More on Attack at Fort Hood

By Rafia Zakaria, writing  for Daily Times

 It is also not the first incident of soldiers killing soldiers. In May of 2009, five soldiers were shot dead by Sergeant John Russell at Camp Liberty in Baghdad; in Sept 2008 a soldier shot himself to death after killing another soldier at Fort Hood itself.

On the afternoon of November 5, 2009 Major Nidal Hasan opened fire on people in a medical waiting area in Fort Hood, Texas. Twelve people were killed and nearly thirty-one were injured. Major Hasan was finally taken down by a female military police officer. At the time of writing this article, it was alleged that Major Hasan was still alive after having been wounded.

He worked as a psychiatrist with the Army and was rumoured to have been unhappy after learning that he was to be deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. According to military reports, a graduation ceremony was taking place a mere fifty meters away from the site of the shooting but luckily the doors of the auditorium were shut down

Fort Hood, Texas, is one of the largest military bases in the United States with more than 53,000 soldiers. According to reports, it has felt the brunt of repeated deployments and has been most affected by the United States’ increasing troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent reports published in the New York Times about the increasing rates of mental disorders in the United States military have pointed to an increase in the rate of suicides in the Army. Of all of the American military installations, Fort Hood has seen the largest number of suicides with nearly 75 suicides since 2003. As reports were still coming in Thursday night, the motivations of the soldier were unknown and speculation remained rife regarding why he had undertaken the dastardly act.

At the centre of speculation, especially on right wing American news channels, was the fact that the shooter was a Muslim whose parents were from Jordan. As soon as the shooter was identified has Major Nidal Hasan, the right wing media grabbed onto this detail. Fox News cornered an old acquaintance from a previous job Major Hassan had, who eagerly piped up stories about how Major Hasan had made comments to the effect that Muslims need to rise up to avenge themselves against their American aggressors. Further details were dredged up about how Major Hasan had been disgruntled about his impending deployment and had hired attorneys to help get him out of it. Other news channels tried to be more circumspect, pointing to the fact that Army officials were already calling this an “isolated” incident that at least in its early stages of investigation seemed to have been the result of some extreme form of workplace disgruntlement.

As all of this unfolded on American television screens this Thursday evening, it unleashed torrents of fear among many Muslims living in the United States. Within hours of reports of the shooting, national American Muslim groups had issued a volley of press releases denouncing the attack, and reiterating that it was not representative of either Islam or Muslims. The alacrity of their response is notable and represents the weight of lessons learned in the days since 9/11. Yet, it also represents the increasingly precarious position of Muslims in the United States eight years after the attacks on the twin towers. As two wars against predominantly Muslim countries rage on, there is little understanding among ordinary Americans of either Islam or Muslims beyond the versions presented in sensationalist news stories featuring the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Recent arrests of Najibullah Zazi and Tarek Mehanna, both arrested in the United States on terrorism charges of planning attacks on targets in the United States, have added to the anxiety faced by American Muslims that they will be profiled and discriminated against based on their religion.

The particular attack on Fort Hood is not expected to be found to be the result of any sort of terrorist plot. All current reports issued by the US Army indicate it to be the case of a disgruntled and possibly mentally disturbed person similar to the shooting incident at the University of Virginia and other workplace shootings. Even more likely is the attack being an indicator of the mental health costs being placed on members of the US armed forces as a result of protracted wars being fought in faraway lands with ever dwindling public support. Ironically the attack took place right during a meeting of US Army veterans in Washington DC asking the government for more funding for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is also not the first incident of soldiers killing soldiers. In May of 2009, five soldiers were shot dead by Sergeant John Russell at Camp Liberty in Baghdad; in Sept 2008 a soldier shot himself to death after killing another soldier at Fort Hood itself. The increase in incidents, points not only to the burdens of ongoing conflict but also the limited means of the military in maintaining morale during a time when a terrible recession and rising unemployment are not leaving soldiers with many financially viable options when they return home after combat. All of this, combined with the political uncertainty surrounding the objectives of the war and its ostensible timeline, demonstrates an aspect of the cost of war that is otherwise not tabulated into the dollar and sent amounts that are presented to Congress and the Senate.

Finally, however, the tense moments following the attack and the discovery of the attacker’s Muslim identity demonstrate how increasingly difficult the position of American Muslims is in a United States which has been drawn into protracted conflicts with Muslim countries. Even in a case like this, where the attacker’s religion was at best just a part of the derangement that led him to kill with such impunity; it could once again be presented as the single most important motivating factor. If so, it should remind American Muslims yet again, the need to be politically organised and locally visible in their communities so that they are recognised as patriotic and peace loving American citizens who wholeheartedly condemn the tragedy.

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