

    Of course, there are current examples of horrific attacks, some perpetrated by Muslims. Like all crimes and atrocities, these are deplorable, and those responsible must be condemned and punished.

    But isn’t it particularly important, especially when the climate is rife with fear-mongering and suspicion, to be extremely cautious to NOT get caught up in a swirl of propaganda and generalizing of enormous groups. I’d like to think that Jews would be at the front of the line in standing against this, in recognition of how innocent people become the real victims of unwarranted suspicion, with results that range from bias and teasing, to unjust policies, to terrible assaults and worse.

    The current anti-Muslim climate bleeds into the way other groups are impacted as well. Innocent Sikhs, Hindus, and others are looked at with suspicion and have been victimized. I personally know the families of innocent Hindu, Sikh and Muslim men murdered in the backlash of 9/11.

    I appreciate your reading my thoughts.

    1. david

      Just to be clear, Brooks did not generalize to all of Islam but mentioned only a “fringe” and that the ideology of this fringe is embraced by a “small minority”. I do disagree with his conclusion as my comment below details.

      1. Darrell Moneyhon

        David, My take on the Rabbi Kreimer’s concern/criticism was something to the effect of questioning the journalisitic responsibility of “smoking in the hay loft”. Culture and politics is not all logic and head. I only wish folks were more rational, but many, many (perhaps even the man in the mirror!) are not. When significant bias is already out there, any journalistic points of view which might ignight a destructive fire should be at least questioned. Is such inflamatory journalism ethical? Is it balanced? Is is good quality journalism? Or does it border on yellow journalism?

    2. Darrell Moneyhon

      Anya, I really like this point you made:

      It seems absurd to me to assume that one can generalize at all about who Muslims are. I am Jewish, I know many Jews, and still could not presume to make blanket statements about Jews.

      It seems to me that as Jews, we certainly don’t like hearing statements that start “Jews…..[this] or Jews….[that]“.

      Interestingly, I wonder how many of those who are making the pronouncements actually know any Muslims, have Muslim friends, have ever hosted a Muslim in their home, or been a guest in a Muslim’s living room, traveled to countries where Muslims predominate, visited a mosque, etc.

      I make a related point that I feel that I have more in common with a deeply spiritual Muslim than I have with a “cookbook” Christian (am a Christian), in a book I wrote.
      If interested in the context of this point, here’s the section of the book which pertains to our discussion here:

      No Walls in Allsberg

      Fortunately, the divisiveness resulting from the various organized religions disappears as
      people go deeper into spiritual understanding and faith. A deeply spiritual Christian has
      more in common with a deeply spiritual Muslim than the deeply spiritual Christian has with
      a “cookbook Christian”.

      Taking down the walls between organized religions may be accomplished by cultural/
      educational processes that take congregants deeper into the faith experience, into the
      spirituality that the religions are intended to serve. Metaphorically speaking, the bible story
      of the sound of the trumpet that took down the walls of Jericho may have been an allusion
      to “hearing” (sensing) the frequencies of deeper spirituality, the power of spiritual truth.
      The teaching of deep spiritual experiences, practices, and principles would be like the
      trumpeting that took down the walls of Jericho, only now it would take down the walls
      between organized religions and would allow for a truly cohesive interfaith community.

      Understanding the etiology of lack of spiritual depth may also be helpful when it comes
      to the process of effectively sounding the “trumpet” of innermost faith. Organized religions
      typically spend most of their resources on attracting those of non-faith to the first levels of
      the particular religion…

      The second solution to the problem of religious divisiveness is for the interfaith
      community to agree upon spiritual principles which all faiths endorse, and which appear
      essential to spiritual well-being. These core principles may even turn out to be found in the
      5 core virtues. Each of the five may be translated into the terms of a spiritual principle, and
      then compared to principles as articulated in different faiths.

      If these 5 characteristics suggest healthy ways of being, it is entirely possible that they
      lend themselves to the same qualities pursued by spiritual traditions. Spirituality in general
      seems to direct our attention to quality, as opposed to quantity, in life. Therefore, it may
      well turn out that the 5 core virtues represent “principles” of spiritual living.

      For instance, the core virtue of awareness may be translated into the following principle:
      It is best to keep one’s mind open to wholeness, and to operate from wholeness. This
      principle seems essentially the same as the biblical “1st commandment” of honoring God,
      and putting no other (less whole) gods before him. God is the epitome of wholeness. God
      is the wholeness function which only an open and humble mind could access. The only
      way to honor God is to open up one’s mind to this wholeness function, and to submit to it,
      rather than acting stubbornly from part-mind states.

      Anya, thanks for opening up the discussion in the direction of the human face.

    3. eugenes

      it seems absurd to me to keep reiterating that one must not generalize about “all Muslims” when the author of the article in question clearly DOES NOT GENERALIZE in this manner.
      it also seems absurd to me to demand that every time a violent act by a muslim is criticized one should also criticize similar violent acts committed by non-muslims.

  7. nancy fuchs-kreimer

    I am grateful to Rabbi Brant Rosen for posting my comments on David Brooks’ piece and also to the interesting responses that followed. I continue to be in awe of the thoughtful community gathered around this blog and the respectful debate it generates.

    Allow me to clarify. I had no intention of suggesting “moral equivalence” between Major Hassan’s act and that of Dr. Baruch Goldstein. Since we don’t even have all the facts regarding the former, it would be foolish to begin to make claims about it, let alone deem it morally superior, inferior or equivalent to some other act on the part of a Jew some decades ago.

    As I understand it, moral equivalence is an idea used in the realm of political rhetoric, usually in the form it appeared in this comment, to attack another position as being overly forgiving of evil acts because others have also done evil. “But there is no moral equivalence,” the argument goes.

    I had no interest in making moral judgments on Major Hassan’s act or on Islam as a religious tradition. My ethical concern had to do with the possible impact of Brooks’ words on Muslim Americans. True, Brooks carefully noted that the problematic ideas emerge at the fringes of Islam. But I wish he had gone further.

    He could have done so in two ways: by noting that the vast majority of American Muslims do not hold these ideas or by contextualizing his concern with Muslim fundamentalism by noting Islam is not alone in its malevolent potential. The fact that he did neither troubled me, particularly because Brooks, a Jew, ought to appreciate what it means to be part of a vulnerable minority at a moment in history when emotions are running high.

    Thank you again for the opportunity to engage in this conversation.

    1. Ken

      What!? You got to be kidding me. You “have no interest in making moral judgments on Major Hassan’s act”????? You can’t judge murder?? Your real “ethical concern had to do with the possible impact of Brooks’ words on Muslim Americans”???

      1. Darrell Moneyhon

        Ken, Just a thought about moral judgment here: While moral judgment may help clarify what standards of behavior we (individually and collectively) want to strive toward, to me it seems a very poor way of managing behavior in general.
        Like a distance runner who has neglected his or her aerobic base (made by putting in lots of miles), the moral person or authority/regulator who neglects the moral base of “morale” (an implicit trust in “us” being able to do “us” effectively, cooperatively, for the well being of all of us), or who has neglected the even larger base of “spirituality”, will no longer serve the “human race”. Like the lactic acid in the muscles of a runner who has neglected his or her aerobic base, morality can glunk up the proper functioning of the collective body. In this manner, an overemphasis on “morality” – trying so hard to achieve it that other contributing factors to behavior and mood are ignored – often becomes, itself, an immoral act or thought.
        I’m certainly not saying to abandon the concept of morality, but to put it in its proper place at the tip of the iceburg of being human. IMO, morality must be viewed in the context of a systemic assessment of major contributing factors as regards a given behavior.
        Also, moral judgment soon gets out of hand, and makes us out of our minds, if it is not rooted in the spiritual iceburg’s base of morale, love, positive striving, acceptance, compassion, trust, creative living, healthy growth, and a going-toward marks of virtue, etc.
        Sorry for the mixed metaphor of an aerobic base and an iceburg base, but hopefully these images show the base and basis of sustainable morality. This base and basis should be (Is that a moral judgment?!) our main focus.
        Individual morality simply can’t manage itself, any more than the axe can make the lumberjack swing it. Morality is a great destination, and a valuable marker to give feedback which tells us if we are heading in the right direction, getting “warmer” or “colder” in relation to that which is “moral”. But morality itself is not a very effective means to the destination of moral action and thought.
        To me, discussions about “moral equivilance” is tantamount to fiddling while Rome burns. What are we, as caring and thoughtful human beings going to do to prevent the next similar acting out or evil plot? IMO, blaming the problem on immorality is no solution at all.


  8. Pingback: Moral Equivalence? Following Up on Major Hassan «

  9. david


    I don’t believe that David Brooks is obligated as a journalist to generalize all malevolent narratives without “parsing” what they may contain. Nor do I think he is being intellectually dishonest or irresponsible if he chooses to move from the general to the specific. Lets be clear with what he said:

    “That narrative has emerged on the fringes of the Muslim world. It is a narrative that sees human history as a war between Islam on the one side and Christianity and Judaism on the other. This narrative causes its adherents to shrink their circle of concern. They don’t see others as fully human. They come to believe others can be blamelessly murdered and that, in fact, it is admirable to do so. This narrative is embraced by a small minority…..”

    He carefully uses the words “fringes”, and “embraced by a small minority”. He doesn’t attempt to generalize this ideology to all of Islam, nor do I believe that his readers generalize all of Islam as having this world view. He uses this “fringe” ideology as the example to illustrate his earlier point. It is this very narrative that seems to be potentially pertinent to Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, but also in his own words:

    “it has caused incredible amounts of suffering within the Muslim world, in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere. With their suicide bombings and terrorist acts, adherents to this narrative have made themselves central to global politics.”

    This I would agree with and is specifically why he chooses the example he does. He could have used the example of gang violence or neonaziism to illustrate his point, but these narratives do not directly pertain to this specific incident, nor have they thrust themselves into global politics the way that Islamic fundamentalism has- and that is his focus here. I don’t believe that he is obligated to describe and include every current narrative that engenders hatred as a means of providing a more balanced argument. And his focus on this specific narrative does not discount the fact that there are other narratives that contain similar hateful elements that stem from the same source.

    What I do have issue with is his conclusion. The absence of a “rush to judgement” instead for a “rush to therapy” in this case was perhaps a sign that this country is in the process of becoming more aware of nuance, away from a Bushonian “Us vs. Them” mentality, and away from a public discourse that frames explanations in terms of good and evil- especially when it relates to Muslims, Islam and Fundamentalism. Maybe it is this ability that can make us a more moral and politically serious nation.

    1. david

      In addition, I do NOT believe that Brook’s readership at the NYT requires disclaimers that Fuchs-Kreimer would have liked to have been included in his op-ed. Statements including:

      “the vast majority of American Muslims do not hold these ideas,” or “noting Islam is not alone in its malevolent potential.”

      These are self evident to the readership. Do these readers really have to be reminded of this? Perhaps at Fox news, not the NYT.

    2. Darrell Moneyhon

      David, I found this point of yours to be powerful. That is, it resonated deeply with me.

      your comment: The absence of a “rush to judgement” instead for a “rush to therapy” in this case was perhaps a sign that this country is in the process of becoming more aware of nuance, away from a Bushonian “Us vs. Them” mentality, and away from a public discourse that frames explanations in terms of good and evil- especially when it relates to Muslims, Islam and Fundamentalism. Maybe it is this ability that can make us a more moral and politically serious nation.

      me: I feel a bond with my country, and yet have witnessed a decline in its ability to think during the Bush years. I actually saw forewarnings of this dummying down of democracy. The forewarnings were in the cultural domain of the “tube” – that conditioning box which the populace of this democracy watches with significant regularity.
      In the 70’s All in the Family showcased ignorance, overly rigid us-them thinking, as a joke in the form of Archie Bunker (note the defensive/paranoid connotation of a “bunker”). He was a character who was laughed at.
      A few years later, the sit coms had similar characters at their helm, but these were in naratives that encouraged laughing with them, instead of at them – populist naratives in which it became cute to be narrow mindedly opinionated and rude, practically glamorizing ignorance. Archie the joke was being replaced by Rosaine, a blue collar heroine (sp? not the drug – or is it the same thing?). In a whole bunch of sit coms and in various advertisments, I saw dumb being made trendy. By the time Dennis Rodman of the Chicago Bulls basketball team wrote a book called “Wild as I Wanna Be”, it had become fashionable to be “Dumb as I Wanna Be”.
      These naratives enabled ignorant personas which were in just the right position to vote for Bush or for any other candidate that offered simple solutions which laughed at the role of critical analysis and snubbed its nose at any form of intellectual or accademic knowledge. It not only was cute to be dumb, it was taboo to be a thinker. Mindless action was the preferred course. Nike’s “Just Do It”, perverted from its intended message of taking personal initiative for exercise, and turned into “Don’t think, Just Do It”.
      After 9/ll, Bush was leading the nation in prayer. I heard his prayer on the radio. As soon as I heard him petition God for us to get even with the bad guys who perpetrated the tragedy, I knew much suffering was ahead for us, because I had just heard a gross violation of spiritual law. Bush was using God to do our bidding, instead of quietly, reverently, waiting for God’s healing and guidance. He was taking the Lord’s name in vain. We were an accomplice to this incorrect setting of mind and spirit.
      I saw, in my mind’s eye, hell right then and there. I even screamed at the time. And my insight was completely right. I then had to experience the truth painfully unfold for the next 6 years or so, witnessing many karmic consequences for the spiritual distortion, or “sin”, heard in the prayer.
      Thus, your final statement suggesting that perhaps we have matured, and are now able to slow down and look at the complexities of problems, was, for me, a breath of fresh air. Thank you.

  10. eugenes

    I don’t quite understand the issue here.

    Brooks’ column was not about the phenomenon of religious fanaticism in general. It was about a specific act committed by a Muslim and that’s why he only talked about its Islamic context. Why is he required to also talk about similar acts committed by Jewish, Hindu and other religious fanatics?

    As rabbi Rosen points out above a book came out in the West Bank by a Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira that deals with so called halachic justifications of killing gentiles. Should we take rabbi Rosen to task for not also mentioning similar writings by Christian and Muslim writers?
    I don’t think so. And why? Because I want to judge rabbi Rosen’s comment on the side of merit (kaf zechut): to my mind, he doesn’t need to explicitly cite/condemn similar writings by other faiths for me to believe that he doesn’t support them. And I would like to extend the same line of thinking to Brooks.

  11. Trayf

    I was struck by a FLAME (Facts and Logic about the Middle East) action alert on Ft. Hood that asked “When has a medical professional ever committed mass murder/” as if they were begging folks to make the Dr. Goldstein comparison.

  12. Ross

    An article about how religious narratives within religion X can contribute to violence has a different meaning dependent upon if the author is a member of X or not.


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