Horror at Fort Hood Inspires Horribly Predictable Islamophobia
By John Nichols
November 06, 2009 "The Nation" --
Thursday's shootings at Fort Hood army base in Texas --
which have left at least 11 people dead and 31 others wounded --
were of course the "horrific outburst of violence"
that President Obama bemoaned and condemned Thursday.
But, because a soldier identified as the gunman had
a name that led to the presumption that he was Muslim,
the incident inspired an all-too-predictable outbreak of Islamophobia.
News reports named the man who used two handguns
in the assault on his fellow soldiers at a base
that is a prime point of departure for troops
headed to Iraq and Afghanistan as Major Malik Nidal Hasan.
The major, who was wounded during the incident,
was reportedly a psychiatrist who had served in
the Department of Psychology at the Center for
the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda
Naval Facility in Bethesda, Maryland,
before his transfer to Fort Hood.
Hours after the incident,
and hours after news anchors and politicians cited
his religion as an explanation for the shootings,
a family member told reporters Major Hasan was indeed a Muslim.
But that was hardly the only relevant detail about the major.
For instance, according to Texas Senator Bailey Hutchison,
preparing to deploy to Iraq. However, the senator said,
"I do know that he has been known to have told
people that he was upset about going (to Iraq)."
Several new reports suggested that the major saw
a deployment to Iraq as his "worst nightmare" and
recounted how he had treated victims of combat-related
stress and was upset about the war.
Military officials at the base and in Washington
refused to speculate about motivations or intents.
And Paul Sullivan,
executive director of the group Veterans for Common Sense,
noted that the incident might well be the latest in a series
of stress-related homicides and suicides involving soldiers
who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan or are being dispatched
to those occupied lands.
No one knew on Thursday whether stress, fear,
anger over mistreatment, mental illness or a
warped understanding of his religion might
have motivated Major Hasan.
The point here is not to defend the
soldier or his alleged actions.
Rather, it is to question the rush to
judgment regarding not just this one
Muslim but all Muslims.
It should be understood that to assume a
follower of Islam who engages in violence
is a jihadist is every bit as absurd to
assume that every follower of Christianity
who attacks others is a crusader.
The calculus makes no sense, and is rooted
in a bigotry that everyone from George W.
Bush to Pope Benedict XVI has condemned.
But that did not stop right-wing web sites
from exploding with incendiary speculation
about a "Jihad at Fort Hood?" and a "Terrorist Incident in Texas."
Fox News host Shepard Smith asked
Senator Hutchison on air:
"The name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?"
It does, Shepard."
Neither Smith nor Hutchison had any information
to suggest that Major Hasan's name offered even
the slightest shred of information regarding the
incident at Fort Hood.
What could Hutchinson have said that might
have been more responsible response?
She could have emphasized that the
investigation of the shooting spree
has barely begun.
She might also have noted that thousands
of Muslims serve honorably, indeed heroically,
in the U.S. military;
that American Muslim soldiers have
died In Iraq and been buried
at Arlington Cemetery;
that some of the
first condemnations of the slayings
at Fort Hood came from Muslim veterans
such as Robert Salaam.
"I'm sad for those killed and wounded by
a traitor to both God and our country,
and I regret that I even feel that I have
to write something on the subject.
Words cannot express my emotions and
the instant headache I received when
notified by my dear sister Sheila Musaji
over at The American Muslim (TAM) concerning
the alleged culprit," wrote Salaam,
who served in the Marine Corps,
within minutes after learning the gunman's name.
"They have not yet released further details
such as the motive but I will state for the
record that no true Muslim could ever commit
such a crime against humanity.
As Muslims we are reminded that to
take one innocent life is as if one
killed all of mankind.
Muslims are also commanded to
keep their oaths when given."
Salaam is not alone in regretting that, as a Muslim,
he feels a need to respond to the incident with an
explanation of his religion.
But the conversation between Fox's Smith
and Senator Hutchinson reminds us why it
is necessary to respond.
And so Muslim groups have
responded quickly and unequivocally.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations,
the nation's largest Muslim civil rights
and advocacy group, issued a statement that read:
"We condemn this cowardly attack in the
strongest terms possible and ask that the
perpetrators be punished to the full extent
of the law.
No religious or political ideology could
ever justify or excuse such wanton and
The attack was particularly heinous in
that it targeted the all-volunteer army
that protects our nation.
American Muslims stand with our fellow
citizens in offering both prayers for
the victims and sincere condolences to
the families of those killed or injured."
executive director of the Muslim
Public Affairs Council, declared that,
"Our entire organization extends its heartfelt
condolences to the families of those killed as
well as to those wounded and their loved ones.
We stand in solidarity with law enforcement
and the US military to maintain the safety
and security of all Americans."
Those are sentiments that are worth noting,
especially by news anchors and senators who
are in a position to inform the discussion
of a horrific incident -- rather than to inflame it.
John Nichols is Washington correspondent for
The Nation and associate editor of The Capital
Times in Madison, Wisconsin.