Opinion and Editorial

US Shooting: Don’t Pin It on Faith

Filed on November 8, 2009

The Americans are rightly shaken by this week’s rampage at the Fort Hood Army base. A US Army psychiatrist allegedly turned the gun on fellow men and women in uniform, killing 13 people and wounding at least 30.

The United States is no stranger to bizarre shooting incidents involving individuals. The first incident that comes to mind is the tragedy of Columbine High School shooting ten years ago when a student went on a killing spree with his dad’s gun. And the most recent one had been the horror that struck Virginia Tech two years ago. In Orlando, on Friday, hours before the Fort Hood shooting, a gunman shot and killed one person and wounded several others.

Yet the Fort Hood incident stands out in many ways. This is the first time such a tragedy has happened at a US military facility and has claimed so many lives of army personnel. However, the highlight of the Fort Hood horror is the fact that the attacker happens to be an Arab and Muslim.

Major Nidal Hasan Malik was born in the US to Palestinian parents. As a psychiatrist, he counselled thousands of military personnel, many of whom have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Is it possible that Maj Malik himself may have suffered from serious psychological problems and needed help? Of late, Maj Malik, a devout Muslim with an exceptional academic and service record, had been increasingly worried about being posted in Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s already served in Afghanistan. He is also said to have complained of facing harassment on account of his faith.

On the other hand, his grandfather and other family members in the West Bank insist that Malik, who loved America and took pride in working for the army, is simply not capable of this outrage. Whatever the truth, it may take a while to get to the bottom of it. President Barack Obama did well by reminding the Americans that “we do not know all the answers yet.” Obama has also cautioned everyone including the media against “jumping to conclusions.”

Which is the need of the hour. The US media, especially the ‘fair and balanced’ networks like Fox News, are always looking for an excuse to go after the usual suspects, ratcheting up jingoistic rhetoric against Arabs and Muslims to inflate their ratings and circulation figures. As Dr Muqtedar Khan argues in his opinion piece today, Muslim Americans have invested years of efforts and hard work to check Islamophobia by reaching out to the mainstream America. This incident threatens all those efforts.

However, this incident must not be interpreted and profiled as yet another act of violence against America by angry Muslims. This has nothing to do with Maj. Malik’s religious beliefs. It’s just another act of despair by a lonely and depressed individual who just went off the bend. Like so many others before him have. With America bogged down in two long and disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, its men and women in uniform are increasingly paying the price — and not just with their lives. The US authorities, ordinary Americans and Muslim groups must do everything to ensure this unfortunate but isolated incident does not spark another wave of anti-Muslim hysteria in America. We’re in this together.

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