Fort Hood homicide: US Muslims react with grief

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali
The seven-million strong American Muslim community has reacted, with grief and fear of backlash, at the shooting at Fort Hood in Texas by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. All major Arab and Muslim organizations were swift in unequivocally condemning this heinous incident which claimed the lives of 13 people and injured scores other. Within hours after the attack, all major civil advocacy Arab and Muslim groups and Islamic Centers vehemently denounced the vicious attack and stressed that "No religious or political ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence."

Fearing a backlash, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) called upon law enforcement agencies to provide immediate protection for all Mosques, community centers, schools, and any locations that may be identified or misidentified with being Arab, Muslim, South Asian or Sikh as a clear backlash has already started.  "The actions of a few should not invite a backlash on innocent members of any community and we urge law enforcement and others to keep that in mind."  

 The Arab American Institute (AII) pointed out that thousands of Arab Americans and American Muslims serve honorably everyday in all four branches of the U.S. military and in the National Guard. "Additionally, many of our sons and daughters have willingly stepped forward to fulfill their duty with their fellow soldiers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other locations around the globe." Courageous Muslims like Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, praised by Colin Powell in his endorsement speech of Barack Obama, gave his life for his country, and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the honor of being buried in Arlington cemetery.

American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Right and Elections, an umbrella group representing major Muslim organizations, urged the national political and religious leaders and media professionals to set a tone of calm and unity. However, predictably this tragic incident once again provided fodder for talk shows and websites, which exploit such isolated events to ratchet up Islamophobia.

For example: Fox News host Shepard Smith asked Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas on air: "The name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?" Hutchinson's response was: "It does. It does, Shepard." As John Nichols, author of "Horror at Fort Hood Inspires Horribly Predictable Islamophobia," said with those words, the senator leapt from making assumptions about one man to making assumptions about a whole religion.  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.  

Nichols went on to say: "It should be understood that to assume a follower of Islam who engages in violence is a jihadist is every bit as absurd as to assume that a follower of Christianity who attacks others is a crusader."

 Not surprisingly, the Washington Post, a major reputable newspaper, ran a story titled "Suspect, devout Muslim from Va. Wanted Army discharge...." The story was illustrated with a picture of an Islamic center and this caption: "The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring where Maj. Nidal M. Hasan used to pray. John Esposito, Professor of religion, international affairs and Islamic studies at Georgetown University, asks why immediately rush to brushstroke Islam, Hasan's religion, by linking it to this tragedy?

Prof. Esposito says there can be no excuse, personal, political, or religious, to justify this senseless act of mass murder. However, there should also be no excuse for a rush to judgment that creates "facts on the ground," that once again negatively impact the American public's perception of Islam and the vast majority of our Muslim fellow citizens.

Why this common tendency and double standard towards Islam and Muslims post-9/11? he asked and added: We judge the religion and majority of mainstream Muslims by the acts of an individual or an aberrant minority of extremists. Yet, when Jewish fundamentalists kill a prime minister or innocent Palestinians or Christian extremists blow up abortion clinics or assassinate their physicians, somehow the media is capable of sticking to all the facts and distinguishing between the use and abuse of a religion.  

Several new reports suggested that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan 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. He began having second thoughts about a military career a few years ago after other soldiers harassed him for being a Muslim.

Alluding to these reports Prof. Esposito pointed out that it apparently wasn't challenging enough to figure out an already complex puzzle:  

(1)     Why had this American-born psychiatrist, a serious, quiet, and reserved military officer, who joined the Army over his parents' initial objections in order to serve his country, made substantial efforts to get out of the military in recent years?
(2) What was the connection between reports that Hasan had been deeply affected by his work with veterans from the Iraq war and his refusal to accept the fact that he was to be deployed to Iraq?
(3) How serious and substantial were reports that post-9/11 harassment by colleagues over Hasan's Muslim name had contributed to his growing disaffection with and desire to get out of the military?

 Did all of these factors push him over the edge psychologically or was his horrific act of mass murder more calculated? Instead, reports that Hasan was a practicing Muslim were seen as an immediate reason to focus on the "religious angle," Prof. Esposito lamented.

 Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, argues that trauma of war is contagious. "The stress of war damages beyond belief--years and years after serving in the military, troops can still be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. But one thing we may not have sufficiently appreciated is that the trauma of war is contagious. Witnesses to violence, those who work with people who have experienced war directly, also can become severely traumatized."

As our thoughts go out to Fort Hood today, let us really see war in its ever widening effects and really count the cost, she argued.

 Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective: Email:

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2009 on page no. 27

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