Friday, November 6, 2009

Some thoughts about the Fort Hood attack

It's hard to know what to write about yesterday's terrible massacre at Ft. Hood. Details are still emerging, and it may be a while to piece together just what the suspect's motives were in planning and carrying out this terrible attack on his fellow soldiers.

But I don't think it's helpful to ignore the role that Nidal Malik Hasan's religion may have played in his actions. I don't think it's helpful to pretend that Islam is the only explanation we need for his actions, either--but pretending that his Islamic faith had nothing to do with what happened yesterday is just as erroneous.

Consider this, from an AP report:
But, more recently, federal agents grew suspicious.

At least six months ago, Hasan came to the attention of law enforcement officials because of Internet postings about suicide bombings and other threats, including posts that equated suicide bombers to soldiers who throw themselves on a grenade to save the lives of their comrades.

They had not confirmed Hasan is the author of the posting, and a formal investigation had not been opened before the shooting, said law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the case.

Federal authorities seized Hasan's computer Friday during a search of his apartment in Killeen, Texas, said a U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.

His anger was noted by a classmate, who said Hasan "viewed the war against terror" as a "war against Islam."

Dr. Val Finnell, a classmate of Hasan's at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, attended a master's in public health program in 2007-2008. Finnell says he got to know Hasan because the group of public health students took an environmental health class together. At the end of the class, everyone had to give a presentation. Classmates wrote on topics such as dry cleaning chemicals and mold in homes, but Finnell said Hasan chose the war against terror. Finnell described Hasan as a "vociferous opponent" of the terror war. Finnell said Hasan told classmates he was "a Muslim first and an American second."

A lot of questions are being asked today, and chief among them is this one: how was all of this missed? How did the Army overlook Hasan's statements regarding the war on terror?

One answer I've seen floating around is that Hasan wasn't alone in objecting to the war on terror, that plenty of Christian soldiers, atheist soldiers, etc. objected to the war, and especially if they were scheduled to be deployed, that there's essentially no difference between a Muslim objecting to the war on terror and anyone else objecting to it.

This is not a surprising opinion, originating as it does from the secular viewpoint that all religions are alike, that all are equally true or equally false, and that the adherents of one religion will generally behave just like the adherents of another. If Hasan "snapped" and shot his fellow soldiers, goes the argument, it was just the result of stress, or of incipient mental illness, or of some equally physical or emotional phenomenon. His Islamic faith had no more to do with his alleged actions than Jason Rodriguez's religious beliefs (if any) did with Rodriguez' deadly office shooting.

But I think it takes a certain amount of willful blindness to believe that in terms of its views about violence, especially violence toward non-believers, Islam is the same as Christianity. To the extent that many modern followers of Islam have repudiated violence, they have arguably done so in spite of their religion's teachings and history, not because of them. For Christianity the truth is the exact opposite: Christians were taught from the beginning to turn the other cheek, and only engaged in unjust violence against their Church's teachings. And, yes, many did so, sadly.

Still, the response of Christianity to violence isn't supposed to be more violence. Our Lord's warning about living and dying by the sword hasn't been changed to a more bellicose stance. A much better Christian response to violence can be read here.

It doesn't behoove us as Christians to pretend that Islam is an irrelevant footnote to yesterday's attacks; but neither does it behoove us to employ immoderate speech calling for, say, the internment of all Muslims as the proper response to what happened. We still have a lot to learn about the motivations of Nidal Malik Hasan, which led to yesterday's horror. In the meantime, the most proper response is to pray for the victims, both deceased and wounded, for the families and loved ones of all involved, and for all who have been impacted by this terrible act of violence.


Anonymous said...

When an individual is crazy, anything could be a reason for flipping out. Though certain situations set a scene for the craziness to 'come out', this incident should be taken, perhaps, as an individual's role in self-initiated massacre.

Firsthand, I know some of the
'special' issues of socially accepted as well as other immigrants that 'appear' clearly different from prevailing cultural population, and ascribed with prejudicial anti-immigration attitudes even in efforts to assimilate.

So, the question then becomes, at what certain level can a certain
'collective conscience' be assessed?

What role of society as a whole, or social organizations such as a Church community, and individuals (such as a son of immigrants) play in supporting terrorist guerillas, or overt military actions, such as the El Salvadoran government play in unrest in Central American unrest, and religious persecutions
e.g. murders of nuns, priests for example, three nuns slain in El Salvador in 1980, or recent wars in Ireland or Serbia.

Baron Korf said...

He had divided loyalties, one to his country and one to his faith. When the two came to a head, he chose a side and fought his enemy. This was not terrorizism, but defection and an act of war.

In the inverse situation, say me in the Saudi Army fighting against a Catholic nation, I can see why I could not fight on their behalf (no idea why I'd be in Saudi in the first place though) and I would defect as well. Though the difference comes in with the armed response. I would join the opposing army and fight under the precepts of Just War. One of those precepts is a chance of winning. He had no hope of winning that fight, so the lives that he took were for his own sake.

Anonymous said...

Constant close proximity to trauma changes brain pathophysiology. Some people are inoculated to effects of moral dilemmas by inherent ability in self-analysis to choose the positive, life-giving alternatives. Some of us that are mentally ill lack self-introspective skills, step out of our humanity and merely 'react' to what seems to be happening. Is this to say that criminality is negated? Hardly. Many might say society would've been 'better off' had the gun turned selfward prior to the rampage. We are not God. But, to suggest there was complex political agenda when insanity is involved is to give the accursed an 'out' and society an axe to grind.