The news that a gunman who killed 12 people and injured 31 at the Ft. Hood Army Base in Texas sent me scurrying in anxiety for more information. In addition to the tragic deaths of so many servicemen and women, my fear was that it would be someone who was not Anglo, and even worse, would be an immigrant, or the possibly the worst outcome in the post 9/11 climate-that the shooter was somehow connected to being Muslim.
Indeed, my worst fears were borne out in very little time: Malik Nidal Hasan was a Major in the U.S. Army, serving as a psychiatrist. Set to deploy soon to Iraq or Afghanistan, Maj. Hasan was very upset. His concern, it was initially was reported, was because he had patients who were soldiers returning from war who had suffered severe post-traumatic stress syndrome, and he feared having to face the same situation.
This initial statement should have been enough to force the nation to have a moment of reckoning with our collective conscience: the U.S. has sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to a war zone based on entirely false pretenses: The September 11 events, WMD's, Liberation, Democracy, Taliban, Women's Freedom. When these young soldiers return, if their physical selves are at all intact, their psychic selves are much less so. This is a--very late--moment where we should be asking ourselves how we can possibly live with our deliberate approval of the destruction of the psychic fabric-the deterioration of the emotional, physical, social, interpersonal capacities--of so many members of the next generation.
Instead, the nation's presses ran the tape on mass murderers: loner, psychically unhinged (after all, he was a psychiatrist), foreigner (child of Palestinian immigrants), outcast (pick your weapon: again, child of Palestinian immigrants. Or someone who wanted to escape his obligation to the army), and of course, initially, they (down)played the Muslim card-but they worked hard to include it in the framing of the tragedy. From Thursday afternoon, when it was first reported in the New York Times-to Friday morning, the story of Nadal Hasan went from "an Army Major who lists no religious affilation on his records," to "the child of Palestinian immigrants who was a devout Muslim." By Friday evening: he was someone who offered prayers at the local mosque, surreptitiously intercepted his neighbor's internet, and someone who was filmed on a "security camera" (somehow linking his presence to illegal activity). And what did CNN find on the camera? Someone who wore "traditional Muslim garb of a long white robe and head covering (clearly the camera was warranted). How could this happen in America? Someone who wore long Muslim robes was allowed to be the U.S. Army no less. And yet, no one with whom our sterling journalists spoke, could Nadal Hasan's religious affiliation to his actions.
As these intrepid reporters trolled the Net to find some other salacious detail, they discovered someone with the same name to have posted a note on a blog in defense of suicide bombings as heroic acts. So much for waiting until you have your facts.
To listen to the reports was like watching a deer be hunted. As Hasan moved to his targeted position between the cross-hairs, the media got ready to pull the trigger: Muslim! In less than 24 hours, NPR managed to find a reporter who spoke with another psychiatrist who mentioned "collective worries" about Hasan: he was lazy, he had been counseled numerous times, he was always late for work. And finally, the piéce de la resistance: he was supposed to give a medical lecture, and instead launched into a disquisition about Islam-which was described as "his own beliefs," rather than about Islam per se: he mentioned penalties that non-believers should suffer: decapitation, oil poured down one's throat. And another Muslim psychiatrist (the good Muslim, clearly) challenged him publicly as espousing rare views of Islam that other good Muslims don't share...
If we take seriously that these actions stem from Nadal Hasan's religious commitments, then what we should be doing (without condoning Nadal Hasan's actions) --what we are unable to do--is to have a conversation about what a difficult situation he faced: a man's nation is war with his religion. And he was required to go to war against some part of himself-not because Muslims are crazy, lazy, and irresponsible, but because that is how this war has been framed: "America is at war with Islam." Many of us get to avoid this contradiction because we have made decisions-or have means and resources--that allow us to step out of harm's way. Nadal Hasan did not.
Or: we could have been more responsible in our thinking: Maj. Nadal Hasan was facing an existential crisis of already knowing his fate: go to war and return as a shell of your former self. Be met in the way that an Army veteran in these times inevitably is: with an absence of gratitude, support services, or hope for the future. Live the rest of your life as a psychically traumatized human being, whose presence all too vividly-and embarrassingly-- reminds us of the huge costs a significant number of Americans must bear. And do so, while we in the United States avoid reckoning with our own consciences, our bad faith that put these men and women-Americans, soldiers, Muslims, Christians, Jews, mothers, sons, partners-into harm's way without a second thought of the tragic consequences that they-and their families, friends, neighbors-that we, will have to bear for decades to come.
That is the conversation we have yet to have.