Carlsmith: Standing up for religion

Last Thursday, on a sunny Texas afternoon, a mentally unstable army psychiatrist walked into his office and sat down at an empty table. Eyewitnesses say he bowed his head for several moments. Then he stood up and opened fire on his fellow soldiers, reportedly shouting “Allahu Akbar!” — Arabic for “God is great.” He killed 13 and wounded 30 before he was shot down.

Such senseless violence is always difficult to grapple with, but the added religious element makes it particularly hard. How are we to react to this kind of juxtaposition of faith and violence, a man shouting God’s glory as he guns down unarmed men and women all around him?

The connection between Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s horrific actions and his Muslim faith remains unclear. Investigations are currently underway into the details of his religious views, his potential connections with radical jihadists such as Anwar al-Awklaki, his attempts to contact Al-Qaeda, and his opposition to U.S. military action in Muslim countries. His actions may well turn out to have been religiously motivated.

Whether they were or not, however, the media has had a field day, and the blogosphere is brimming with Islamophobia and hate (if you enjoy feeling ashamed of your country, take a look at the comments during the past week).

An appropriate reaction to an event like this requires a sharp distinction between one mentally unstable individual and the religious community he claims to be a part of. A murderer killed those soldiers, not a faith tradition. As Obama said in his speech at the Fort Hood memorial service, “No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts; no just and loving God looks upon them with favor.” The Quran tells its readers that God made humans into different nations and tribes so that they might come to know one another. It describes how Muhammad was sent to be a mercy upon all the worlds. Ask any of the Muslims on Yale’s campus and they will tell you that the religion they practice teaches love and mercy, not violence.

But they will also tell you that religious extremism exists. Whether or not Hasan understood his actions as part of a Jihad, there are those who will. Al-Awklaki, the author of “44 Ways to Support Jihad,” has already written about Hasan as a “hero,” and urged other Muslims to follow his lead. Al-Awklaki is a radical imam who focuses on recruiting young Muslims to the Jihadist cause; a figure akin to the charismatic teacher, Abdullah Azzam, who recruited Osama bin Laden back in 1979.

Extremism of this kind is found in almost every major faith tradition. Ask a Christian who is old enough to remember the 1996 bombing of the Atlanta Olympics, and they’ll tell you about the Christian Identity movement; they’ll tell you that Eric Rudolph wrote the word “bomb” in the margin of his bible before going and setting one off. Ask a Jew and they’ll tell you about Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League or about Yigal Amir, the right wing assassin who killed Yitzhak Rabin because he signed a peace accord. Wherever there is religion, there are people who wish to use it to justify acts of hatred and violence.

But there is also the overwhelming majority for whom religion is a source of love, kindness and compassion — the bearer of our best selves, not our worst. The reality of religious violence in the world makes it all the more important that we as a community make sure that religion is a force that brings us together. As news reports like the ones from this past week remind us all too often, religious extremists are constantly taking action in the world. We who would stand against them, who would claim the possibility of different religious communities coming together in pursuit of the common good, must also act. In small but deeply important ways — by building relationships with people of different faiths, by speaking out in the face of religious bigotry, by coming together to serve our communities — we assert the truth of what faith means.

Joe Carlsmith is a sophomore in Calhoun College.


  • Better Angels of Our Nature

    Even Lincoln, the great Emancipator, manipulated religion. In his case, to justify the blood shed by the North in the Civil War:”For every drop of blood shed by the lash a drop of blood shed by the sword” (Divine equation for the cruelty of slavery.)

    See “The Sissy Factor”


  • Alum

    The problem with the “sure, there’s a few nuts, but most religious people use it as ‘a source of love, kindness, and compassion'” argument is that it’s perfectly possible (and, preferable) to be all of those things without believing in God. On the other hand, while some people would certainly find other reasons to blow people up, discriminate against gays, oppress women, etc. (and I’m counting everybody on this, not just Muslims) you’d have to think there’d be less of it if there wasn’t a supposedly holy book or magical sky god to justify it all with.

  • FailBoat

    If you enjoy feeling ashamed of your nation, ask for the political opinions of Yalies.

    Btw, let’s recap the past decade of Islamic terrorism, shall we?

    1998: US Embassy Bombings
    2000: Palestinian-American firebombs Temple Bel Eth, invoking God as he does so.
    2000: Synagogue Adath Israel is bombed by three Arab men in supposed retaliation for Israel “killing people”.
    2000: Millennium Bomb Plot foiled
    2000: USS Cole
    2001: 9/11
    2002: LAX shooting – Egyptian (Muslim) male opens fire on Jewish airline ticket counter
    2002: John Allen Mohammad carries out the beltway sniper attacks.
    2004: Al Qaeda, led by Dhiren Barot, plot to blow up financial buildings in the US and UK
    2005: Muslim converts led by J.I.S founder Kevin James plot to blow up buildings in Los Angeles.
    2006: Muslim man drives SUV into crowd at UNC Chapel Hill to “avenge muslim deaths around the world”.
    2006: Muslim terrorists plot to blow up Sears Tower.
    2007: Islamic terrorists plot to blow up JFK airport.
    2009: Convert to Islam opens fire on US Recruiting office in Little Rock, justifies actions by saying US actions in Middle East justified killing Americans.
    2009: Batshiz crazy Muslim in Army opens fire on military members at Ft. Hood.

    The only other group that comes close to matching Islamic extremism in terms of terrorist action are the insane environmentalist groups.

    Yeah, there’s one or two crazy fundamentalist Christian attacks every decade, but consider that Christians make up 76% of this nation’s population. Muslims make up 0.6%.

    There are literally 150x more Christians than Muslims in this nation. And yet the Muslim crazies seem far more interested in blowing us up. At least the Christian crazies just try to hand me pamphlets on the street.

  • Hieronymus

    Take note: when discussing an Islamic Fundamentalist killing for allah, we must take care to call him “mentally unstable.”

    We must then make a moral equivalency argument and call out a supposedly analogous Christian Fundamentalist, in this case, Eric Rudolph of Christian Identity. Note: we must not make any reference to any “mental instability” here because, of course, purported Christians who kill are never unstable, only misguided.

    By choosing Rudolph as the analog to Hasan, we must, to make the analogy fit, also make the following exclusions:
    First – Rudolph denied that his crimes were motivated by religion (contrast this with cries of “allahu akbar” and make your own assessment).
    Second – Christian Identity which explicitly “reject the beliefs of most contemporary Christian denominations” (and is, in turn, rejected *by* them), is classified by the FBI as a “right-wing terrorist group” and an “anti-government group.”
    Third – While admittedly and avowedly an anti-government radical, Rudolph noted that his involvement with Christian Identity had more to do with a girl than with any “Christian” principles.
    Fourth – in response to individual Christians’ attempts to “save” Rudolph, he had this to say: “They have been so nice I would hate to break it to them that I really prefer Nietzsche to the Bible.”

    Next up:
    Obama’s statement “No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts,” is, even to a Yalie, a bit disingenous.

    The cognitive dissonance here is that Hasan and many other Muslims clearly believe that their faith does indeed justify these acts.

    Andrew Bostom, a scholar of jihadism, cites the following passage from “Reliance of the Traveler,” a widely distributed manual of Islamic law produced by al-Azhar University in Egypt, the most authoritative interpreters of theology and sharia jurisprudence in Sunni Islam, the dominant tradition among the world’s Muslims:

    Jihad means to war against non-Muslims, and, is etymologically derived from the word, mujahada, signifying warfare to establish the religion [of Islam]…The scriptural basis for jihad is such Koranic verses as “Fighting is prescribed for you” (Koran 2:216); “Slay them wherever you find them” (Koran 4:89); “Fight the idolators utterly” (Koran 9:36); and such hadiths as: “I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat. If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them.”

    As Dr. Bostom points out, the hadith referred to in the passage — the one in which Mohammed explains that Allah has commanded the Muslims to fight non-Muslims — was cited by Hasan in slide 43 of the June 7, 2007 presentation he delivered to his Army colleagues.

    But keep up that whole “Love” thing…

  • Yale 08

    @recent alum,

    We cannot all be brothers and sisters if we do not have the same Father.

  • sigh

    Hieronymoussy, take a class on religion and violence sometime; you’ll learn a lot (or read a book, since I don’t think you go here any more). I don’t really feel like going through that wall of text line by line, but here goes.

    No one should claim that a terrorist is mentally disturbed simply for committing a terrorist act. However, you don’t have a particularly good grasp of the way religious ideology motivates and influences the use of violence. Citations supporting violence can be found in all three of the major monotheistic faiths, and violence has been carried out citing those passages in all three. Clearly the availability of justifying religious doctrine does not necessarily lead to religious violence (or the Pope would still be calling for Crusades).

    If you want good examples of Christian religious violence, well, the best are in the religious wars in the 16th century, although if you’re just into religious terrorism, Ireland’s not too shabby. If you’re really desperate for contemporary analogues between Islamic and Christian acts of terrorism, though, why not look at the most recent abortion-clinic shooting?

  • The Contrarian

    Yet another reason to be ashamed to be a Yalie. And just HOW did the Muslim students react when the cartoonist visited a few short weeks ago? I’m sure it’s only that whole “Love” thing, again.

  • O, Joe

    Joe, you are so damn smart, you impress me almost every time you open your mouth and yet this column is just awful.

    Hieronymus is right to point out the formulaic liberalism this piece is…it borders on satire in itself…
    His formula is remarkably accurate, and your piece fits the bill perfectly.

    Plus, you engage in typical American-Christian masochism by crying “No, we are the bad guys because a wave of Islamophobia overcame this nation afterwards.” No it didn’t. If it did, I didn’t see it. News stations kept telling me that our primary concern after the shooting should be Islamophobia, but they didn’t provide any evidence for its existence. In fact, before I even saw an article about the shootings I saw articles decrying Islamophobia and telling

    It is always rhetorically useful, it always helps extend your credibility, to say “we are the REAL bad guys!” But it’s also extremely frustrating to those of us who care about truth.

  • yalieMD

    When one says “mentally unstable” that does not refer to any psychiatric diagnosis. Was he psychotic? No. Was he depressed? No. Did he want to kill in the name of Allah (or as he printed in his card SOA-soldier of Allah)? Yes.

    The real islamophobia is when people, including smart people, can’t accurately and honestly criticize Islam for its preaching of murder. 14 lives were killed when that Muslim went on a shooting spree. He was not crazy in a DSM psychiatric way. He was rational and sane. He did it in the name of Allah like too too many else have done.

  • Mr. Mental

    Mentally unstable? Not to those who knew him. CNN reports “classmates did not view Hasan as mentally unstable or psychotic,” although they complained that he was “coddled, accommodated and pushed through that masters of public health despite substandard performance.” (Gee, I wunner why THAT might be.)

    So, what else did his classmates say?

    “His presentations for school were often laced with extremist Muslim views, one source said.

    “‘Is your allegiance to Sharia law or the United States?’ students once challenged Hasan, the source said.

    “‘Sharia law,’ Hasan responded, according to the source.

    “The incident was corroborated by another doctor who was present.”

    Yup, yup–Islamofascism ain’t got NUTHIN to do wid it, s’all about the “mental inshallahbility.”

  • @#6

    Tiller’s killing brings the number of U.S. abortion-clinic murders over the last twenty-five years to:


    Just sayin’.

  • Yale 08

    Typical liberal squeamishness with ALL VIOLENCE.

    Violence and anger can be justified.

    It is right to feel anger after a genuine tragedy or crime.

    It is right to use violent force in defense.

    It is right to use physical punishment to reach justice.

    Death is not always murder.
    Anger is not always wrath.

    But a typical Yale education never comes close to issues of true morality. Better to be a modern liberal and deal in politically correct platitudes. Obviously, gender bending is a more important issue than defeating Islam.

  • CC’09

    “Obviously, gender bending is a more important issue than defeating Islam.”

    I think you meant to be sarcastic, but, um… yes?

  • ahh!

    “defeating Islam” ??

    F’real?! I thought people like you were a stereotype?

  • ProfBob

    We may all be entitled to our opinions, whether or not there is evidence for them. Gut secular Europe, Japan and Singapore have much less drug use, teen-age pregnancy, and crime in general.

  • Egalitarian

    To #2: If people hadn’t found ways to exploit religion to defend misogyny or homophobia, they would have found some other excuse. When people wanted to practice reproductive human cloning, they cooked up Raelianism to justify it.

    To #3 and #4: Your claims may be true, but take a look at how much blood has been spilled in the name of Christianity. Think about the Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms. From the perspective of someone living a few centuries ago, it may have seemed reasonable to say that Christianity is a violent religion. From the perspective of someone living in the 21st century, this seems utterly ludicrous. It is likely that, a few centuries from now, your claims will seem just as ludicrous.

  • Ali

    This is really silly. To pretend Islam is not connected to terrorism, warfare and cruelty is to pretend the sun circles earth.

    Mohammed was a warrior. Mohammed killed, raped, enslaved and destroyed whole cities in his lifetime.

    The Koran and hadiths are filled with verses encouraging Muslims to spread Islam at most any cost. How many virgins are awaiting those who kill non-Muslims in warfare?

    All one need do is to open one’s eyes to see this every single day. Today in Peshawar, Pakistan a suicide bomber killed and wounded dozens. This is the second day in a row this has happened in Peshawar.

    I wonder how many Sudanese or Somalians died today because of Muslim aggression?

    In the last month Muslims have killed people in Southern Thailand, western China, southern Russia, America, Sunnis and Shia killing one another in Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan. Muslims killing Jews wherever they can find them. Muslims killing Christians in Iraq, Egypt, Indonesia, Nigeria, Kenya, etc…

    I could link dozens of examples of Islamic clerics preaching hatred and intolerance. To hear the following words from any religious leader other than a Muslim would be shocking, but from a Muslim it is what we’ve come to expect. No doubt it is what Nidal Hasan heard frequently and he obviously took it to heart.



  • @16

    Sure the Crusades were bloody, but look at what else was going on at the time. Violence/conquering/wars/etc weren’t exactly viewed the way they are today. Muslims, Jews, Christians, and just about every other demographic were fighting for the supremacy of their identity. Doesn’t make it right, but that ounce of perspective is why you can’t use the “Well Christians had the crusades!” argument to defend against radical Islam.

    The point everyone on this comment board is trying to make (or should be making) is that no, not all, or even most, or even many, Muslims are violent terrorists… HOWEVER, in the last century, compared to all other religions, Islam has spawned a massively disproportionate amount of extremely violent terrorists. That’s something that must be considered, and doing so does NOT make you an ignorant Republican redneck.

  • Ali

    By @ 16 wties, “Muslims, Jews, Christians, and just about every other demographic were fighting for the supremacy of their identity.”

    This is simply not true.

    Mohammed practiced, and taught his followers the necessity of Muslim supremacy. You can see this clearly in every Islamic country where non-Muslims are second class citizens. This second class status varies depending on the country. For instance in Saudi Arabia non-Muslims cannot even become citizens. (Apartheid anyone?) As one looks further out from the center of Islam we see greater degrees of rights for non-Muslims but even in Indonesia Sharia law is in affect in the more highly concentrated Muslim areas. This, of course, means non-Muslims have far fewer rights, freedoms and protection.

    I digress. Jews, Buddhists and Hindus never fought for their identities supremacy. Christians have but most will acknowledge those that did were perverting the message of Christ.

    Only in Islam will you find a direct connection between a religion’s fight for supremacy and the core tnenats of the faith.

  • Yale 11

    The Crusades were fully justified defensive wars against Muslim aggression.