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Looking for answers amidst the Fort Hood tragedy

Flags fluttered at half staff this weekend to commemorate the violent and unprecedented shooting at Fort Hood, which ended with 13 dead soldiers and 29 wounded at the American military base in Texas.

Grief mingled with bitterness, adding to the perplexity of a public already leery of recent military activities. But the developing investigation of the Fort Hood shooting does little to abate the mistrust many Americans feel. If anything, it’s pulling the curtain on the incongruous system to which we entrust our national security.

An American born citizen of Palestinian heritage, 39 year-old Major Nidal Malik Hasan, transferred to Fort Hood last July from Walter Reed Memorial hospital where he had worked as a psychiatrist for six years.  

Military records indicate, however, that Hasan fell far short of the exemplary model psychiatrist. NPR News disclosed that, while stationed at Walter Reed Memorial, Hasan was characteristically late and distracted in his work. Reports suggest that he even tried to convert one of his patients to Islam, telling him that his religion would “save him”.   

Relatives described him as a quiet and devout Muslim, who had become increasingly disillusioned with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wanted his ticket out of the service.  

They reported that fellow soldiers had often harassed Hasan on account of his ethnicity and religion. In the August following the 9/11 attacks, Hasan’s car was keyed and a bumper sticker reading, “Allah is Love,” was torn off, according to CNN. But to all appearances, Hasan was no extremist; no more than the millions of other average Muslims around the world. Yet, the circumstances surrounding the crime could tempt many distraught Americans to believe otherwise.   

Media sources reveal that Hasan worshipped at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va. in 2001. The mosque was led at that time by Anwar al-Aulaqi, an imam who is now thought to have aided Al-Quaeda in the Sept. 11 attacks. Two of the 9/11 hijackers emerged from under al-Aulaqi’s tutelage, having attended his lectures both at mosques in California and Falls Church. Despite the increasing scrutiny of government intelligence, al-Aulaqi managed to flee the country in 2002. 

The depth of al-Aulaqi’s influence on Hasan, at this moment, is unclear. Several days after the attack, al-Aulaqi lauded Hasan on his website, writing “the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.” 

Soldiers who witnessed the shooting told reporters of the Associated Press that Hasan shouted “Allah Akbar” (translating to “Allah is the greatest”) as he blazed through the base’s military processing center with a powerful semi-automatic handgun. 

Military and government officials have undertaken a study of Hasan’s character, but would like to avoid any hasty conclusions about his motives. The operating hypothesis remains that Hasan acted alone in the attack and without any terrorist connections.  

The general Muslim community, including the one at Dar al-Hijrah, hastily condemned the violence of last week. Extremist groups were delighted by it, praising Hasan as a hero. Despite the predictability of the fundamentalist response, it goads a tender spot in many Americans, and may provoke more anti-Muslim sentiment. 

Army Chief of Staff General George Casey told CNN on Sunday that focusing on Hasan’s Muslim background could “heighten the backlash” against other Muslims in the army – an issue which has already complicated both the solidarity and success of the armed forces in the Middle East. 

NPR’s story claimed that FBI officials learned of Hasan’s connection to the extremist-minded al-Aulaqi as early as 2008, but did nothing. They explained that thousands of similar reports are filed each year. Few are compelling enough to support further inquiry. 

The Fort Hood shooting has resurrected old questions about the scrupulousness of military intelligence, which the army would probably have liked to remain unearthed.  

Could this information have helped army officials deter Hasan from his violent meltdown at Fort Hood? Or was it a crime of passion, coming from a man deeply conflicted between the duty to his faith and country?  

Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation: If military intelligence suspected Hasan of former terrorist ties, they should have questioned him; if he appeared distraught or confused, he should have been helped.  

Hasan’s experience of cultural estrangement reveals just another kink in the crumbling chain of the military.

In Amherst, 1800 miles away, PVTA buses whir by, plastered with ads for ROTC, which beckon young men and women under the tarpaulin of an “Army of One.” It’s a rickety claim, indeed, and one which was just barely held up by the base of mutual terror and some training last Thursday at Fort Hood.

Flags fluttered at half staff this weekend to commemorate the violent and unprecedented shooting at Fort Hood, which ended with 13 dead soldiers and 29 wounded at the American military base in Texas.

Grief mingled with bitterness, adding to the perplexity of a public already leery of recent military activities. But the developing investigation of the Fort Hood shooting does little to abate the mistrust many Americans feel. If anything, it’s pulling the curtain on the incongruous system to which we entrust our national security.

An American born citizen of Palestinian heritage, 39 year-old Major Nidal Malik Hasan, transferred to Fort Hood last July from Walter Reed Memorial hospital where he had worked as a psychiatrist for six years.  

Military records indicate, however, that Hasan fell far short of the exemplary model psychiatrist. NPR News disclosed that, while stationed at Walter Reed Memorial, Hasan was characteristically late and distracted in his work. Reports suggest that he even tried to convert one of his patients to Islam, telling him that his religion would “save him”.   

Relatives described him as a quiet and devout Muslim, who had become increasingly disillusioned with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wanted his ticket out of the service.  

They reported that fellow soldiers had often harassed Hasan on account of his ethnicity and religion. In the August following the 9/11 attacks, Hasan’s car was keyed and a bumper sticker reading, “Allah is Love,” was torn off, according to CNN. But to all appearances, Hasan was no extremist; no more than the millions of other average Muslims around the world. Yet, the circumstances surrounding the crime could tempt many distraught Americans to believe otherwise.   

Media sources reveal that Hasan worshipped at the Dar al-Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va. in 2001. The mosque was led at that time by Anwar al-Aulaqi, an imam who is now thought to have aided Al-Quaeda in the Sept. 11 attacks. Two of the 9/11 hijackers emerged from under al-Aulaqi’s tutelage, having attended his lectures both at mosques in California and Falls Church. Despite the increasing scrutiny of government intelligence, al-Aulaqi managed to flee the country in 2002. 

The depth of al-Aulaqi’s influence on Hasan, at this moment, is unclear. Several days after the attack, al-Aulaqi lauded Hasan on his website, writing “the only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the U.S. Army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal.” 

Soldiers who witnessed the shooting told reporters of the Associated Press that Hasan shouted “Allah Akbar” (translating to “Allah is the greatest”) as he blazed through the base’s military processing center with a powerful semi-automatic handgun. 

Military and government officials have undertaken a study of Hasan’s character, but would like to avoid any hasty conclusions about his motives. The operating hypothesis remains that Hasan acted alone in the attack and without any terrorist connections.  

The general Muslim community, including the one at Dar al-Hijrah, hastily condemned the violence of last week. Extremist groups were delighted by it, praising Hasan as a hero. Despite the predictability of the fundamentalist response, it goads a tender spot in many Americans, and may provoke more anti-Muslim sentiment. 

Army Chief of Staff General George Casey told CNN on Sunday that focusing on Hasan’s Muslim background could “heighten the backlash” against other Muslims in the army – an issue which has already complicated both the solidarity and success of the armed forces in the Middle East. 

NPR’s story claimed that FBI officials learned of Hasan’s connection to the extremist-minded al-Aulaqi as early as 2008, but did nothing. They explained that thousands of similar reports are filed each year. Few are compelling enough to support further inquiry. 

The Fort Hood shooting has resurrected old questions about the scrupulousness of military intelligence, which the army would probably have liked to remain unearthed.  

Could this information have helped army officials deter Hasan from his violent meltdown at Fort Hood? Or was it a crime of passion, coming from a man deeply conflicted between the duty to his faith and country?  

Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation: If military intelligence suspected Hasan of former terrorist ties, they should have questioned him; if he appeared distraught or confused, he should have been helped.  

Hasan’s experience of cultural estrangement reveals just another kink in the crumbling chain of the military.

In Amherst, 1800 miles away, PVTA buses whir by, plastered with ads for ROTC, which beckon young men and women under the tarpaulin of an “Army of One.” It’s a rickety claim, indeed, and one which was just barely held up by the base of mutual terror and some training last Thursday at Fort Hood.  

Evan Haddad is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at ehadded@student.umass.edu.

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