President Obama told some 15,000 people gathered for a memorial service at the Ft. Hood army base on Tuesday that the mass killing of soldiers was “incomprehensible.” Indeed, as we mourn the loss of the soldiers at Ft. Hood, and feel sympathy for their grieving families and friends, it is hard to piece together an understandable picture of what took place during the rampage allegedly perpetrated by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old Army psychiatrist. Thirteen soldiers, including 23-year-old Pfc. Kham Xiong of St. Paul, were killed by gunfire and more than 30 others were wounded.
As the AJW went to press this week, Hasan had been removed from a ventilator, but he refused to talk with investigators and asked for a lawyer, according to CNN.com.
News reports and commentary have offered wildly varying takes about Hasan’s ostensible motives for the mass murder at Ft. Hood. A Muslim, born in the U.S. and educated by the army, which he served counseling troubled soldiers, Hasan apparently had expressed misgivings about the U.S. military role in Iraq and Afghanistan. Further, according to a Washington Post report by Dana Priest on Tuesday, Hasan told colleagues during a June 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that Muslim soldiers should be exempted from fighting in Muslim countries in order to avert “adverse events.”
“It’s getting harder and harder for Muslims in the service to morally justify being in a military that seems constantly engaged against fellow Muslims,” Hasan said in the presentation, according to the Washington Post. In short, from piecing together various press reports, Hasan saw the U.S. foreign wars as a war on Islam.
Hasan also was in contact over the span of more than a year with an Islamic cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who held radical anti-American views. However, U.S. intelligence agencies dropped their investigation of Hasan, deciding that he posed no imminent danger.
Some accounts of the Ft. Hood shootings have completely skirted the alleged killer’s religious and political ideology, and portrayed him simply as a person who was disturbed by the accounts of violence and bloodshed he heard continually from the soldiers he counseled. Also, he was going to be deployed to Afghanistan, his first posting abroad, which was the source of additional stress, according to some reports. Finally, Hasan, as a Muslim in the U.S. military, was subjected to racist and bigoted taunting from some of his fellow soldiers.
An article in Monday’s edition of the New York Times looked at the difficulties Muslim soldiers encounter in the post-9/11 climate. While the armed forces value the contributions of Muslim and Arab-American soldiers, racist epithets are “common among soldiers on the frontlines of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Muslim soldiers told the Times. Additionally, Muslims face distrust from their fellow soldiers. One soldier of Pakistani descent told the newspaper that, while serving in Iraq, another soldier told him, “I have to watch my back because you might go nuts.”
The Times story also mentioned that in “South Asian and Arab immigrant communities [in the U.S.] where the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are deeply unpopular, many Muslim military members have felt criticized for their service,” according to Muslim chaplains, soldiers and veterans’ advocates.
While the Ft. Hood shootings have been all over the news, the aftermath of another shooting has received little national attention. The second trial of Naveed Haq, who wounded five women and killed one in a shooting attack at the Seattle Jewish Federation offices in July 2006, is under way. The first trial, in the spring of 2008, resulted in a mistrial when jurors could not agree on 14 of the 15 counts against Haq. According to the Jewish Transcript, the Seattle Jewish newspaper, Haq again “is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, with the defense claiming that mental illness aggravated by changes in his medication and treatment led Haq to attack the Jewish Federation.” The prosecutors in the Haq case argue that the murderous attack was motivated by the defendant’s opposition to Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and U.S. policies in the Middle East. They say that Haq carefully planned the attack, researching the location of the Seattle Federation offices and arming himself.
One of my journalistic colleagues in Seattle commented that, as far as he knew, federation employees are not viewing the 2006 shooting in Seattle as part of a larger pattern — or connected in any way to the Ft. Hood massacre. He said that he planned to talk to some of the Seattle shooting victims and perhaps ask them about their feelings regarding Ft. Hood.
The carnage at Ft. Hood should give war planners in Washington pause. The U.S. is trying to win over Afghans and Iraqis to our cause, yet an American-born soldier, a person trained by the military to help heal traumatized soldiers, allegedly turned on his compatriots and committed an act of mass murder on a stateside army base. This suggests that America will have an increasingly hard time prevailing in its wars in Muslim lands.
— Mordecai Specktor / firstname.lastname@example.org