Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hasan's Religion Irrelevant: A Story for Veteran's Day

Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 29 in a shooting at Ft. Hood on November 5 of this year. Everyone agrees on this fact. Why he did it is still up for speculation.

In his memorial speech Obama said, “It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know – no faith justifies these murderous and craven acts, no just and loving God looks upon them with favor.” Absolutely, I agree. But would Obama have said just that if the killer had been Christian? The main focus of the speculation on Hasan’s motives is religion. He is Palestinian-American and practices Islam.

Popular culture in the United States is not very friendly to Islam. According to Steve Deace of WHO radio (an AM station out of Iowa), Islam is irreconcilable with the American Dream, “every bit as much as communism or Nazism.” I wonder if Deace has ever met anyone Muslim. Or a communist, for that matter.

More than likely, Hasan’s religion wasn't the most relevant. He was one of “only 480 psychiatrists – military civilian and contractors – serving about 553,000 active-duty troops around the world” according to the Iraq Veterans Against the War. In their Veteran’s Day Letter to Obama they argue that Hasan simply broke. This is not so uncommon.

The weight of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) leads 6,000 veterans (out of the 25 million) to commit suicide every year, a statistic I got from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. The VA can document an additional 1,000 suicide attempts every month. Bearing the emotional burdens of soldiers who’d been deployed 4 or 5 times, and without an outlet to relieve himself, Hasan flipped.

My point is: no matter the reason, flipping out and murdering a bunch of people is never okay. Another bad thing is labeling an entire group of people as terrorists. Assuming that an entire racial/religious identity is in cahoots with whoever the US happens to be at war with is the same philosophy that led the US to put Japanese folks in internment camps during World War II.

We have a lot more rights than a lot of other countries. This Veteran’s Day, let’s take advantage of the things that make this country livable. I’ve got a couple of methods in mind:

We need to respect our Freedom of Religion and the diversity that inspires. We need to fight racism whenever we encounter it, no matter who says it or why.

We need to use our Freedom of Assembly to make Congress ashamed of the fact that almost a quarter of the homeless are veterans. We need to actually support our troops and demand that they get all of the benefits they’re entitled to.

PTSD is not a new issue, and neither is racism. If we plan on living in a nation where all people have freedom and are respected, we need to remember our parents and grandparents standing up for each other when it seemed most difficult. If we plan on living in a nation where all people are respected, we’re going to have to fight, like they did, to make sure that happens.


  1. To be fair, an eyewitness solder said on CNN today that Hasan screamed "Allahu akbar" as he opened fire, and recently leaked information revealed that he had been in frequent communication with a hardline anti-American cleric over the past two years. On top of his inappropriately-delivered "Muslims shouldn't have to serve overseas" presentation, I think it's hard to say that his specific religion was irrelevant to his actions. Perhaps, though, he fell back on that religion as a coping mechanism to deal with the military's culture of dissuading admission of mental weakness/illness.

    Interestingly, some military personel (one on Diane Rehm today; can't remember name) are positing that it is *because* Hasan is Muslim that he wasn't investigated more closely after expressing strong anti-involvement sentiments. According to the guest, since 9/11 military brass has been treading on eggshells with Muslim soldiers so as not to seem like they're singling them out or promoting intolerance of Muslim-Americans.

    Regardless of all that, the military culture is inherently fucked, especially when it comes to the treatment of veterans. Since 2001, more veterans and soldiers have died by suicide than operations in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Nuts!! And yet so many D and R conservatives continue to oppose GI and other veteran-support bills while paying lip service to empty slogans like "support our troops." Happy Veterans Day indeed!

  2. just a side note, Nidal Hasan was born in American, and is of Jordanian descent. The mainstream question on this incident are were his actions a terrorist attack based on religious extremism or did he just reach a breaking point because of racial prejudice and snap, killing 13 people.
    Either way his religion is important and focal it him killing in the name of Islam or killing because he was pushed over the edged by his peers because he was a Muslim.

  3. ..."let's take advantage of things that make this country livable." Well said.

    Just the fact that Hasan snapped and massacred 13 other people, regardless of his religious identification, should alert everyone in this country about the demon that haunts our troops - PTSD. We seem to do such a wonderful job of saluting our troops, throwing flowers at them, wasting bullets in gun salutes and saying goodbye to them.... But collectively as a country we seem to have never learned how to support them upon their return. What will it take for us to learn how to develop awareness to the suffering of others, and to set a care system in place? Should we ask Monsanto to begin injecting our GMO's with compassion?

    Nidal Hasan's identity as a Muslim soldier should not be viewed as unfortunate or tragic, but today it seems to be just that, because his identity as a Muslim is armless prey, down upon which religious extremists in our own country can swoop, all the while bashing and fuming against one out of many religious groups in the world that it simply does not understand.

  4. Colin -

    From the Associated Press 11/6: "Soldiers reported that the gunman shouted "Allahu Akbar!" — an Arabic phrase for "God is great!" — before opening fire Thursday, said Lt. Gen. Robert Cone, the base commander. He said officials had not confirmed Hasan made the comment."

    Aaron - you're right, he was bron in the states, but dude was definitely Palestinian.

    Becca - here here!