11 December 2009

Nidal Hasan's Insanity Plea as a Muslim: If I had a conversation with Salam al-Marayati

I have been meaning to write on this subject since Tuesday, and do not want to pass-up the chance before the weekend.

I. Outline
Salam al-Marayati, Executive President of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, wrote an intriguingly important editorial in the WSJ entitled, "Major Hasan and the Quran" (8 December), in which he reviewed Hasan's "hodgepodge" use of Islamic concepts and verses and called for the US Government to allow Muslim-American religious leaders to council Hasan to encourage him to repent.

I encourage you to read the full article, research the concepts, and share your insights.

II. First Question: Legality
Al-Marayati is right to note:
"Maj. Hasan is granted the presumption of innocence in our courts of law, be they civilian or military. His military-appointed lawyer will likely advise him not to confess to anything. Legally, that may be sound advice. But religiously that advice cuts against the grain of the divine value of justice. Maj. Hasan must take responsibility for committing two major sins in Islam—the murder of his fellow citizens and the violation of two oaths he took."

The two oaths he is referring to are the oath to protect America, its citizens, and its interests as a member of the military, and the oath to protect and aid his patients as a mental health counselor. Al-Marayati states Hasan violated both, and in so doing, also violated the oath he made as a Muslim to Allah; for his thoughts and actions "cut against the grain of divine value of justice."

My question to Al-Marayati is, "Is Nidal Hasan legally insane or is he legally driven by evil intent in accordance with his own religious interpretation?" In other words, did he not commit these acts with terrorist intentions to combat US forces as occupiers of Muslim lands? Legally speaking, since Hasan is being tried with pre-meditated murder , his lawyer is correct iN considering an insanity plea albeit realistic or not. Such a legal strategy - and its parameters - identifies how religion and therefore religious motivations are limited in legal argument(s), and shows how even these intentions ought to be - according to legal rhetoric - psychological or sociological in nature.

This fails to realistically identify the full picture. Can not a legal argument be fashioned to spotlight how Hasan's false religious interpretation - and his actions based on this interpretation - caused him to murder 13 people who he most likely understood as participants in "military occupation" of Muslim lands? Al-Marayati states the Quranic message, "(Be not like those) who use their oaths as a means of deceiving one another" (16:92).

I encourage a response to this particular point, as I seek clarity on the validity of using religious motivations for legal arguments and jurisprudence; for it holds meaning for when considering the newly-authorized method of trying "suspected terrorists" in civilian courts.

III. Second Question: Theology
The article's focus is primarily on Hasan's relationship with God as a sinner, as Al-Mayarati calls Hasan to "apologize to the families of the victims...ask for forgiveness from his fellow members of the military, and from the American people, as he betrayed our entire nation—including Muslim-Americans who are paying the price for his shameful and un-Islamic actions."

My second question to Al-Mayarati is, "What ought we to say about Hasan's relationship to us as a Muslim?" While a graduate student, I became increasingly interested in studying the religious foundations of takfir and its place within sharia law and relationship to jihad. Hasan presents a series of questions which are not black and white but need to be discussed: Is he simply a troubled man who committed a crime, as an insanity claim would argue? Is he a Muslim who has strayed from the path of justice and need repent for his sins? Ultimately, is he a jihadi terrorist who is no longer a Muslim, which assumes - of course - that all jihadi terrorists are not Muslim.

Takfir is the practice of declaring oneself or another no longer a Muslim. A Takfiri is a person who engages in this practice.

Takfiri-Jihadi ideology, argued to be al Qaeda's operating principle (see Lawrence Wright's Looming Tower), has been used by network leaders, most notably bin Laden, to name other Muslim leaders, mostly of Saudi Arabia, as no longer Muslims. This is an attempt to define and strengthen AQ's mission and practices as just. It has been used to justify recruitment of new operatives and negotiate partnerships with affiliates; i.e. Muslim Brotherhood strain known as Takfir wal-Hajra.

This practice is far-reaching due to "immigration" of takfiris to jihad lands, and is central to understanding the emerging threat of Hasan-type homegrown terrorists. Marc Sageman's assessment entitled, "Global Salfai Jihad and Global Islam," serves as one of several reasons why intelligence and religious leaders alike need to focus on the current evolution of lone-wolves using takfir to establish "in-group love" and "out-group hate." Such work can help establish an understanding also of whether homegrown terrorists are fighting the "near enemy."

IV. Conclusion: Relationship
Hasan is exactly the growing threat in America: the emergence of homegrown domestic terrorism, whether it be with the aid of the AQ network externally as we have seen with Somali terrorists and AQ's al Shabaab or the development of lone-wolf types discussed by Sageman, Kohlmann, Gartenstein-Ross, and Gerecht. Religion can be used as a tool on the "intelligence toolbelt" to counter and combat AQ and emerging threats to the homeland, and it should start with this case.

In order to successfully track and monitor the connection of takfir to extremist jihadi militancy, discussions with Al-Marayati and others can target the rationalized and radical process of self-identification, particularly Hasan's self-understanding as a protector of Muslim lands. A first step can be to overcome the problematic interpretations of takfir exposed by authors, such as Qutb in Milestones, and used by extremists.

Simultaneously, communal engagement of this type - aka interfaith dialogue - which Al-Mayarati is a practicioner of, would politically encourage all faithful believers, including Muslim-Americans, to declare in concert Hasan's treacherous actions as a clear co-optation of Islamic concepts and verses. Would not Christians and Muslims be right in condemning Timothy McVeigh's self-centeredness and extremist actions, which were clearly not Christian either?

Relationship strengthens intelligence efforts to differentiate between insane killings like Muzzammil Hassan who beheaded his wife in Buffalo and extremist jihadi tactics. Above all, a method which utilizes religion can pinpoint the ideological motivation of terrorists and understand not just the "enormity of [Hasan's] situation when he faces his Creator" but also - and most important to our time and space - the enormity of the threat that America and the world faces.

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