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“I don’t speak much Arabic, so that was a hard problem."
April 11, 2014 7:11 PM   Subscribe

The All-American Life and Death of Eric Harroun. Eric Harroun, a U.S. Army vet on disability labeled "The American Jihadist" until the case against him unraveled, has passed away at home in Arizona.
posted by blue suede stockings (20 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Jesus.
posted by rollbiz at 10:02 PM on April 11 [1 favorite]


The Vice piece is one of the most depressing and mind-boggling things I've read in a long time--if it were a sketch for a novel, Kurt Vonnegut would have to write it.
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:28 PM on April 11


A smiling sympathetic white army vet guy fighting alongside radical Muslims, taking part in their popular uprisings and talking shit about Israel? Man, the Washington AIPAC machine must've crapped their pants. I'm rather suspicious that this man was murdered. At any rate, his death will be conspiracy-theory fodder for a long time.
posted by telstar at 12:15 AM on April 12 [4 favorites]


Well told story, but jesus. How do you look away from that and imagine things are going to be ok.
posted by bystander at 4:07 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


Not Vonnegut so much as Hemmingway fighting on the side of Spanish Republicans: This guy also seemed as much attracted by the adventure as drawn to the cause.

Another take away is that American citizens have as little freedom abroad as they do at home. Contradict US policy outside of US borders and the bell tolls for you.
posted by three blind mice at 4:23 AM on April 12 [4 favorites]


A smiling sympathetic white army vet guy fighting alongside radical Muslims, taking part in their popular uprisings and talking shit about Israel?

If you read the Foreign Policy article he also liked talking shit about Jews. Which is hardly coincidental. Nutters with guns don't suddenly become sympathetic just because they're fighting people you dislike.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:43 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


The Foreign Policy article is behind some ridiculous registration-required screen, so I'll just take it as given that Harroun said anti-Semitic things at some point, or at least anti-"Zionist" ones according to the Fox News story by the same authors. Anti-Semitism is distasteful, to be sure. But we don't execute people for anti-Semitism here in America. In fact, we don't even - well, we shouldn't be threatening people with execution for their anti-Semitic sentiments. I shudder to think of the thousands of gallows that would need to be erected if we started hanging all the soldiers or veterans who have made bigoted remarks. There'd be lines around the block.

I think that the worst thing here is that, even though Harroun did things like call his FBI and CIA friends whenever he went somewhere or did something in the Middle East, the U.S. government still couldn't help thinking of him as a jihadi terrorist, because they could only see the dots that fit their "potential terrorist" profile - young, male, Muslim convert, traveled to the Middle East often, angry about Israel, history of anti-Semitic remarks, participating in guerrilla warfare - and ignored the ones that didn't - U.S. Army veteran, casually religious at best, completely open and forthright to the U.S. government about his activities battling a Middle Eastern dictator, no anti-American sentiment whatsoever. And even after the government acknowledged that their capital terrorism charge was ill-founded, they wouldn't let him go without charging him with something, because to admit that they'd been "trying to execute a bipolar Army veteran who was fighting a tyrant alongside US-backed rebels for firing a commonly used weapon at a wall" would be embarrassing.

I doubt that Eric Harroun's death was a murder, at least not in the usual sense. Given his mental-health issues, the feds pressing him to rat out and betray others, possibly including his friends, and no doubt the sense that he had been forsaken by one's one country, I believe that it was most likely a suicide. But I think that the government's overzealous prosecution probably contributed to pushing him over the edge. And in a sense, Harroun's trusting nature and the schizophrenic attitude that the United States - the country as a whole, not just the government - has towards popular insurgencies against authoritarian governments in Muslim-majority countries led him into this double-bind.
posted by skoosh at 6:30 AM on April 12 [8 favorites]


I wish your country didn't execute people at all. My comment was directed to Telstar, who seems delighted with "a smiling sympathetic white army vet guy fighting alongside radical Muslims, taking part in their popular uprisings and talking shit about Israel". Harroun may deserve sympathy for the frankly Kafka-esque way he was treated, but he was a nasty, violent person whose anti-Israelism, to the extent that it was part of a considered position, was just part of his hateful personality.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:15 AM on April 12 [1 favorite]


.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:47 AM on April 12


Not Vonnegut so much as Hemmingway fighting on the side of Spanish Republicans

No, Vonnegut, because this guy could not have been more poignantly (and forehead-slappingly) clueless and naive, not just abroad, but in not understanding how his behavior/inquiries appeared and and how to protect his own interest once he was on the federal radar screen.

he was a nasty, violent person whose anti-Israelism, to the extent that it was part of a considered position, was just part of his hateful personality.

You know, I'm as anti-anti-Semitism as the next person and Facebook comments like "The only good Zionist is a dead Zionist" are hateful and repugnant, but I'd agree with the sense I get from the Vice journalist that this is the reflexive bozo ignorance and situational posturing adopted by someone who suddenly fancied himself an "Arab freedom fighter" after traveling around and stuff, and was trying desperately to fit the role for the sake of comradeship and group identity, not out of any pre-existing politically/ideologically "considered position."

I think he was a self-identified "anti-Zionist" in the same way he was a self-identified "moderate Muslim":

He always met people when he traveled, many of them moderate Muslims in the Middle East. As his fascination with the region grew and he became closer to his friends, he decided to become a Muslim.

A very terrible Muslim.

“I’m a moderate Muslim,” he told me. “I do smoke. I drink occasionally. I don't pray five times a day …. I do have some Christian beliefs, I guess. I celebrate Christmas with my mom’s family.”

Eric was a Muslim in much the same way someone who moves to a new city becomes a fan of a sports team in that city — it’s a way to fit in and relate to those around you when you’re in a strange place. During months of correspondence and time spent together, I never once saw him pray or react to anything with religious fervor.

posted by blue suede stockings at 8:26 AM on April 12 [2 favorites]


Harroun just doesn't come across as hateful in the article. Confused, naive, adventurous, fun-loving, imprecise to the point of sloppiness. But hateful? I don't see it.

It seems a little too convenient that once again a dissenter dies in suspicious circumstances and the authorities provide the catch-all answer for any strange early death: "drugs".
posted by telstar at 12:27 PM on April 12


telstar, while I agree that he doesn't come across as hateful in the Vice story, he also doesn't come across to me as a dissident against the U.S. government, or at least did not see himself as such. There's also no compelling reason for anyone to kill him. What secrets did he have to tell that are any worse than, or that even come close to, the revelations we've already gotten from ex-Guantanamo detainees (for example)? Even if there were such secrets, he'd already been talking to at least one reporter for months before his death, so that'd definitely be closing the barn door well after the horses had left.
posted by skoosh at 1:33 PM on April 12


Harroun just doesn't come across as hateful in the article.

He liked going to far-off countries and killing people. I don't think he was especially responsible for his actions, but his own father had to seek a restraining order against him.

The Foreign Policy article (which isn't paywalled for me) says
At times, he was explicitly anti-Semitic: In a March 17 video chat, he referred to one of us multiple times as "that fucking kike."
This is part and parcel of what is usually called "anti-Zionism", but that doesn't mean it's excusable.

It seems a little too convenient that once again a dissenter dies in suspicious circumstances [...]

Oh for goodness' sakes. He wasn't a dissenter, unless you think "Smoked the motherfuckers ... already smoked ... ten ... twenty ..." is some sort of revolutionary thesis. He liked shooting people and had already shot himself twice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:27 PM on April 12


Atheist here. I don't get the bs about him drinking and smoking and somehow he's a bad Muslim, and any Muslim who breaks the rules means all Muslims are terrible? How many priests have raped little boys, but somehow that's not a blanket condemnation of Christianity?
posted by nevercalm at 6:42 PM on April 12


"In short, the US government was trying to execute a bipolar Army veteran who was fighting a tyrant alongside US-backed rebels for firing a commonly used weapon at a wall."

FFS.
posted by homunculus at 12:37 AM on April 13


Jew here. Anti-Zionist is far from the same thing as anti-Semite. I'm not anti-Catholic if I say that some members of the Catholic Church have done bad things in the name of their religion so why are people who question the actions of some Jewish people automatically assumed to be anti-Semitic?
posted by hazyjane at 3:22 AM on April 13


Because he refers to someone Jewish as "a fucking kike"?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:32 AM on April 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah okay, missed that part.
posted by hazyjane at 3:59 AM on April 13


Is he as sympathetic as he's portrayed as in the Vice piece, given his anti-Semitism?

Nah.

Did he deserve what happened to him, given what he actually did?

Nah.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 3:23 PM on April 22


I feel that at this point every party to the conflict in Syria is presumptively a war criminal; and anyone travelling there to join in the conflict is making a horrible situation worse. But he was (a) mentally ill; and (b) even if he were sane and actually a war criminal, was treated disgracefully. I wish the Vice article didn't feel the need to gloss over his bad qualities while stressing his good ones, because it's a distraction from the very real issues at hand: the half-assed foreign policy of the USA and the arbitrary and capricious application of its laws.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:50 PM on April 22


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