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Nothing in a Name: The Fort Hood Killings

Nothing in a Name: The Fort Hood Killings

Virginia-born Major Nidal Malik Hasan, in a ten-minute orgy of killing at the Texas military base of Fort Hood last week, is now in custody recovering from his wounds. Thirteen people (twelve soldiers and a civilian) were killed, and thirty injured. Two handguns were alleged used by Hasan.

The background to this event is irritatingly blurry. We know the accused specialized in psychiatry, a fact that was not made in initial reports. He has a ‘Muslim’ name (or at least one with Islamic resonance). We have gathered that he did not want to be deployed in Iraq and expressed sporadic enthusiasm at the advent of American casualties. Journalists gathered that he was not happy in the US military. Terms such as ‘camel jockey’ were directed at him by colleagues, at least according to his family members.

The fear factory needs its adherents and practitioners. For some, it was well-anticipated grist to the mill, an opportunity hard to miss. Islam had reared its head on US soil, the ‘worst’ attack since September 11, 2001. The attacker chanted ‘Allah Akbar’ at stages; his dress was ‘Islamic’; he may have been an instrument of anti-American mullahs. Should the vestments or inarticulate mumblings of America’s vengeful mass killers matter that much? We shall have to see in time – in most cases, the mass killer rarely survives the events he perpetrates.

President Barack Obama has reiterated that there was no necessary connection between the man’s faith and his killings. He might have been better off pointing out that the belief system of the American mass killer takes all in his stride. At the core of most of these killings is less an angry God than a nagging grudge and a brooding countenance. That said, massacres and the Muslim name do have a tedious identification in the popular mind, and it is hard to shake off. All it takes is an utterance of ‘God is Great’ for the religious fanatic’s lexicon to be deployed. But fanaticism tends to be an open church.

The Hasan case, whatever its individual idiosyncrasies, exposes bigger problems. Do tensions exist in the US military between Muslims and non-Muslims? It would be difficult to imagine its absence, given Washington’s global military deployments. American imperviousness to imperfections within its own armed forces is well known. Minority mistreatment has left deep scars. Hasan was a product of American military education, yet felt deeply estranged. Whatever the nostrums associated with ‘social cohesion’, many within the American military establishment are disturbed.

Fort Hood is a repository of mental decay, a witness to the outcome of wars America dared to fight. Suicide is not infrequent. Almost as many who died at the hands of Hasan have died by their own hand at the base. Murders on the base, the most recent being Army Sgt. Ryan Schlack in July, have also taken place with regularity. The procession of mental ruination that is afflicting America’s armed forces is yet another woeful byproduct of its involvements. Hasan himself was a questionable acquisition at the base, having received a below par assessment while an intern at the Walter Reed Army Medical Centre.

We shall see why Major Hasan behaved that day in due course. Whether it was in accordance with Allah’s dictates, or whether it was a medical instability (some say both), will hopefully come out in the evidence. Hasan himself joins a Pantheon of America’s mass killers, from George Hennard of Belton who gunned down 24 people at Luby’s Restaurant in Killeen in October 1991, to the Virginia Tech University killings by Cho Seung-Hui in April 2007. There is, in truth, nothing in a name.

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Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

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