A Man in a Hundred

by Alexander Cockburn, November 18, 2009

On official Pentagon statistics about 1% of members of the US armed forces today are Muslims, though the actual quotient is no doubt higher, since the 1% number is based on initial declarations of religious persuasion on an official form. The Army high command bristles at demands from the Christian right that there should be some sort of loyalty review or even winnowing. General George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, said firmly last Sunday that his concern was that Major Nidal Hasan’s lethal rampage at Fort Hood — on Thursday he was charged with killing 13 — might “cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers.” Casey went on earnestly to the effect that “It would be a shame — as great a tragedy as this was — it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well” and that a “diverse Army gives us strength.”

The general obviously doesn’t have Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire on his bedside table. Gibbon wrote flatly that the introduction of foreigners “into Roman armies became every day more universal, more necessary and more fatal. Rome was captive before she was taken.”

The last time we heard rumblings about the dangers of ethnic or confessional diversity in the US military was during the Vietnam war, particularly after World Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali announced in the spring of 1967 that he was refusing to be drafted. In words that echoed round the world Ali said, “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong…they never called me nigger. You want me to do what the white man says and go fight a war against some people I don’t know nothing about — get some freedom for some other people when my own people can’t get theirs?”

At that time Ali gave the US government this wallop on the chin, 12.1% of enlisted men in the US Army were black. There were innumerable reports of refusal to obey orders, acts of sabotage, assaults on officers and kindred acts of mutiny through the military, white and black.

Hasan's military colleagues displayed a touching eagerness to give him the benefit of the doubt, regarding all-round steadiness of temperament. Why, they tell reporters, on every topic aside from religion he was as meek as a lamb. Granted, he would use the occasion of medical seminars to rail angrily against the US war on Islam, to laud suicide bombers as endowed with the courage of Japanese kamikaze pilots, to declare “I am a Muslim first and an American second,” to say — if we are to believe the British Telegraph’s report, that unbelievers should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats — (a process evidently requiring the most exquisite timing), but withal, a “polite and gentle nature … when not discussing religion.” A decorous optimism prevailed. At Walter Reed hospital some of his colleagues thought the budding psychiatrist was possibly “psychotic” but thought to head off disaster by sending him to university lectures on terrorism, Islam and the Middle East “in the hopes of redirecting his increasing preoccupation with the conflicts felt by Muslim American soldiers on the front lines.”

This indulgent posture towards the omens offered by Hasan’s political and psychic profile stretched from the FBI — which saw no excessive cause for alarm in his emails to the radical Imam Anwar al Awlaki, now based in Yemen, and a vocal enthusiast for jihad in its most violent forms — to his medical colleagues who in early 2008 discussed Hasan’s indifferent performance and, in the words of an AP report, “saw no signs of mental problems, no risk factors that would predict violent behavior.” They seized on “other factors” that suggested Hasan would continue to thrive in the military.”

“Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the famous summation of the Clinton-sponsored Army posture on gays seems to have become a more general maxim, whether it concerned the phone intercepted emails to the Imam, the praise for suicide bombers, the business card announcing him cryptically to be “a soldier of Allah,” or even the Arabic bumper sticker (“Allah is love”) which got his car scored with a key by a vet fresh back from the Crusades.

Talking of “Don’t ask,” it does seem reasonably clear that somewhat akin to some members of the Hamburg cell carrying out the 9/11 attack, if Hasan was hoping — a vulgar myth, to be sure — for the reward of virgins in the aftermath of martyrdom, their sex might have been an issue. No girlfriend; local virgins not pious enough for marriage; fainted while watching childbirth during medical training; at Walter Reed would not allow his photo to be taken with female co-workers; killed a pregnant woman in his lethal rampage (her dead embryo may constitute the fourteenth charge of homicide in the string for which he faces the death penalty); mentored 18-year old Duane Reasoner, a convert to Islam he met at the local mosque and with whom he seems to have cemented ties of loyalty and affection. Reasoner, who was with Hasan at his apartment not long before the major’s lethal excursion, declines to condemn him, saying fiercely in his BBC interview that Hasan’s victims “were troops who were going to Afghanistan and Iraq to kill Muslims.”

It’s the rationale most respectful to Hasan. No kook he, but indeed a Soldier of Allah. Of course, amid the thunderings of the Right about the army’s hospitality to a gay Palestinian terrorist General Casey retreats into the well-mannered sanctuary of “diversity,” even if there are no doubt enlisted men in Afghanistan saying right now , “No Muslims in my foxhole.” In Fort Hood the war came home with a vengeance, as it has been doing there at regular intervals with the suicides and savage domestic violence of vets driven crazy by what they’ve done in the service of Empire.

Too Fat to Fight (continued)

A big reaction from CounterPunchers to last week’s diary on America the Fat. No reproofs for being an adiphobe — though I’ve been alerted that some worthy tract called “The Social Construction of Fatness” will soon come puffing up my driveway.

• From Martha in Maine:

My husband's Dutch cousins just visited us from Holland for the past 3 weeks. I can testify that the typical Dutch person eats the following for breakfast: FOUR slices of hearty whole-grain bread, each slice topped with butter, then cheese, then either ham, jam, Nutella (chocolate/hazelnut paste), or tomato. For good measure the Dutchman or woman also enjoys a bowl of cereal with (full-fat) milk, (full-fat) yogurt and fruit. We simply cannot believe how much our invariably tall, skinny cousins eat!!

The cousins do not own a car in Holland, so they ride a bike, walk or take a train everywhere. Also they have never dieted in their lives, so they have active metabolisms. From personal observation, I really believe it's not the amount of food Americans eat so much as the built-in inactivity of our lives. If America had alternative transportation, a 35-hour workweek, and mandatory 6-week paid vacations, we'd be nearly as slim as those lucky Dutch! Damn socialists...(ha-ha)

• From B in art school:

A relative who works there says that at Disneyland the employees are encouraging corporate to start charging by the square foot for people who are too lazy to walk so they bring in electric carts to drive in. Some fat couples rent carts for two and with their bulge hanging over the sides they take up a whopping 20 square feet. They've had to start making the rides have bigger seats and for the rollercoaster they've had to change safety standards because fatties have made older rides dangerous. They recently had to change the capacity allowed to make up for the mass people take up now — they can actually accept fewer people in because of the space restrictions. My art has been called “size-ist” because I make sculptures of thin women.

• From Paul:

When we used to live in cities where services were relatively close and we walked or took the bus or the streetcar wherever we went, we were thinner and in better shape. It is suburban life and the pervasiveness of the private auto that has had, I am convinced, a lot to do with the obesity epidemic in the US and in Canada (I think we’re not quite so bad but I haven’t checked the stats). And it’s a well-known fact (which is my excuse for not having to produce any evidence) that the more exercise you get the more you want. And the more time you devote to exercise the less you are likely to spend vegging in front of a tv. Didn’t somebody write a book about the Big Petroleum/Big Auto conspiracy to promote urban sprawl? Hopefully, this will all change when gas costs $20 a gallon.

• From Tomas:

For the last 15 years I (a native born US) have lived in between Mexico and Havana. I get back to the States once a year to research at the University of Texas. I tell my students that each time I go back to the US everything gets bigger: the people, the cars, the houses.

I think there is causal connection here…bigger people=bigger cars, bigger cars=bigger garages, which equals bigger houses, etc. When I was a kid you could fit 5 Americans into a VW bug. My family of 10 lived in a house similar in space to most contemporary US suburban garages.

The irony of all of this is that the “other sized” movement in the US seems to blame their largeness on “big bones” (in the vernacular) or their “metabolism” (the sophisticate’s outlet of denial).

When I first arrived to live in Cuba during the height of the “Special Period” one of the first things I noticed (like you in Europe) was that there were absolutely NO FAT PEOPLE in Cuba. None.

Year after year, after returning from skinny Cuba I would encounter people in the US whose “bones” had become progressively bigger, or whose “metabolism” had slowed to a snail’s pace, and they were always bearing the same “genetic” excuse.

My point, extrapolating from yours, is that this whole “other sized” movement in the US is a movement in denial, and the denials and waistlines grow bigger each time I chance a return visit. I was once fat myself. I am 100 pounds lighter than I was at my apex at 19. I have kept that weight off for 30 years through two simple things: a proper diet and daily exercise.

I saw my first truly obese person in Cuba in a plaza in Bayamo around three years ago. I noted this to my Bayamese family. They informed me that he was a cousin from Miami visiting relatives in Bayamo.

Now almost half the food we eat in Cuba is imported from the United States. And now apparently we are importing our “big boned” US relatives as well. So real obesity is returning to Cuba, but it arrives on a chartered jet plane full of US relatives at Jose Marti.

Cuba is an island full of people who dream of the day each night of being saddled with the affliction or the “genetic” malady of being “metabolically challenged.” I hope it never comes to that.

• From Brito:

“There's an ass for every seat.” And you can sell anything to the sheeple so long as it's packaged properly. So I wouldn't blame the processed food industries as quickly as you. After all, there's no gun being put to anyone's head to buy crap for food. Stupid does as stupid is.

Aside from the lack of self-control, part of the problem is too much meat in the American diet. This comes from years of affluence — now gone forever. My farmer parents in Portugal (or “peasants” if you're a Marxist) ate meat only once a week — on Sundays after Mass. The rest of the week was spent on potatoes, cabbage, carrots, onions, black bread, sugarless coffee, and tons of fruit. When a pig was slaughtered, everything — and I mean everything was eaten — even the blood was fried. Regards, A Brito

• From Chris K:

At Ecole Jean de La Fontaine in a suburb south of Paris, I’m asking the kids in the schoolyard about McDonald’s. “My mother she said the McDo, it’s degueulasse,” an eight-year-old says in sing-song, and sticks out her tongue and says “Bleccchh!” and starts jumping rope. Impressed, I reply “Well, goddamn!” in English, and she just looks at me — but then the afterschool flood is let, and here comes my daughter, screech-laughing and running.

The girl’s words were choice. If mom were present, she would have scolded her for using degueulasse — an offensive slang that more or less means ‘disgusting’ or ‘filthy,’ but also can be used to denote something ‘physically and/or morally repugnant,’ per the authoritative Robert dictionary. The mother would probably suggest her little darling use the gentler degoutant. Degueulasse has a telling etymology, deriving from degueuler, which means ‘to puke, to spew’; degueuler itself derives from gueule, defined as the ‘the mouth of certain animals, especially flesh-eaters.’ It’s a freighted word — calls up the image, for me at least, of a dog vomiting meat, but it was music coming from this girl: For how often do you hear an eight-year-old anywhere sock it to the crapola that is McDonald’s? It was a sign of hope for her generation, because the signs otherwise are full of grim forebodings: French kids are getting fat. You can see even fat little French girls now, you can see them in the streets of Paris where just seven or eight years ago you saw no such thing — you didn’t imagine it possible, this race of lithe, slim, trim, handsomely formed people, seemingly immune to obesity by some genetic grace. But there they are, the McDo generation: Rotund little beings in the Jardin de Luxembourg; or older, rounding out on the Metro with a 20 ounce of Coke; soon to be cursed with the affliction into young adulthood and bound, probably inexorably, toward a premature death.

• From Bill:

I remember several years ago, while living in Oakland, I heard on KPFA one night a rather heated debate on whether obese citizens should have their own weekly show at the station in order to counter societal discrimination against them.

One particularly angry caller demanded that the hosts stop using the standard descriptive terms such as obese and overweight, and suggested a new, more neutral sobriquet which does not have so much “hateful” baggage: “Persons of size.”

* * *

So there we have it. Completely PC regarding gender, race, creed, political party and the digital readout on the bathroom scales.

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