It’s too soon to draw many conclusions from the shooting yesterday at Fort Hood–I added a link, as though anybody would be like, “Um, what are you talking about?”–but I think there are a few things worth mentioning about Nidal Hasan’s shooting spree.
First of all, I’m surprised that the Washington Post included this paragraph about religious discrimination in their reporting:
“In an interview, his aunt, Noel Hasan of Falls Church, said he had endured name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith for years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and had sought for several years to be discharged from the military.”
And the New York Times included a similarly informative paragraph about Hasan’s view of American foreign policy:
“Fox News quoted a retired Army colonel, Terry Lee, as saying that Major Hasan, with whom he worked, had voiced hope that President Obama would pull American troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, had argued with military colleagues who supported the wars and had tried to prevent his own deployment.”
In trying to understand yesterday’s tragic events, it’s important to remember those two important facts, especially as reports that Hasan yelled “Allahu Akbar” begin to surface. That America’s continuing occupation of two Muslim countries, and its participation in the occupation of a third, creates anti-American sentiment in the world is undeniable. Whether Hasan’s actions were a direct response to our Imperial presence in the Middle East is not yet clear, but it is certainly a possibility.
That, of course, is not an attempt to justify or excuse his behavior, but it is counterproductive and simplistic to pretend that Hasan’s actions weren’t political. We’re best to understand it, at least partially, as such.
As Mark Ames brilliantly documents in his book Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion–From Reagan’s Workplaces to Clinton’s Schools and Beyond, whenever society is faced with a tragedy of this sort–one or two gunmen shooting people they know either at work or school–the reporting follows a very similar script. The shooter is often painted as a psychopaths who snapped and began killing co-workers or fellow students at random. Their actions are almost never seen as a response to outside forces, but rather as weakness (“He couldn’t handle it”) or lunacy (“He snapped”).
That’s why it’s important to highlight the politics, both personal and geopolitical, of Hasan’s situation. Those kinds of facts are often absent from the narrative that gets told about the shooter, and we’re left with a caricature of the crazy loner. Ames demonstrates that often times it is the case that these rage murderers are motivated by their environment, and that there are real grievances that the shooter felt he had to address. To borrow and slightly tweek Ames’ thesis: If we want to understand why this happened and how to prevent similar events in the future, we shouldn’t be profiling Hasan, we should be profiling the army.
Again, whether this particular situation fits in with Ames’ thesis is still unclear. As more facts arise about the yesterday’s events specifically and Nidal Hasan generally, we may get a clearer picture of his motives and goals, if he had any. I bring this all up only because once the narrative of the Muslim who screamed “Allahu Akbar” and wanted a woman who wore a hijab gets set in stone, it will be very difficult to dislodge.
More than anything else, the shooting at Fort Hood should be a reminder to all the blood-thirsty pundits who constantly call for unending war and occupation that there are consequences for their actions. They can ignore the death when it’s Iraqis and Afghans who are dying, and even when US troops die overseas we rarely see it. When 12 are murdered at an Army base, the consequences of war become far more immediate.
Though the specifics of yesterday could not have been predicted, in general nobody should be surprised that a soldier snapped. It happens far too often. And it will continue to happen for as long as America’s sick addiction to war continues.
UPDATE: Read Mark Ames’ always insightful opinions on the matter here.