What Does Fort Hood Mean for American Muslims?

By Guest Columnist Nov 09, 2009

Written by M. Junaid Levesque-Alam. This post originally appeared on Wiretapmag.org.

By all accounts, on November 5, Army Psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 12 soldiers and one civilian at the Fort Hood Army base where he was stationed.

While investigators and reporters try to piece together the events and what prompted them, one fundamental aspect of the rampage is not in doubt: the alleged attacker was Muslim.

Writing shortly after the incident, the perceptive young American Muslim writer Wajahat Ali understandably cautioned against leaping to conclusions, writing:

"A cousin of Hasan, interviewed by reporters, has suggested an alternative motivation, not necessarily influenced by religious conviction. ‘He was mortified by the idea of having to deploy,’ said Nader Hasan. ‘He had people telling him on a daily basis the horrors they saw over there [in Iraq and Afghanistan].’"

But in the face of additional evidence that emerged today, it is not reasonable or logical to pretend that some great wall separated Hasan’s own sense of Muslim identity from his motive. Witnesses report that he shouted "God is great!" ahead of his rampage; family indicated that he was deeply upset over discrimination he said was visited upon him for being Muslim; and he openly expressed his hostility to the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan by describing it as a "war against Islam."

Of course, we do not yet know precisely what combination of factors led to the attack, and with more than 20,000 Muslims actively serving in the U.S. military, it would be absurd to mistake one man’s warped and skewed understanding of Islam and graft it onto every other Muslim.

But the scale and nature of this incident raises a number of uncomfortable questions about what usually goes unseen and remains unsaid outside of military circles.

A psychiatrist, Hasan heard the stories of soldiers returning from combat: did these accounts of killing, abuse and other horrors fuel his anger at American policy as the date of his own deployment to Afghanistan neared? What kind of harassment was Hasan subjected to on base for his Muslim identity? How widespread is enmity toward Muslims and Islam among the very soldiers who Gen. McChrystal is sending to fight alongside Muslims against Islamist extremists?

There are also other, equally pressing questions that directly affect young Muslims, such as me, who call this country our own. People will invariably ask why and whether Muslims are in the military — or perhaps even in the country at all — and what sort of measures will be taken to "monitor" this minority.

The Council of American Islamic Relations released a statement condemning the attack, labeling it "heinous" and contrary to Muslim principles. An assault upon one’s own unarmed and unsuspecting comrades is unquestionably cowardly and immoral, but I suspect that no number of official statements will stave off questions of Muslim "loyalty" to the state or disrupt the almost magnetic attraction between conservatives and anti-Islamic rhetoric.

The greatest and most pressing questions of all, however, are whether incidents like this one mark a growing trend of radicalization, isolation or anger among Muslims in the U.S. — and if so, why? A few years ago, it was commonplace to observe that Islamist terrorists were foreign-trained and foreign-born, but the Fort Hood attack was at least the fourth this year involving American-raised or American-born Muslims.

The status and station of American Muslims — who by and large have enjoyed prosperity and contribute to the country as doctors, scientists, translators, and yes, soldiers, — is a living rejoinder to fantastic rhetoric about a clash of civilizations or religions. But it is not a relationship that can be taken for granted or neglected by either side.