Fort Hood and the Media

by Latoya Peterson

It was a peaceful Sunday morning. Sunlight streamed in through the windows, the sheets were clean, the pillows were fluffy. I settled into bed and got nice and comfortable – that is, until my boyfriend decided it was time for the Sunday talk show circuit.

“[Hasan] was a radical jihadist!” blared out of the television. There went my quiet morning. Atlasien has a piece in the works about Fort Hood and some of the other major headlines. Until then, here’s a relatively sane round-up of what’s been going on:

Fort Hood and the invisibility of Arab Americans – Washington Post Short Stack Blog

Arab-American history is long and deep in the United States but Arab and Muslim Americans are not part of how we imagine who we are as Americans or how we perceive what makes up the American experience. Now, in the national discussion among commentators, politicians, and others in the aftermath of Ft. Hood, we can see the dangerous effects of Arab-American invisibility; in that vacuum, acts of a single individual, Major Hasan, cast a shadow of collective guilt on millions of Americans.

Timothy McVeigh warped the interpretations of the Constitution but we easily dismissed that without pondering whether there was inherent evil in the Constitution. The same cannot be said of how we view the relationship between the Koran and violent behavior – we unfairly blame individuals’ horrific acts on the teachings of the Koran. We ignore needed discussion of evident mental health issues, which were the focus when other service people have cracked and murdered their colleagues, and instead engage in lazy analysis about ethnic predilection of violence.

How can we move the conversation forward? If we knew more about the soldiers mentioned above and other Arab Americans, if their stories were familiar to us, if the origins of their names recognizable to us, how would the conversation be different?


Fort Hood Rampage: Don’t Let Tragedy Bring More Tragedy – Racewire

As we respond, we must categorically resist voices of suspicion and reaction so that this tragedy does not bring more tragedy. That the shooter’s name sounds Muslim will offer those who thrive on fear an opportunity to pounce. We reject the impulse to assume that the shooter’s name means anything about his motivations, that being Muslim or being perceived as such makes someone dangerous. A hideous crime was committed. Let’s make the attacks end there.

What Does Fort Hood Mean for American Muslims? - Wiretap

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.

Tunku Varadarajan: Off the Deep End - Sepia Mutiny

By now, many readers may have seen Tunku Varadarajan’s controversial column for Forbes from last week, “Going Muslim.” In it, Varadarajan coins a new term to describe Major Nidal Hasan’s rampage at Fort Hood two weeks ago. “Going Muslim” is Varadarajan’s variation of “going postal,” a phrase coined a few years ago, after a string of (non-Muslim) U.S. postal workers went on killing sprees. Here is how Varadarajan defines the term:

    This phrase would describe the turn of events where a seemingly integrated Muslim-American—a friendly donut vendor in New York, say, or an officer in the U.S. Army at Fort Hood—discards his apparent integration into American society and elects to vindicate his religion in an act of messianic violence against his fellow Americans.

The most irksome part of Varadarajan’s column for me was the following paragraph:

    The difference between “going postal,” in the conventional sense, and “going Muslim,” in the sense that I suggest, is that there would not necessarily be a psychological “snapping” point in the case of the imminently violent Muslim; instead, there could be a calculated discarding of camouflage—the camouflage of integration—in an act of revelatory catharsis. In spite of suggestions by some who know him that he had a history of “harassment” as a Muslim in the army, Maj. Hasan did not “snap” in the “postal” manner. He gave away his possessions on the morning of his day of murder. He even gave away—to a neighbor—a packet of frozen broccoli that he did not wish to see go to waste, even as he mapped in his mind the laying waste of lives at Fort Hood. His was a meticulous, even punctilious “departure.”

In fact, reports from Hasan’s colleagues strongly suggest a profile of a person who was borderline psychotic for several years, but who finally snapped around 2007. Yes, he gave away his broccoli on the day he went on a shooting spree. But that is in fact entirely in keeping with how psychotics behave.

What Varadarajan doesn’t realize is that the kind of paranoid argument he is making about immigrants in “camouflage” could very easily be used against any other immigrant group, including Hindus, as a pretext for mistrust or active discrimination.

Varadarajan also make a claim about “integration” into American society that is simply not supported by any facts. The diverse groups of immigrants who are Muslim have done just fine in terms of their economic performance, civil participation, etc. By coining this pernicious phrase, and by promoting an argument based self-evidently on bigotry, Varadarajan has shown us why we no longer need to take anything he says seriously.

(Image Credit: Mattox)