'Barbershop' Guys React To Ft. Hood Shootings, Recent Election Results

Host Michel Martin speaks with Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Lester Spence and Arsalan Iftikhar talk about the recent gubernatorial and mayoral races across the country. They also reflect on the recent tragedy of the Ft. Hood shootings and debate President Obama's handling of this incident.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It's time now for our weekly visit to the Barbershop, where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's on their minds.

Sitting in the chairs for a shapeup this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette and political science Professor Lester Spence.

Welcome, everybody. Thanks for joining us.

JIMI IZRAEL: Hey, Michel.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey.

MARTIN: It's a sad day.

IFTIKHAR: Yes.

MARTIN: You know, Arsalan, we were talking yesterday, and I have to, if you don't mind, I'd like to share part of our conversation. I was saying that as an African-American, when something like this happens, we find ourselves reflexively saying, you know, praying privately and sometimes out loud, please, I hope this is not an African-American.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: I hope an African-American didn't do this. Did you have that reaction?

IFTIKHAR: Of course. Yeah. And sadly, it's a reaction that most American Muslims have had in the United States for, you know, the last 15 years. I remember when I was a senior in high school in April 1995, when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, for the first 48 hours, they were looking for Arab Muslim men around the country. There were 250 hate crimes against Muslims around the country.

Even in 2007, when we had the Virginia Tech shootings, I remember within the first 90 minutes of the shooting, I was getting calls from reporters saying well, you know, we hear it's an Asian man. There's some Arab students on campus that are missing, things like that.

And so, the American Muslim community, you know, always, you know, sadly has held its breath, you know, whenever, you know, major, you know, acts of mass murder like this have happened in the last 15 years. And unfortunately, sadly, you know, yesterday was sort of the prefect storm and it's, you know, I'm still saddened, shocked and bumfuzzled by the entire thing.

MARTIN: And you were one of the people that's issuing public statements. There were groups, you know, every major Muslim-American group issued a statement of condolence...

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm. Right.

MARTIN: ...in some cases, bordering on apology.

IFTIKHAR: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And the question I have, you know, thinking about Timothy McVeigh, you know, Christian leaders didn't feel a need to apologize...

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: ...for Timothy McVeigh. Army leaders are - here's an Army veteran. You know, you didn't see members of the Army feeling a need to apologize for the actions of this individual. And I just wonder why do you feel a need to apologize for the actions of this individual?

IFTIKHAR: You know, it's really part and parcel of the civil rights history of America. I mean, you look at you know, the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II where 140,000 Japanese-Americans were thrown in interment camps and were, you know, sort of castigated and had aspersions cast on the entire demographic.

And so this is something that a lot, you know, virtually every major minority group in America has dealt with at some point or another. And in the post-9/11 America that we live in, it's been primarily Muslims and Arabs that have been sort of paying their dues.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Jimi, what's on your mind?

IZRAEL: Well, when I heard - when I first heard that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, he was a psychiatrist, my first question was - of course I was really saddened by what happened. But he's charged with helping people that are coming home from war get over their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I was wondering where do the psychiatrists go when they need help? Because obviously, this gentleman needed some help. So I'm wondering where do they go?

MARTIN: Hmm. I don't know. That's a good question. I don't know. Ruben, what do you think? What's on your mind? I'm not sure I can hear from Ruben right now. So Lester Spence, Professor Spence, are you with us?

SPENCE: Yes, I am. Can you hear me?

MARTIN: Yes, I can. What's on your mind?

LESTER SPENCE: The first thing I thought about was how hard-hit Walter Reed, where the alleged shooter was - I believe he was stationed. He was there for a bit - how hard-hit Walter Reed had been as a hospital by a lot of the cutbacks that they'd had, even as we are pursuing wars on two fronts. So when I saw what had happened, the first thing I thought about wasn't his - wasn't the alleged shooter's background as far as religion. It was the fact that he was a psychiatrist. And it was that Fort Hood he has dealt with - has had more suicides and more attempted suicides than any other place, even given that it's one of the largest installations in the country.

MARTIN: Well, but the reports are - at least this was reported by a United States Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, who represents Texas. She said she was told by one of the officers at Fort Hood who was in contact with her that the issue for Major Hasan is that he did not want to go. He was scheduled to be deployed, and he didn't want to go.

SPENCE: Yeah, I mean, so there are a lot of stressors that being in a war on two fronts places - not just on the military in general, but on individuals, right? So we can easily trace a straight - I mean, if there's some type of statement that the major made - if we can connect this - if we - to the degree we can connect this stuff all together, it's really clear that the stressors of having on a war on two fronts is placing a great deal of pressure on individuals, and a lot of them are taking matters into their own hands.

MARTIN: Ruben.

IZRAEL: You know...

MARTIN: Oh, go ahead, Jimi.

IZRAEL: You know, one of the sad ironies is not only is Fort Hood the Army's largest U.S. post, but it's also the home of the Warrior Combat Stress Reset Program. Yeah, yeah. And your comments, Lester, get to my question. You know, how do - I mean, of course, we're saddened by the shooting. But how do we help people that are dealing with this? I mean, obviously, the person charged with helping us, or helping soldiers, needed help himself.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

IZRAEL: So, what do we do about that?

MARTIN: Yeah, that's interesting. Ruben, what were you going to say?

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Well, a couple of things. It's about your first impressions. You know, when you first hear the story, I thought about delayed stress. I thought about people who didn't want to go back, the whole idea of sort of an over-stressed military. And then, unfortunately, when the other part of the story comes out, more people jumped to this conclusion about whether this is now a security risk and whether it's significant that he is a Muslim-American, and we leave, you know, the first part of it.

I mean, we - actually, we have to look at the whole picture. We're not sure yet what happened. We're not sure - if he's still alleged to have committed this crime. But it's unfortunate that everything I thought in those first minutes about the stress of going to war is still relevant, independent of the fact that he's a Muslim-American.

But I think our narrative shifts, and it's human nature for us now to begin a whole different conversation in this country. And suddenly now, the fact that he's Muslim-American becomes the dominant part of the narrative. But it's a lesson, you know, points have been made. It's an important point when Timothy McVeigh bombed the Oklahoma City Federal Building, nobody said, you know, about all white males, this was a blanket indictment against all white males.

And it's an unfortunate double standard that now Muslim-Americans are going to be under the microscope. And I agree with Michel, we all have that sort of moment where we hold our breath and we think to ourselves, gee, I hope he's not one of ours. And as Arsalan said, sometimes they are one of yours.

SPENCE: Can I jump in for a quick second?

MARTIN: Sure, Lester. Mm-hmm.

SPENCE: You had made an excellent point, but I just want to say that it's not human nature. This is something that actually produced, right? It's actually produced, and it's reproduced by the media. It's not human nature to make that leap.

MARTIN: I think that's an important point, because I did - this was an informal survey of some of my colleagues of different ethnic backgrounds. And I asked them: Did you have that reaction? And a number of them said, no, I didn't. And I think it does very much have to do with your history in this country and how you are perceived to fit into it. But as to Jimi's question, I think this is a subject we should probably do some more reporting about.

How do the caregivers get care, number one? And some of these people at Fort Hood, in finding out, you know, in some of the reporting that's come out, they've done two, three, in some cases four tours in Iraq or Afghanistan.

IFTIKHAR: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And you think about the strain that these families must be under and it's quite - it's just mind boggling. And I think, you know, once again, I think we ought to - if we could just take a moment to express our condolences to those who have lost loved ones, to those who are injured and to those who are making the sacrifice. I just, you know...

NAVARRETTE: Michel, if I can jump in real quick - if I can jump in real quick.

MARTIN: Sure.

NAVARRETTE: I have a neighbor who just got back from Iraq, and I - you know, we were having a conversation and I thought - I said, you know what's interesting, as a captain in the Marine Corps and being in San Diego near Camp Pendleton, you have a lot of folks around you who were in that ballpark. And I said you know what would be interesting to me, I said, is the one minute you're in Iraq and the next day you're, like, back home having, you know, a lunch at Luby's or something.

I said how do you do that? And I know that there's a transition period. I know the military takes that seriously, transitioning you in. But he compared it, interestingly to the idea of leaving prison. One day you're in prison, the next day you're a free man and this notion that your world changes almost so quickly. But the point here is that a lot of people are able to handle that, and some people are not. It's not always the case that every person who goes through the experience comes back into the suburbs from Iraq, you know, and has trouble adjusting. It's just very much tied to who you are. Some people can handle it, and some people can't.

MARTIN: But, again, just to tie a bow on it before we move on, the interesting thing to me is that Major Hasan did not - had not previously been deployed. All of his service had been stateside. And so that's one of the things that intrigues me here, is that if this was to have been his first overseas deployment.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: And so what's the through line here? I think, again, it just speaks to the fact that we need to know more. Arsalan, if you have just one more comment before we move on.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, you know, another tragic layer, very quickly, is, you know, the fact that, you know, here's a man who took the Hippocratic Oath to do no harm. I mean, you know, if this was a - it doesn't matter if he's white, black or brown, Christian, Jewish, Muslim - I mean, this is - you obviously just saw an unhinged human being. And, you know, it really was a human tragedy for the people of Fort Hood, Texas.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. You're listening to the Barbershop, and we're joined by Jimi Izrael, Arsalan Iftikhar, Ruben Navarrette and Lester Spence. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Earlier this week across the country, there were municipal elections. Two Republicans were elected as governors in Virginia and New Jersey. Can the president get a break now? You know, it's - what's interesting to me is that, well, you've got the Republicans, and they take back Virginia and New Jersey. But your Republicans infighting in Upstate New York, well, they got a Democrat Bill Owens taking that seat. And a Democrat hasn't held that seat since 1872, so it's kind of like, you know, you giveth and you take it away. Ruben, what's your read on that?

NAVARRETTE: Well, you know, on both of them - listen, those two there in(ph) 23 is easy. The GOP there, the Republicans shot themselves in both feet - not one foot, both feet.

SPENCE: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And the reason they did that - they blew that. Owens did not win that election as much as the GOP lost it. And - like some of the football games that we watch, and we won't get into it right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: I think that what happened in the New York 23, obviously, is that the Republicans put forward a candidate that was unsuitable - not because she was too liberal for the district - you could argue that out - but because she was chosen in a backroom by about 14 different county chairmen, not by the voters. It had this kind of backroom feel to it. The voters rebelled against that. They put up someone like Doug Hoffman coming up as a Conservative Party candidate, and so that was the first mistake.

And then Hoffman turned out to be a miserable candidate who doesn't have time to really get going and focuses too much on social issues to begin with - gay marriage and abortion as issues that are different from Dede Scozzafava in terms of this was - Dede is the nominee that was chosen in the backroom. So, the whole thing's a mess. The GOP blows it big time in New York 23.

With regard, quickly, to Virginia and New Jersey, the significance for me is that we know that Barack Obama has been bleeding independent voters for about six months, nine months. And now, all of a sudden, the independents, at both those places, goes 60 percent for the Republicans. So, I think this is really a bad sign for the White House - not today, but definitely tomorrow in 2010, 2012. Obama has to go back and get those independents back in the fold.

MARTIN: Well, again, we've talked about this a lot over the course of this week. I'm not sure that he's - is he so much bleeding them, or is it that the voters - because independents are a lot - there's Republican-leaning independents, and then there's Democrat-leaning independents. And it's a question of who shows up that day. And in Virginia, the turnout was extremely low, as it often is in an off-year election or non-presidential election, whereas in the presidential election it was extremely high.

Virginia had, like, a record turnout last year. So I think its different people. I guess the question is can you ever really - and Professor Spence, you probably want to speak to this. Can you - do coattails really exist anymore? I mean, can people really bequeath their voters to people anymore?

SPENCE: Well, they can if you organize. But I think you're absolutely right. We've got two major - two elections out of 50, two gubernatorial elections out of 50, one congressional race out of 435. I mean, just - I mean, people are trying to make this into a bigger - talk about the bigger picture, and I understand that. But using social science speak, we just don't have a large enough N, I mean, we don't have a large enough number.

IZRAEL: So you wouldn't look at this as a GOP kind of (unintelligible) moment, where they're rising from dead.

SPENCE: I wouldn't look at this as anything other than some guys got elected, and some guys got unelected.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: You know, I mean, you can - we can fill that space, but that's what it is.

MARTIN: Arsalan?

IFTIKHAR: Well, yeah, you know, just to Lester's point, we have to, you know, remember that it was two states that were electing governors. You know, two out of 50. We had two congressional races. There were four major races in an off year. This was not a midterm election. This is not litmus test. Barack Obama's name was not on any of the ballots. You know, in New Jersey, it was primarily about corruption.

In Virginia, you had Creigh Deeds, who is a Democratic candidate who, you know, very specifically distanced himself from the Obama camp and was a terrible, you know, electoral candidate. And so, you know, if the Republicans want to make hay out of winning two states, then, you know, more power to them.

MARTIN: We're not going to tag Ruben as a Republican spokesperson here, but do you want to challenge that argument?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: I noticed that Dede Scozzafava, the aforementioned New York 23 candidate was pro-gay marriage and pro-choice on abortion. Obviously, she's my kind of Republican. So, I shouldn't be running in the New York 23, apparently. So I think that there are conservative Democrats and there are liberal Republicans, and all the better that there are. And I find it really disconcerting that both parties do such a good job of trying to purge their ranks.

Conservative Democrats have a hard time of it. You know, Bob Casey the former governor, Democratic governor of Pennsylvania was not even allowed to speak at the convention because he's pro-life, so...

MARTIN: But that was a long time ago.

NAVARRETTE: ...Republicans.

MARTIN: That was a long time ago, Ruben.

NAVARRETTE: Well, yeah, (unintelligible)

MARTIN: Rob Casey, senior - Rob Casey, his son, is now in the Senate.

NAVARRETTE: There are more recent examples. It's just unfortunate that conservative Democrats have a tough time of it and liberal Republicans have a tough time of it. That's the way it is.

IFTIKHAR: Do liberal Republicans exist anymore?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: It's hard to tell. I am not sure I agree with him. It seems to me the conservative Democrats are holding the cards on health care. So it seems to me they're kind of the swing block on health care. Seems to me we've heard more about Blue Dogs than we've heard about just about any other group. We've certainly heard more about Blue Dogs than we've heard about progressives. So I'm not sure I buy that.

NAVARRETTE: Yeah, that's totally true. But, you know, the reason that is because in his previous life, Rahm Emanuel when he wasn't Chief of Staff to Obama, was in the Congress and made it his purpose to get out, his mission to get out and get conservative Democrats into the fold. So this didn't just happen. He went out there and cultivated that because he thought conservative Democrats weren't getting enough of a break and liberal Democrats were getting too loud of a voice.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm. Okay, well, speaking of who's - I'm sorry. Sorry. Speaking of who's not getting a break - I'm sorry, I can't resist. I can't resist. Yankees - represent, represent.

IZRAEL: Yeah, well, whatever. You know, what I mean, again another year without, you know, anybody - you know, my team in the race. But, you know, I've got to give it to you. It's on, Brooklyn. It's on.

IFTIKHAR: You know, the Yankees are like the Michael Bloomberg of baseball. You know, if you give me $500 million also, I'll get the X-Men and Transformers on my team.

MARTIN: Hater, you are a hater. Sorry, but they beat the defending world champion.

IFTIKHAR: They did. They did.

MARTIN: The team, the Phillies.

IFTIKHAR: And Michael Bloomberg spent $100 million on that electoral campaign that he won by what, three points? I mean...

NAVARRETTE: Arsalan is not just a hater. He's a hater, as they say in Boston.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: (unintelligible) He's a hater.

MARTIN: Ruben, who did you like?

NAVARRETTE: I didn't like the Yankees, that's for sure.

SPENCE: OK, you're a hater.

MARTIN: Oh, no. (unintelligible)

IFTIKHAR: That's the pot calling the kettle black.

MARTIN: Spence.

NAVARRETTE: I want somebody else to win every once in a while. Let's mix it up a bit.

MARTIN: No.

SPENCE: I stopped caring once Detroit lost to Minnesota. But, with that said, Derek Jeter's a Michigan man. Anything that's good for Michigan is go for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NAVARRETTE: Yeah. They're probably going to get (unintelligible) unemployment right out there, for sure.

MARTIN: Can I get any love here? Is there any love for the Yankees? Is there any love in the (unintelligible) shop?

IFTIKHAR: You might find more love for Dick Cheney.

MARTIN: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Jimi, help.

IZRAEL: Well, you know what? It's on you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

IZRAEL: I got nothing for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I don't even know how to respond. Okay. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for TheRoot.com. He's also a presidential fellow at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of themuslimguy.com and a civil rights attorney and the author of a forthcoming book. He joined us in our Washington, D.C. studios. Ruben Navarrette is a syndicated columnist. He writes for CNN.com and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He joined us by phone from San Diego. And Lester Spence is an assistant professor of political science at John Hopkins University. He's with us from member station WEAA in Baltimore. Gentlemen, thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

SPENCER: Thank you.

IFTIKHAR: Peace.

IZRAEL: Yup, yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.