Saturday, November 07, 2009

Religion as a Factor in the Fort Hood Shootings

I feel that it’s appropriate for someone to mention the Fort Hood shootings. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and injured 30 others during a shooting spree on Thursday. What makes this incident so disturbing is that he was a trained psychiatrist and an Army major. Dr. Hasan was not only well-educated but also highly integrated into the institutions of the military. Taking up arms against fellow soldiers would be unthinkable for a person of Hasan’s status unless he felt an extreme disconnection between himself and his comrades. As the reports about Hasan’s background keep filtering in, it is becoming increasingly apparent that this was in fact the case.

Most major media outlets have reported that Hasan was a Muslim who felt increasingly persecuted in the military because of his religion. He attended prayers at least once a day, seven days a week, and acquaintances at both Fort Hood and Walter Reed Medical Center (where he worked previously) have said that he never really fit in. Several papers have also reported that he had expressed sympathy for suicide bombers and loathed the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan for being unjustified. Also, relatives close to Dr. Hasan said that he was terrified of getting deployed to Afghanistan at the end of November. You can read more about his background here.

There is a lot of speculation about Dr. Hasan’s motives. The prominent theory right now is that his time working with sufferers of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder amplified his fear of deployment. Finding out that he was being sent to Afghanistan finally pushed him over the edge.

However, the main policy relevant implication of this event is the issue of Muslims in the military. The main question that will come out of all of this is whether or not a Muslim soldier can perform his role in the armed services as well as a soldier of some other confession. This question is only relevant because the ethos of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan is ending Islamic extremism. If the US were involved in a counter-insurgency in East Asia, Dr. Hasan’s religious beliefs would not be very relevant. In that case, he would just be a maniac.

So is Dr. Hasan an extremist or just a maniac? Did Dr. Hasan’s extremism preceded his isolation, or did his isolation pushed him to extremes. For what it is worth, I think that his feelings of isolation most likely came first. I doubt that he would have willingly joined the military if he was so passionately against the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. His social isolation, combined with the stress of working with PTSD sufferers and feelings of persecution, most likely pushed him close to the edge, and his deployment to Afghanistan was enough to push him over it.

Soldiers need to maintain a strong sense of national identity. As long as a soldier identifies himself as an American citizen before he identifies himself as a member of a confession, there really is no conflict of interest between his religion and his country because his country will always come first. Regardless, Dr. Hasan’s problem was not that he was a muslim; Islamic extremism was just a vector though which he channeled his frustration and anger.

As more information becomes available, the reason for Dr. Hasan’s rampage may become more apparent. I look forward to other people’s opinions on the matter.

1 comment:

General Franklin Kirby said...

A lot of what I've been reading suggests that Hasan was one of the many military personnel suffering from combat-related psychological problems. This line of reasoning suggests that as an overworked army psychologist, his own personal demons were magnified by the accounts of those he was evaluating. Bob Herbert has a relevant editorial here:

I'll never accept that any individual with mental problems is in any way driven or compelled to carry out a murder spree. That is, I think a combination of factors led to Hasan's attack. But this rationale needs to be explored further, because it would be a serious domestic security issue if ex-military personnel are liable to be unstable enough to take their frustrations out on Americans at large.