11/12/09

The Tragedy at Fort Hood

On November 5th, 2009, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, shot and killed 13 soldiers and injured 29 in the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood, where soldiers are processed before and after deployment. It was where he worked and would be processed for his own deployment to Afghanistan.

The innocent lives lost in the Fort Hood shooting have now been memorialized and their absence will be long felt by their friends and families. Speculation abounds regarding the suspect's motives. Here I add to that muddled profusion.

As the facts are still coming to light, there is no definitive answer to the questions his terrible actions raise. Hasan's Islamic faith no doubt played a role in his motivation but he was devout throughout his 11-year term of military service. He was heard shouting Allahu akbar! as he was shooting but he was not wearing traditional Muslim attire, as early reports claimed, but combat fatigues.

His experience as a Muslim in the U.S. military—marred by harassment from fellow soldiers—and his work with those suffering combat-related mental health problems likely contributed to his deteriorating mental health. Hasan's impending deployment to Afghanistan seems to be the straw that broke him.

Attempts to blame Hasan's radicalization on his correspondence with his former imam about issues related to Muslim soldiers is a risible attempt to deflect attention from the difficulties that Muslims face in the U.S. military and the impact that Hasan's work with combat-stressed and post-traumatic stress disorder patients had on his own mental state. The correspondence that officials discovered between Maj. Hasan and the radical Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, were deemed to be benign by two terrorism task forces.

There were clear indications of Hasan's dissatisfaction with the quandary of being Muslim in the military and inklings of Hasan's Islamist inclinations but further investigation was not warranted by what the investigators knew about him.

The violence he perpetrated was clearly abhorrent but I find myself conflicted about that nature and origin of his motives. Was Hasan some sort of Islamist who intended to commit this type of act from the time of his induction or was he an Army psychiatrist who suffered vicarious trauma through his work with soldiers suffering from PTSD and other combat-related problems? Whose experience as a Muslim in the military was marked by harassment and lead him to become what his fellow soldiers harassed him for being? Whose opposition to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that he considered a 'war on Islam' compelled him to act? Whose devout Islamic faith he desperately twisted into a justification for mass murder?

For his actions, Hasan has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder and tried in a military court. There hasn't been a military execution since 1961 but the wheels of punitive justice may turn faster for a so-called terrorist.

The Fort Hood shooting was indeed a tragedy and Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's tragic flaw was believing that his religion justified what he did.