Last Thursday’s shooting spree at the Fort Hood army base in Texas — which left 13 people dead and 29 wounded — was of course the “horrific outburst of violence” that President Obama bemoaned and condemned.
But, because the soldier who was quickly identified as the gunman had a name that led to the presumption that he was Muslim, the incident inspired an all-too-predictable explosion of Islamophobia.
News reports named the man who used two handguns in the assault on his fellow soldiers at a base that is a prime point of departure for troops headed to Iraq and Afghanistan as Major Malik Nidal Hasan. The major, who was wounded during the incident, was identified as a psychiatrist who had served in the Department of Psychology at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at the Bethesda Naval Facility in Bethesda, Maryland, before his transfer to Fort Hood.
Hours after the incident, and hours after news anchors and politicians cited his religion as an explanation for the shootings, a family member confirmed that Major Hasan was indeed a Muslim.
But that was hardly the only relevant detail about the major.
For instance, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison reported shortly after the shoorings, Hasan had been preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. The senator said, “I do know that he has been known to have told people that he was upset about going (to Iraq).” Several new reports suggested that the major saw a deployment to the warzone as his “worst nightmare” and recounted how he had treated victims of combat-related stress and was upset about the ongoing U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military officials at the base and in Washington refused to speculate about motivations or intents in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But Paul Sullivan, executive director of the group Veterans for Common Sense, suggested shortly after the incident that it might well be the latest in a series of stress-related homicides and suicides involving soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan or are being dispatched to those occupied lands.
No matter where the speculation went Thursday afternoon, the bottom line was clear: No one knew on whether stress, fear, anger over mistreatment, mental illness or a warped understanding of his religion might have motivated Major Hasan.