As I’m sure almost everyone reading this knows by now, yesterday, US Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army pyschatrist, murdered a number of people on the Ft. Hood Army Base. It sounds right now that there are 13 people killed and 31 wounded, but that number’s been a bit in flux over the last 24 hours. Initially, they said three gunmen, then one gunman with two accomplices, then two gun men; we heard that Major Hasan was killed, but now it turns out he’s alive and in stable condition. I wanted to discuss (in part I) what I thought was misleading information by the media in their ridiculous attempt to make sure no one thought anything bad of Islam; and in part II, what our response should be, with a special emphasis on what we ought to be praying for.
I. Media Coverage of Maj. Hasan’s Motives
The media immediately began tripping over itself in its rush to tell us that it wasn’t what it looked like. Sure, it was an American-born Muslim was a Muslim-sounding name killing US troops who were going to deploy in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it couldn’t have been because he was Muslim! Don’t get me wrong: I fully acknowledge there was no reason that his religion had to be the motivating factor. When I heard that there was a shooting, my first thought was that it might have been a maladjusted returning soldier. There have been too many of those cases in the past. But then more details started to emerge, like that Maj. Hood had never been to combat. So this being a religiously-motivated attack seemed at least plausible.
So sure, news reports saying that this was an Islamist attack on US troops would be premature, to say the least. But what about news reports proclaiming that it wasn’t? Those were both premature and false. And what’s worse, the false conclusions weren’t even the result of the misreading the available evidence, but because of a simple desire for this not to have been religiously-motivated.
Coverage that this wasn’t religiously-motivated took one of two forms. The first was a tacit approach: do a segment analyzing possible motives and just fail to mention religion. Perhaps even omit reference to Nidal Malik Hasan’s name. The problem with this approach was that it was stupid. It didn’t have to be, of course, but it was. It was stupid because the only other motives they could think of were stupid. These included:
- Hood was afraid of his upcoming deployment to Iraq. Really? Because he didn’t seem afraid of combat when he started murdering US soldiers. And if he really didn’t want to go to Iraq, he could have easily tendered his resignation.
- Hood has PTSD. The best theory, but the most quickly dismissed, because Hood had never served in a combat zone of any kind. He wasn’t even born anywhere remotely dangerous, coming from a part of the D.C. area safer than some of the places I’ve lived around here.
- Hood has second-hand PTSD. This is the stupid cousin of the last argument. Both the Guardian and the New York Times ran with some version of this idea for a while, based on the notion that Maj. Hood treated returning vets who did have PTSD. But of course, PTSD isn’t contagious, second-hand PTSD isn’t a recognized disorder of any sort, and the more you try to imagine a scenario involving it, the dumber it gets.
- Hood was mocked for being a Muslim. This one’s the best of the four that made it through the initial cloud of confusion, but it was still a bit of a stretch given the available evidence.
- Hood killed because he’s an American.
Christopher Howse of the Telegraph took the cake for the most absurd and offensive coverage, claiming right away that this was “not a Muslim massacre but a very American crime.” Apparently, the American thing to do is to shoot up a bunch of US soldiers. After attacking the US press for thinking his being Muslim might be somehow related to his murdering soldiers on their way to fight Muslim insurgents (he literally asked, “Will Americans with Muslim names be rounded up in the United States as Americans with Japanese names were after Pearl Harbor?” to which readers quickly pointed out that the much larger 9/11 attacks didn’t cause anything remotely nearing that reaction). He then says we wouldn’t be asking this if the attacker was Jewish. Of course, we would, if it were the victims were, say, Muslims worshipping in Jerusalem. Then, the shooter’s Judaism might be directly relevant as, say, a motive.
Finally, he says, “if we are to be ethnic about all this, one cannot help noticing that gun massacres in schools and public institutions seem to be a notable product of the modern American psyche.” But of course, Islam’s a religion, not an ethnicity, and American is a nationality, not an ethnicity. So no one’s getting “ethnic” on either side. But more fundamentally, at least thos who postulated that Hasan might be motivated by Islam had a motive: that perhaps someone who was Islamic might feel sympathy for those who the US was fighting; Howse just has prejudice against Americans as being violent people. He’s not claiming American-ness as a motive, just that it figures, because he’s American, and thus has our “psyche.” That conclusion is arguably more offensive than anything the “other side” had said.
Howse’s co-worker James Delingpole was far more credible, even poking a bit of fun at the expense of the PC-obsessed media in a post called “Hmm. Can’t imagine what Major Malik Nadal Hasan’s motivation could have been,” showing the absurdity of the media theories I discussed above.
So what were Maj. Hasan’s actual motives? Well, he shouted “Allah Akhbar” before his massacre. And oh yeah, in a post under his own name wrote “If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory” in a post praising Kamikazee pilots, and saying that these actions were fine within Islam. Shockingly, the Hasan’s behavior had landed him on the FBI’s radar as early as 6 months ago. Tom Kenniff, an Army JAG offier, admitted in a Washington Post-hosted discussion that this was a “very scary” oversight. So yeah, Maj. Hasan murdered all of those US soldiers for the exact reason that everyone unencumbered by self-imposed blinders quietly suspected, and as folks like James Delingpole had the guts to bring up.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean that Islam is a religion of violence, or that all Muslims are violent, nor does it mean that every act of violence by a Muslim is motivated by Islam. It’s even possible that some of those attacking US troops abroad are motivated by nationalism, not religion. It’s worth remembering (in a somewhat unrelated example) that the group Black September, which kidnapped the Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics, was lead by a self-proclaimed Christian whose motivation was nationalism.
II. What Should Our Response Be?
Honesty. People who fall back on the “Muslim=violent” argument are oversimplifying the issue and slurring a lot of honest people’s names. But those who react against the stereotype by pretending that no one fits it are responding to uncharitable bruskness with inane stupidity. Obviously, there’s a reason that the stereotype exists, and alternate causes like economic oppression, nationalism, and so forth do an insufficient job of accounting for the motives of those committing these acts. Someone who was as well-off as Major Hasan (who ranked above about 95% of the Army), had lived in the US all his life, and so forth, wasn’t motivated by any of those causes. When someone like Cat Stevens becomes Yusuf Islam, and can’t bring himself to condemn the death sentence against Salman Rushdie, his motivation has to be religious. I think it’s largely safe to take the violent attackers at their word. If they say they’re motivated by religion, why not believe them?
That, however, should be a starting point for a discussion on Islam, not a conclusion. There have been far too many Muslims who’ve peacefully co-existed with non-Muslims to simply let the murderous form of Islam win without argument. Peter Kreeft has done an excellent job in the past of contrasting Islam of the Koran against Islam of the Sword. He’s careful to note that Koranic Islam is still violent, to an extent, but not nearly so much as modern jihadists would have you believe. Reform within Islam is quite possible.
Prayer. As I see it, we should pray for at least four things. First, the victims and their families. They’re ungoing a heartwrenching tragedy, and the victims who died yesterday or are suffering today are every bit the heroes that they would be had this occurred outside our borders. We should pray for the state of their souls, for the suffering of their families, and raise our prayers of gratitude that men and women like this are willing to put their lives on the line every day. Second, we should pray for Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan himself. God, in His infinite grace and mercy, saw fit to let him live, which gives him enough time to repent, convert, make amends as best he can, and ready his soul for meeting Our Lord. God’s done more incredible things than this in the past, so we shouldn’t be afraid to plead for it. Third, the pope’s missionary prayer intention* for this month is “That believers in the different religions, through the testimony of their lives and fraternal dialogue, may clearly demonstrate that the name of God is a bearer of peace.” The urgency of this prayer is more obvious to us now than it was even a few days ago.
Finally, we should pray for the salvation of our Muslim brothers and sisters. They know of Christ, but have a distorted understanding of Him as a mere prophet. They love Our Lady, dedicating an entire surah in the Koran to her. Muhammad considered his daughter Fatima to be the most holy of women, second only to the Virgin Mary. Centuries later, Mary appeared at Fatima, Portugal, a town named after Muhammad’s daughter. It’s been suggested that Mary may be the key to bringing Muslims back into the fold (Belloc and others have argued convincingly that Islam is more a Christian heresy than a wholly-distinct religion, which is roughly what I understand some orthodox Jews to think of Christians). Let’s raise our prayers to God through the intercession of Our Lady that Muslims everywhere may come to know the peace of Christ.
*Each month, the pope has a general and a missionary petition that he asks us to pray for. When we say that we’re praying for the pope’s intentions, that’s what we mean.