Lost in the Movies: The Muslim Matter (Fort Hood & Maj. Hasan's Religion)

The Muslim Matter (Fort Hood & Maj. Hasan's Religion)

Adam Reilly has an excellent editorial in the most recent Boston Phoenix in which he pretty much manages to articulate everything I've been thinking about the massacre at Fort Hood and the media's reaction. You can read it here.

While Hasan's religion certainly seems to have played a role in the shooting, and it would be foolish for commentators to avoid or deny this (which some have been doing), there's something quite offputting about the way Fox News and other conservative media outlets have been covering the story. Reilly puts his finger on it is this astute piece:
For much of the conservative commentariat, the answer was obvious from the outset: anyone seeking to explain the atrocity Hasan perpetrated, they claimed, can start and end with his faith. Here in Boston, for example, WTKK-FM's Michael Graham teased his afternoon radio talk show by saying of Hasan's motive: "Let's face it: you and I both know the answer." At [Michelle Malkin's website], meanwhile, the author herself situated Hasan in a broader category she'd created six years ago — "Muslim soldiers with attitude"— and reiterated her own previous contention that the Muslim members of the US armed forces constitute a menacing fifth column. (In Malkin's incendiary words: "The Islamist infiltration of our troops is scandalous. Not one more American, soldier or civilian, must be sacrificed at the altar of multiculturalism, diversity, open borders, and tolerance of the murderous 'attitude' of Jihad.")

And then there was Shepard Smith, every liberal's default choice as favorite Fox News personality, who followed a similar line of thinking when he described Hasan's name — without actually saying it — during an interview with US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas on Thursday:

SMITH Senator Hutchison, other news organizations are identifying the shooter. . . . Have you been given a name, and what do you know about this suspect? How much are you able to tell us?
HUTCHINSON I have been given a name, but I would not want to confirm that, because I don't know if this person's family has been identified. . . .
SMITH We've been given a name, as well, and quite frankly, I'm not comfortable going with it till it's given to me by the United States military. . . . But the name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?
HUTCHINSON It does. It does, Shepard. And that's why it's a very sad situation.
He goes on to take some on the left to task for pooh-poohing Hasan's religious beliefs and floating the questionable argument that Hasan's actions were a symptom of PTSD. I think I'm even less comfortable than Reilly with the notion that we can blame PTSD - and by extension the military's justifiably criticized approach to the disorder - for Hasan's behavior. Yes, he counseled many returning vets with no doubt harrowing war stories. But does that constitute "trauma"? Hasan had never served in a war zone; true, he was set to deploy overseas (in a non-combat role) in the near future, but PTSD stands for "post-traumatic stress disorder" not "pre-traumatic stress disorder."

I don't want to dismiss this idea altogether; it is my understanding that there can be secondhand symptoms experienced by someone dealing with a PTSD victim and coming into a similar situation. Yet this type of indirect disorder would have had to play such a minor role in Hasan's overall motivation that to "blame PTSD" seems to trivialize the very real suffering of PTSD victims who have experienced combat and still manage not to murder. Furthermore, Hasan's action appears to have been entirely premeditated - which hardly seems a sign of the kind of blind, furious rage which would characterize the action of a PTSD victim (to my understanding; anyone who knows better please correct me if I'm wrong).

I also can't entirely concur with Reilly's ultimate conclusions. On the one hand, he suggests that the Army do more to deal with religious tensions in the ranks (apparently Hasan felt a conflict between his faith and his duty; and allegations of harassment have surfaced as well). While I agree, I'm not sure this would do much to prevent a future Hasan-like shooting, and the theory that it would seems to give too much credence to the idea that Hasan was in some way indicative of Muslim soldiers, or even Muslim soldiers with conflicts of conscience. (Notions that Reilly elsewhere and thoroughly debunks.)

Finally, I'm not sure that much of anything can result from this incident. Ultimately, religious questions and exposure to PTSD victims aside, Hasan's actions were those of an isolated and dysfunctional individual. The only aspect which may be worth exploring further is his relationship to the radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who praised Hasan in the wake of the killing. Even that will probably turn out to be more a case of "like minds" than anything else.

Of course, none of this is going away, as Hasan - it's easy to forget (I have numerous times) - is still alive and will be facing many questions soon enough. Perhaps we can have a meaningful discussion on some of these tangential questions, but in the spirit of inquiry without various agendas getting in the way, most perniciously of those who flirt with (or fully embrace) bigotry and seek to paint Muslim soldiers with a broad brush.

This post was originally published on The Sun's Not Yellow.


Tony Dayoub said...

As Newsweek's Jon Meacham said on MSNBC's Morning Joe earlier this week, Hasan's Muslim beliefs contributed to the shooting insofar as one could say Timothy McVeigh's Christian beliefs contributed to the Oklahoma bombing. One can see a correlation, but it is a twisted form of self-justification for each of these disturbed individuals.

My point is that simply being Muslim does not make a person an enemy. Just like there are extremists in the Christian religion there are those in the Muslim religion also.

That being said, I think completely ignoring the contributing causes to this man's alienation from society is as foolish as promoting the idea that Muslims should all be drummed out of the armed forces.

Ed Howard said...

"My point is that simply being Muslim does not make a person an enemy."

It's very sad that this point still needs to be made, that there are those who actually seem to believe the opposite, even if they beat around the bush a little and don't say it outright.

I'll admit, I was dismayed when I heard the name of the shooter, knowing that even if his faith had had nothing to do with his act -- which turned out not to be the case -- it would trigger another round of anti-Muslim hysteria.

There's no denying extremist Islam and its lunacies -- which Tony is right to equate with any other extremist religious pose -- but while nobody blames Christianity for McVeigh, it's all too common to attribute the views of al Qaeda and their ilk to every Muslim.

MovieMan0283 said...

I posted a long response which was deleted. Really frustrating, though it was admittedly a bit rambling. I'll return later and collect my thoughts. Thanks, both, for dropping in and sharing yours.

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