Like most Americans, I’ve spent the past week reading and thinking about the horrifying shooting at Fort Hood. Unlike most Americans, I live in a country that is majority Muslim. I’ve gotten a few questions from friends and family back in the States about how the Fort Hood massacre is playing out here in Egypt, so let me share my limited impressions.
As far as I can tell, there hasn’t been much response in Egypt to the shooting. It’s barely made it across my radar on Twitter, Facebook, Egyptian blogosphere, the newspaper I work at, or conversation I’ve had with anyone over the past week. (With a few exceptions here and there.) This shouldn’t be surprising, really. Thirteen people died, but it’s essentially a local news story. Does the fact that Nidal Malik Hasan, the shooter, was a Muslim and an Arab mean that Egyptians have any stake in the matter? Not really.
It’s American Muslims for whom the Fort Hood shooting will really matter in the long term. The right wing has used this as an opportunity to unleash their most vicious anti-Muslim sentiments that you always knew were lurking beneath their shallow surface. (For example, Bill O’Reilly, the asshole of America’s assholes, lamented that “we can’t kill all the Muslims” which is why we have to win their hearts and minds.)
The right in America is blaming the shooting on “political correctness,” which they say doesn’t allow us to sufficiently discriminate against Muslims. Marc Lynch sums up the debate and the appropriate response to this approach well on his blog at Foreign Policy:
American security, therefore, demands dropping the “political correctness” of avoiding a confrontation with Islamist ideas and asking the “tough questions” about Islam as a religion and the loyalty of Muslim-Americans.
This framing of the issue is almost 100% wrong. There is a connection between what these critics are calling “political correctness” and national security, but it runs in the opposite direction. The real linkage is that there is a strong security imperative to prevent the consolidation of a narrative in which America is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam, and instead to nurture a narrative in which al-Qaeda and its affiliates represent a marginal fringe to be jointly combatted. Fortunately, American leaders — from the Obama administration through General George Casey and top counter-terrorism officials — understand this and have been acting appropriately.
It’s worth walking through the connection once again, because how America responds to Ft. Hood really is important in the wider attempt to change the nature of its engagement with Muslim publics across the world. Get the response right, as the administration thus far has done, and they show that things really have changed. Get it wrong, as its critics demand, and the world could tumble back down into the ‘clash of civilizations’ trap which al-Qaeda so dearly wants and which the improved American approach of the last couple of years has increasingly denied it.
I think that Lynch is mostly right here. I suspect that while the shooting isn’t a huge news story here in Egypt, a fervent anti-Muslim backlash in the United States would be. Discrimination against Muslim Americans would play into Egyptian’s and Arab’s worst impressions about the US. I’m proud that my country is more accepting of its Muslim immigrants and natives than European counties are. I hope we don’t let this incident change that.