In the Arena

Jeff Goldberg and I Argue, Sort of, About Nidal Hasan

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We spent yesterday going back and forth about this–coming to a near-agreement, eventually–and Jeff has posted our conversation on his blog.

Last night, reading The Hawk and the Dove, an excellent book about George Kennan and Paul Nitze, I came across this quote from Kennan, which seems relevant now:

“It sometimes seems to me that people have a need for the externalization of evil. They have the need to think that there is, somewhere, an enemy boundlessly evil, because this makes them feel boundlessly good.”

There is evil in this world. What Nidal Hassan did was evil. But I think that to portray him as a cold-blooded jihadist, rather than the tormented nut that he obviously was, ┬átakes us down a road toward caricaturing our enemies as “boundlessly evil.” This makes us stupid in our efforts to counter a real, if relatively small and weak, force that means to do us ill.

I thank Jeff for a good exchange. I hope we can do it again.