Fort Hood tragedy seen through personal political lenses

Was alleged Fort Hood attacker Nidal Malik Hasan a ‘radical Muslim terrorist,’ or had he been experiencing ‘Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder’?

David Guttenfelder/AP
A flag flies at half-staff to honor Fort Hood victims at a military base in Afghanistan.

The tragic shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, shouldn’t have a political dimension to it. Yet within hours it was being portrayed that way.

From one side, the alleged shooter -- Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army psychiatrist -- is a victim of "Pre-traumatic Stress Disorder" who flipped out because as a doctor treating combat veterans he had to deal with the horrors of an unjust war. From the other side, he’s a Muslim terrorist, an Arab (though born in the United States) plotting and carrying out his own murderous jihad.

In his radio address Saturday, President Obama urged Americans to see beyond the ethnicity of the alleged attacker. Speaking of those serving in the US military, he said:

“They are descendants of immigrants, and immigrants themselves. They reflect the diversity that makes this America. But what they share is patriotism like no other. What they share is a commitment to country that has been tested and proved worthy. What they share is the same unflinching courage, unblinking compassion and uncommon camaraderie that the soldiers and civilians of Fort Hood showed America and showed the world.”

But WorldNetDaily was quick to trumpet a radical Islamic organization in England hailing Maj. Hasan as “an officer and a gentleman.”

And the conservative Web site even charged that Hasan had played an “advisory role in President Barack Obama's transition into the White House” thinly based on Hasan’s having attended an event at George Washington University at which corporate executives, academic researchers, and officials from previous administrations discussed homeland security.

Others on the right have suggested that Muslim US military officers might need “special debriefings” or “special screenings.”

In a piece headlined “The massacre at Fort Hood and Muslim soldiers with attitude,” conservative columnist Michelle Malkin writes: “I’ve said it many times over the years and it bears repeating again as cable TV talking heads ask in bewilderment how all the red flags Hasan raised could have been ignored: Political correctness is the handmaiden of terror.”

Meanwhile, the debate rages over whether Hasan -- aside from his religion, ethnicity, and what he’s reported to have said about two US wars in Muslim countries -- himself was a victim of combat-related stress. Even though he’d never been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan himself, presumably as an Army psychiatrist he would have treated and counseled many combat veterans physically broken and mentally battered by war.

“Imagine every day trying to help young men and women somehow put their lives back together despite their night terrors, flashbacks, and chronic sleeplessness,” writes psychologist and full-time therapist Todd Essig. “While you reach out to help, they mistrust your every move and respond with hair-trigger tempers, not to mention all the physical symptoms, alienation, and hopelessness. Surrounded by thoughts of suicide -- and homicide -- you try and keep faith with the honor and challenge of providing care.”

On a New York Times blog site for war veterans, Vietnam vet and former Marine Joseph A. Kinney writes:

“Could it be that the psychiatrist we want to hate saw the unbearable suffering of warriors he was tasked to treat? Could it be that he identified with the suffering of those he treated at Walter Reed Army Hospital? Did he become one of us, another soul tortured by war’s anguish? I cannot forgive this man who betrayed us but I must try and understand him nonetheless.”

Many of the online comments to Mr. Kinney’s blog post expressed outrage that Hasan’s alleged attack should be seen this way. One person wrote: “You want to understand him? Here’s the explanation: at some point, he became a radical Muslim terrorist. Period. Whether that was brought on by PTSD is irrelevant….”

On Huffington Post, Kamran Pasha describes his conversation with another Muslim soldier at Fort Hood, a 22-year Army man and Iraq combat veteran who recently converted to Islam. This soldier (referred to only as “Richard”) knew Hasan. He told Mr. Pasha (a Hollywood filmmaker and the author of “Mother of the Believers,” a novel on the birth of Islam) that he now believes Hasan’s alleged murderous act was motivated both by religious radicalism as well as having worked in a situation where combat stress was always present.

As more becomes known about what happened at Fort Hood -- and, most importantly, why -- many Americans may be less likely to see the tragedy in the context of their own opinions about the war and those of all backgrounds called to fight it.

See also:

War comes fiercely home: Blow by blow of Fort Hood rampage


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