The story of the day is one of madness, for what other word can describe the actions of a man who guns down dozens of innocent people in a purposeless act of rebellion? Major Nidal Malik Hasan killed at least 12 of his fellow soldiers today at Fort Hood and no one really knows why.
Perhaps he was, as reported, fearful and resentful about an upcoming deployment to Iraq. Apparently Hasan’s loathing of the Army’s mission in that country was so great that he hired an attorney to help him get out of the military.
Frankly that explanation doesn’t pass muster. Anyone who works, in any line of business, has to do things that he or she doesn’t want to do, often for months at a time and under difficult circumstances. Although the stresses of most of our daily 8-to-5s can’t compare to those experienced by our deployed military personnel, the comparison is still a useful tool.
Considering it’s unlikely that a trained psychologist like Hasan would be put into a front-line situation, it seems that he would have had relatively little to fear in terms of his personal safety had he been sent overseas.
What then could Hasan’s motive been in attacking his fellow soldiers? Josh Marshall jumped in early on this point, noting that Hasan’s heritage contains Islamic elements. Scott McCabe confirms this assertion, writing:
Hasan attended the Muslim center for about six years and seemed like a good person, [Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring President Ishtiaq] Chughtai said.
Hasan exhibited a dark side at work, however, as noted while he was an intern at Walter Reed:
Hasan had some “difficulties” that required counseling and extra supervision, said Dr. Thomas Grieger, who was the training director at the time.
Grieger said privacy laws prevented him from going into details but noted that the problems had to do with Hasan’s interactions with patients.
Moreover, Hasan made anti-American, pro-Muslim statements to officers at Fort Hood, including now-retired Colonel Terry Lee:
“He was making outlandish comments condemning our foreign policy and claimed Muslims had the right to rise up and attack Americans,” Col Lee told Fox News.
“He said Muslims should stand up and fight the aggressor and that we should not be in the war in the first place.” He said that Maj Hasan said he was “happy” when a US soldier was killed in an attack on a military recruitment centre in Arkansas in June. An American convert to Islam was accused of the shootings.
Col Lee alleged that other officers had told him that Maj Hasan had said “maybe people should strap bombs on themselves and go to Time Square” in New York.
As Marshall says, things may get very dark indeed with regard to Hasan’s true motives if Lee’s assertions about Hasan’s Muslim sympathies prove true. Previous cases indicate that this is a line of questioning that should be scrupulously followed up on.
For if Hasan’s fear of being deployed to a war zone is, as I believe, insufficient to explain his cowardly, murderous actions, his motivations must have come from a deeply rooted personal sense of vengeance. While it is premature to conclude that Hasan’s religious and social beliefs caused him to commit mass murder, it’s nevertheless obvious that this should be a primary line of inquiry, wherever it leads on the path to the heart of darkness.
Darker still are the larger questions about whether followers of Islam can truly belong in a democratic society. Millions do fit in successfully, just as Nidal Hasan did, to all appearances, prior to today’s shooting spree.
There is a tension between religion and government in democratic societies. Despite founding the first modern democracy here in the United States, American Christians feel it. I suspect that Muslims feel it more keenly yet what with the demanding, legalistic nature of their path to salvation.
Can that tension be resolved to the benefit of democratic society? Or is Islam inherently detrimental to democracy? This is the darkest question of all: Must Islam always seek to undermine secular government in order to gain power, as it has in Turkey and, to a lesser extent to-date, in many European countries?
Certainly it has in the past and still does in the present. But must it? If the answer is Yes, that democracy and Islam are oil and water, never mixing, always distinct, constantly fighting, then hard times and hard choices lie ahead for the citizens of western democracies.
A man can only serve on master. One wonders what Nidal Hasan served.