Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Why Is Obama Stirring Up Racism?

PEOPLE IN AMERICA AND AROUND THE WORLD had a right to expect that the first black president of the United States, a country built upon African slavery and racism, would be an anti-racist president, sensitive to ethnic stereotyping. But it seems as though these days Obama never misses an opportunity to betray the hopes of those who thought he represented "change you can believe in."
At the Fort Hood services on Wednesday, Obama managed to make sure that a connection was made to Islam - though without the courage to actually say the religion's name. In doing so he gave confidence to bigots across America - like Senator Joe Lieberman, who has called for a congressional inquiry into domestic terrorism, because Major Nidal Malik Hasan appeared to be a "self-radicalized, homegrown terrorist." Or perennial right-wing Christian lunatic Pat Robertson from the 700 Club, who said on Monday:

"You're dealing with not a religion. You're dealing with a political system. And I think you should treat it as such and treat it's adherents as such. As we would members of the Communist party and members of some Fascist group."
It would be nice if Robertson were an isolated lunatic but he is a very influential televangelist with his own university - Regent University - and a cable news station, CBN, which is broadcast in 180 countries and 71 languages. With this kind of public offensive against Muslims, Obama ought to be publicly demolishing such racist arguments. He ought to be saying that Hasan, like other US soldiers, cracked as a side-effect of the war. But, instead, he reaffirmed this racist message to 15,000 assembled people at Fort Hood, and to the rest of the world through the media, which carried his speech:

"No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving God looks upon them with favor."
Yet the real cause of people like Hasan hurting themselves and others is no mystery and it's got nothing to do with religion. As Dahr Jamail reports, there have been an average of 10 suicides per month at Fort Hood, 75 in total by July of this year.  Out of a population of 50,000 that's over two per 1,000. The national average amongst men is 17.7 per 100,000, or .177 per 1,000. Fort Hood's suicide rate is thus 100 times the national average. According to a 2008 Rand Study that Jamail quotes:

"Nearly 20% of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan - 300,000 in all -- report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, yet only slightly more than half have sought treatment."
He also notes that 43,000 soldiers were diagnosed as non-deployable for medical reasons just three months prior to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan. That number is likely to increase as Obama ramps up the war in Afghanistan. Looked at in the light of these easily discovered facts, Hasan is not out of the ordinary at all but is part of a general trend in a military that is fraying because of the burden of trying to carry two wars for nearly a decade.
Obama could have said this. He could have contributed to the healing by saying that Hasan's actions - like those of Sgt. John Russell who shot and killed five US soldiers at a hospital in Iraq - were an alarm bell that the wars are destroying the people who are supposed to fight it. Probably there were more than a few people amongst the 15,000 who saw Obama speak will commit suicide and many more who suffer from PTSD and whose lives are a torment. Obama's strident rhetoric only serves to increase racism towards Muslims and to increase the guilt that soldiers suffering from mental illness will feel, and thus make it less likely that they will seek help until it is too late. But then it's no surprise he didn't do this. Many of those who were in the crowd will soon be sent over to Afghanistan. The president of the United States wouldn't want them thinking that there was a way out.
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