Murder at Fort Hood

It is strange. I have a pretty good memory, but I can’t seem to remember the religion of the students who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre. Nor, for that matter, can I recall the religion of the young man who killed 31 people, and then himself, at Virginia Tech in 2007.

But, there was Sean Hannity last night asking an army officer, who knew the alleged shooter in yesterday’s killing spree at Fort Hood, Dr. Nidal M. Hasan, whether Hasan was a devout Muslim or not. I had gone to bed expecting to call this morning’s blogpost, "Hannity is a Pig." Then, this morning, the front page of the Washington Post has a headline "Suspect, devout Muslim from Va., wanted Army discharge, aunt said." Just imagine reading such a headline, say, about an IRA terrorist twenty years ago with the phrase "devout Catholic." Or imagine reading that Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, was a "devout Christian."

Advertisement

I am not naïve. I am aware that there are fanatical Islamicist forces bent on destroying America. I know that the Taliban and the Al-Queda hate Americans not for what we do but for who we are, because we cherish freedom we do not fear it, because we consider women equal, because we do not care whether a woman’s head is covered or a man’s beard is shaven, because we embrace science and humanism and the arts. Yes, we are at war and it will be a long war and there are times when I get frustrated with my fellow liberals for failing to appreciate the tenacity of our enemy or the stakes at issue. But, Dr. Hasan worshipped in Silver Spring, Maryland not in Saudi Arabia. He grew up in Virginia not Yemen. He was already in the U.S. Army when terrorists struck lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. If he was "devout," then I would imagine that his devotion makes his alleged murderous act more difficult to explain, not less.

And SHAME on the Washington Post. In a courtroom, the admission of evidence is considered in terms of its prejudicial value. Some evidence is barred because while it might help a jury reach an accurate conclusion, something about that evidence is more likely to inflame the jury in such a way as to prevent them from assessing its evidentiary value. Lord knows (and Lord Blackstone knows) that the evidentiary rules of the court should not apply to the press. But, to put this piece of information about Dr. Hasan’s religion in the headline implies some connection between that information and the rampage yesterday, a connection that is simply not in evidence in the article that follows. Yes, we are told that he "endured some name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith" but we don’t know whether he was harassed yesterday, do we? And why, eight years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, did he snap now? Has the harassment of Muslim members of the military gotten worse in the ensuing eight years?

No one ever completely grasps what motivated someone to commit an act of evil. I suspect Hasan’s murderous rampage yesterday had more to do with his impending deployment to Iraq and that, as a psychiatrist treating those who come back shattered from their tour of duty, he had many visceral reasons to not want to go. I can see how the military’s recruiting efforts – "Be All You Can Be" and the free college and medical school – lull a soldier into forgetting that the military is not there to provide education and personal fulfillment but to kill enemies, and that the reminder of this primary military mission took its toll on someone who, like most psychiatrists, has the occupational hazard of empathy with the human condition.

The aftermath of a mass killing is no time for political correctness. If it turns out that Dr. Hasan was motivated by extremist impulses that were rooted in his religious sensibilities, let us have the evidence and consider its consequences. But, we do not have such evidence today. The editors of the Post and Mr. Hannity should both do penance in front of the mosque in Silver Spring where Dr. Hasan worshipped. Those who worship there are entitled to the presumption that their faith is devout not fanatical, until someone proves otherwise.

 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
8 years 6 months ago
In a way I agree with Mr. Winters, which is seldom, that there probably are many causes to this massacre.  But in other ways Mr. Winters is being his knee jerk self and is so predictable.  Before I even came to this site today I predicted to myself that he would have some spin on this story that would fit his world view.
 
There are plenty of Muslims in the military and we have had only one or two other military shootings that have to do with this association.  Maybe if the US Army were attacking Rome, we might find a lot of Catholics willing to shoot their superiors and fellow soldiers in an act of frustration or even as a strategic move to stop the attack.  There has been a lot of frustration with our two recent presidents and we see little other than fantasy that has been acted upon.  Most are able to handle their frustrations.  A very small few obviously cannot.  What did the Army recognize in Major Hasan prior to yesterday?  Was it acted upon and if not, why not?  I personally would be interested in this last question. 
 
Just as an aside and relevant to the comment made in Mr. Winter's first paragraph.  The motivation for the Columbine murders did not have anything to do with a formal religion but I bet if it did, it would have been splashed all over the news rooms of this country.  Especially if it had roots in a conservative Protestant religion or Catholicism.  That fits the world view of the the left who dominate the news rooms and especially the editorial positions.  What apparently motivated the Columbine shooters was a nihilism that pervades much of our current society and is rooted in an atheistic ideology.  The shooters at Columbine had intense fascination with Darwin and natural selection.  Now most who have a similar ideology don't act out as the Columbine shooters did.
 
But I doubt you will find few in the newsrooms in this country who would be willing to take on this association with Darwin so it was not widely circulated in the news stories about the event.  It does not fit the world view of the news rooms.  Since the teaching of Darwin's ideas are an essential part of the current curriculum and little dissent is allowed to this teaching, following the search for the causes of the Columbine shootings to their roots was probably not considered desirable.   The shooters were deranged probably due to many causes but examining all of them would bring up this undesirable connection.  So it is easy to see how certain connections do not make it to many news stories while others do.  What are the world views of those writing the stories and how can they spin it.
Michael Laing
8 years 6 months ago
Perhaps all it means is that devout people can also go crazy, be they Christian or Muslim.
JAMES OLEARY MR
8 years 6 months ago
Hey, Jerry C, how well do you know Mr. Winters? Enough to call him a name such as "knee=jerker?" It seems to me you had an agenda of your own and saw this as an opportunity to spout it out. To connect Darwin with Columbine is quite a stretch. Might as well blame it on their being on a bowling team. I liked Mr. Winters' comments - a lot. For me, the essence of Catholicism and for being American is tolerance and being slow to judgement. 
David Nickol
8 years 6 months ago
When someone named Nidal Malik Hasan cries ''Allahu Akbar'' and then shoots 41 people, killing 13 of them, the question of his religion is not irrelevant. If Timothy McVeigh had blown up St. Patrick's Cathedral instead of a federal building, I suspect we would have have been informed of his religious or anti-religious beliefs very quickly by the press.  
I suppose it's possible that the reports of his crying ''Allahu Akbar'' before the shootings may turn out - like the reports of his death - to be incorrect. But news following events like this tends to be fragmented and provisional. I wouldn't want to draw any conclusions, but based on the scant evidence so far, the incident seems to be the act of one very troubled person who, strictly speaking, was not a terrorist, but whose actions seem to have been influenced by authentic acts of terrorism and cannot be entirely understood apart from them. 
And if a relative makes a statement that he was a devout Muslim and wanted to avoid being deployed to Afghanistan, is the Post supposed to use the part about him not wanting to be deployed and suppress the part about his religion?
8 years 6 months ago
Mr. O'Leary,
 
I believe Eric Harris wore a shirt that had two words on it the day of the Columbine shooting.  Those words were ''Natural Selection'' and I believe there were writings and audio that expressed natural selection as a basis of what they planned to do.  The fact that you do not know this supports my comment.  It certainly wasn't the only thing but my point was that it was not discussed and if it there had been a religious connection, you can bet there would be no end of it.
 
As far as an agenda, I am a practicing Catholic educated by the Jesuits, Christian Brothers and more than one order of nuns, and this is what drives my view of the world.  As such I try to decide for myself what is true and not try to spin it.  I find nearly every opinion by Mr. Winters laced with spin and this is the first time I commented on what he has written.  Some are over the top.
Beth Cioffoletti
8 years 6 months ago
The very culture of training young people to kill other human beings can deeply scar sensitive psyches.  Dr. Hassan, who treated soldiers with ptsd, was intimate with the nightmare of war.  That we pretend that we can control the violence that erupts from this madness is part of the madness.
Brendan McGrath
8 years 6 months ago
I was a sophomore in high school when Columbine occured - with regard to the relevance of religion, atheism, etc. to it, I thought I'd bring up for the record how one of the shooters asked a girl (Cassie Bernall), before shooting her, whether she believed in God, or something like that; she said yes.
Joshua DeCuir
8 years 6 months ago
On one level, I am sympathetic to your "concerns", Mr. Winters.  On another level, however, I confess that as soon as I read the name of the shooter yesterday, I thought "he's a Muslim."  Its sad to think that, but I doubt I was alone in that thought.  Perhaps it is somewhat the fault of the media coverage of past acts of terrorism that has conditioned me to think in this way.  However, I cannot think of any of the other terrorists, individually or as a group, being so explicit in their call it "theology" of violence as Islamic terrorists.  To just blame the media doesn't hide the fact that Muslims have committed atrocious acts of violence against innocent persons on explicitly religious grounds.  No other religious group has such persons acting in a similar manner, at least that I am aware of.  While the IRA's political views were, of course, in some manner related to their Catholicism, their claims are much more overtly political, as were Timothy McVeigh's reasons.  Your analogies are, to say the least, limp.  While Islamic terrorists obviously have political reasons for acting, they are much more explicitly grounded in theology, however illogical it is.  And I don't think the typical liberal PC "don't think the thoughts you know you want to think or you're a racist, etc." is going to solve the problem.
Joshua DeCuir
8 years 6 months ago
One other thought I wanted to add was that I remember a comment DAvid Brooks made analyzing the Roberts confirmation hearings on Charlie Rose a few years ago. He said that when liberals harp so much on how criminals are treated, police brutality, etc., it doesn't help Liberals to be seen as anti-crime.  It portrays them as more concerned about how criminals are treated than what most people care about - stopping crime. I think a similar thing is at work here.  Liberals seem to go so far out of their way when something like this happens to talk about how not all Muslims are terrorists, etc. etc., as if people weren't bright enough to figure that out on their own, that it really hurts Liberals in the long run by giving people the sense that they're more concerned with trivial concerns than confronting the problem.
Andrew Strada
8 years 6 months ago
Exactly why is it so wrong to think that someone named Nidal Hasan might be a Muslim when Nidal Hasan is, in fact, a Muslim? Does Mr. Winters understand that one can be a mass murderer despite being a devout Muslim, or for reasons having nothing to do with his religious beliefs (as for example, an undiagnosed brain tumor)? I find it interesting that Mr. Winters is so ready to claim for himself the moral high ground, then retires intending publicly to compare someone with whom he disagrees to a barnyard animal. An unclean one, at that. He also appears to believe that he has been commissioned to determine who is or is not a devout Muslim and to assign penances to people who displease him. Truly Mr. Winters lives the words of the ninth beatitude, ''Blessed are the self-righteous, for they shall feel good about themselves.''
8 years 6 months ago
Michele,
You are right that "people kill people" as the NRA knows so well BUT people have motives such as stess, fear, hopelessness, depression and yes religion. I think that you have to live in a cave to not have had some emotional and intellectual curiosity as to whether radical islam ideology was a factor in this tragedy.
Jeffrey Miller
8 years 6 months ago
Well since you have forgotten, the religion of the killers you mentioned were atheists with a hatred of religion.
Now someone who kills a bunch of people while shouting allahu akbar you just might think there was some religious component there.  For someone who was posting on sites in favor of Islamic suicide terrorism and who listed his country as Palestine, you just might think that was a factor.
Gabriel Marcella
8 years 6 months ago
Fellow commentators:
The challenge here is not to blame MSW but to figure out why this tragedy happened and how it can be prevented. This is what the Secretary of the Army Mr. McHugh said today:  "We have to understand what caused that suspect to act in the way in which he did," so that such attacks can be prevented in the future (as reported in the Washington Post). What drove this man to such extreme behavior is the issue. Possibly some deep psychological wound against his sense of identity as well as a feeling of victimization related to the impending deployment to the Muslim world. If the evidence confirms this, it's the classical paranoid mind. Paranoia is latent among many human beings, sometimes the symptoms are discernible, but  fortunately very few conduct massacres.
jim dick
8 years 6 months ago
You go Gabriel and Mike.  That  Dr. Nidal M. Hasan was a Muslim says NOTHING about Islam any more or less than the fact that the murderer of Dr. Tiller was a Christian. By the way, has Sean Hannity reported on that?
Chris Seeber
8 years 6 months ago
Let me get this straight.  It's alright for Sean Winters to call to Sean Hannity a ''pig'' but not alright for Sean Hannity to ask the religion of the Ft Hood shooter?  Very Ignation! 
Carol-Ann Parker
8 years 6 months ago
Maybe we need to be more careful with our language.  Instead of refering to Mr. Hasan as a devout muslim (devout: devoted to divine worship or service; pious; religious) we should use the terms radical (radical - a person who holds or follows strong convictions or extreme principles; extremist)or fanatic (fanatic: motivated or characterized by an extreme, uncritical enthusiasm or zeal).
Bill Bordas
8 years 6 months ago
I believe Mr Nickol's comments are more to the point than Mr Winters'. I believe that Maj Hasan's religious beliefs are absolutely germane to the issue at hand, because they reflect a religious motivation which, to him, trumped all other considerations of love, honor, comradeship, and friendship. I agree that "No one ever completely grasps what motivated someone to commit an act of evil," but I believe we can safely say that some religious beliefs make it easier for an already disturbed person to believe that the unspeakable evil he perpetrates is condoned - if not actually rewarded - by God.
Helena Loflin
8 years 6 months ago
Mr. Winters, you're initial idea for your blog post title was right on.
When I first heard the still sketchy news about the Fort Hood shootings, my immediate thought was that the shooter was a member of the U.S. military.  Someone stressed, fearful and hopeless who had become homicidal and suicidal. 
Decades ago, my best friend married a wonderful, intelligent and upbeat guy who went off to Vietnam to serve as a medic.  He came back violent and abusive.
Religion doesn't kill people.  People kill people.  (Come on now.  This works so well for the NRA.)
 
 
 
ANN ODONOGHUE
8 years 6 months ago
"I had gone to bed expecting to call this morning’s blogpost, "Hannity is a Pig."

And that you were planning on using this title without thought to the nature of your blog host says a lot about you.

I know America employs you to be provocative, but often your comments are so nasty and unwarranted that it reflects badly on the magazine.

This is why many of us prefer to get our liberal Catholic fix over at Commonweal. I like articles that make me think, not wince.

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

A woman religious casts her ballot May 25 in Dublin as Ireland holds a referendum on its law on abortion. Voters went to the polls May 25 to decide whether to liberalize the country's abortion laws. (CNS photo/Alex Fraser, Reuters)
The repeal of Ireland's Eighth Amendment, which guarantees the right to life of the unborn, is passing by a 2-1 margin with most of the votes counted.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies at a House Committee on Education and the Workforce, Tuesday, May 22, 2018, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The Secretary of Education stirred up controversy when she said it was up to schools to decide if an undocumented student should be reported to authorities.
J.D. Long-GarcíaMay 25, 2018
Thousands gathered in Dublin May 12 to say "Love Both" and "Vote No" to abortion on demand. They were protesting abortion on demand in the forthcoming referendum May 25. (CNS photo/John McElroy)
“Priests and bishops get verbal abuse by being told, ‘How can you speak for women? You don’t know what it’s like!’”
America StaffMay 25, 2018
The coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII is seen during a ceremony in Vittorio Veneto Square after its arrival in Bergamo, Italy, May 24. The body of the late pope left the Vatican on May 24 to be displayed in his home region until June 10. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

BERGAMO, Italy (CNS) — Accompanied by Bishop Francesco Beschi of Bergamo and escorted by both Italian and Vatican police officers, the glass coffin containing the body of St. John XXIII left the Vatican early on May 24 for a 370-mile drive to Bergamo.