The Mysterious Motives Of Nidal Malik Hasan, Ft. Hood Shooter
United States Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the troubled military psychiatrist who killed a dozen fellow soldiers and one civilian at Ft. Hood, Texas on November 5, continues to spark heated discussion in the media and the blogosphere. Hasan is a Muslim and a US-born child of Palestinian parents, and in his professional capacity he “counselled soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder”. So why, exactly, did Hasan choose to turn Ft. Hood into a shooting gallery? Was he striking a jihadist blow at one of the military nerve centres of the Great Satan, or did he somehow snap under the stresses of his profession?
Since Hasan is alive and capable of talking, although reportedly paralysed, there’s always the possibility that he’ll decide to explain himself. In the meantime, however, pundits have been having a field day. Particularly in the immediate wake of the massacre, it was easy to find articles that fastidiously breezed over any possible Islamic motivations but went on at great length about the horrors of battlefield trauma. A particularly fine specimen in the New York Times even flirted with the idea that Achilles “displayed a form of traumatic stress” outside the walls of Troy. Presumably it was a good thing for the Greeks that there was no psychiatrist on hand to treat Achilles, or he (the psychiatrist, not Achilles himself) would have gone berserk and probably bumped off half the army as they slept.
However, reports quickly emerged that Hasan had yelled “Allahu Akbar” at the beginning of the massacre, and that he had been known to espouse a concept of Islam with a hard, political edge that led him to sympathise with America’s enemies in Iraq and Afghanistan. This lent ammunition to pieces that criticised the initial batch of trauma-mongering articles for being naïve and ignoring the dangers of militant Islam in a misguided spirit of multicultural sensitivity. Charles Krauthammer described Hasan lecturing doctors and students about the punishments that would be visited on infidels in the afterlife, and then went on to write:
Nor was this the only incident. “The psychiatrist,” reported Zwerdling, “said that he was the kind of guy who the staff actually stood around in the hallway saying: Do you think he’s a terrorist, or is he just weird?”
Was anything done about this potential danger? Of course not. Who wants to be accused of Islamophobia and prejudice against a colleague’s religion?
Of course the “potential danger” is not Islam per se, but rather specific interpretations of Islam that have violent, anti-Western overtones (see this chilling, hilarious piece in the Independent for abundant insights into this mindset). Some of the trauma-mongers would probably argue that, even if this is a fair description of Hasan’s religious views, he might not have put them into murderous operation if he hadn’t been under psychological stress. Fair enough, but the other side of the coin is that he might have responded to the stresses very differently if he had been an atheist, a calmer variety of Muslim, or even a militant Christian with equally intense but differently directed religious obsessions.
Freakish incidents like the one at Ft. Hood don’t really change anything by themselves, but they can certainly concentrate minds. It’s not a bad time to ask whether something similar might happen in Canada – or, to put it more bluntly, whether we should be worried that there are fanatical Muslims lurking on our military bases, possibly capable of being driven to jihad-flavoured violence by the stresses that soldiers routinely experience.
As a starting point, it’s worth remembering that only a small percentage of our armed forces is Muslim, as someone called Cmdr. Denise LaViolette told the CBC in 2006:
She said there are only 648 people in the regular Canadian Forces from predominantly Muslim countries, out of a total roster of 62,500. Using those figures, the Muslim ratio is only about one per cent.
Obviously, not everyone from a predominantly Muslim country will be a Muslim; equally, some Muslims in our armed forces will come from non-Muslim countries, including Canada itself. Perhaps, on balance, “about one per cent” is about right. So what percentage of that one per cent are likely to be violent fanatics? And is it worth subjecting Muslim personnel, and new Muslim recruits, to special scrutiny in order to weed them out? I would suggest that the answers are “vanishingly small” and “probably not”, respectively, but I would also argue that it should be possible to discuss the issue in exactly these terms without being muzzled by the vengeful forces of political correctness. What do you think?