Ignoring the obvious

2009-11-11 00:00

EARLIER this year, the Pentagon committed $50 million to a study investigating why the suicide rate in the military is rising: it used to be below the suicide rate in comparable civilian groups, but now it’s four times higher. Thirteen American soldiers were killed by a gunman at Fort Hood in Texas last Thursday, but 75 others have died by their own hand at the same army base since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Why?

The United States’s military budget tops half-a-trillion dollars, so the military can splash out on diversionary studies that draw attention away from the main problems, which are combat fatigue and loss of faith in the mission. And we are seeing exactly the same pattern in the response to the killings in Fort Hood, although in this case the military is also getting the services of the U.S. media for free.

Let’s see, now. A devout Muslim officer serving in the U.S. Army, born in the U.S. but of Palestinian ancestry, is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in the near future. He opens fire on his fellow soldiers, shouting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic.) What can his motive have been? Hard to guess, isn’t it? Was he unhappy about his promotion prospects? Hmm.

There is something comic in the contortions that the U.S. media engage in to avoid the obvious fact that if the U.S. invades Muslim countries, some Muslim Americans are bound to think that the U.S. has declared war on Islam. It has not, but from Pakistan to Somalia, the U.S. is killing Muslims in the name of a “war on terror”.

So is it possible that the shooter in Fort Hood, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who was waiting to ship out to Afghanistan, did not want to take a personal part in that enterprise? Might he belong to that large majority of Muslims (although probably a minority among American Muslims) who, unable to discover any rational basis for U.S. strategy since 9/11, have drifted towards the conclusion that the U.S. is indeed waging a war on Islam?

Perish the thought! Rather than entertain such a subversive idea, official spokespeople and media pundits in the U.S. have been trying to come up with some other motive for Hasan’s actions. Maybe he was a coward who couldn’t face the prospect of combat in Afghanistan. Maybe he was a nutcase whose actions had no meaning at all. Or maybe he was unhappy at the alleged abuse he had suffered because he was Muslim/Arab/Palestinian.

The one explanation that is excluded is that U.S. wars in Muslim lands overseas are radicalising Muslims at home. Never mind that the homegrown Muslim terrorists who attacked the London transport system in 2005 and the various Muslim plotters who have been caught in other Western countries before their plans came to fruition, have almost all blamed the Western invasions of Muslim countries for radicalising them.

Never mind, above all, that what really radicalised them was the fact that those invasions made no sense in terms of Western security. No Afghan has ever attacked the U.S., although Arabs living in Afghanistan were involved in the planning of 9/11. There were no terrorists in Iraq, no weapons of mass destruction and no contacts between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. So why did the U.S. invade those countries?

The real reasons are panic and ignorance, reinforced by militaristic reflexes and laced with liberal amounts of racism. But people find it hard to believe that big, powerful governments like those of the U.S., Britain and the other Western powers involved in these foolish adventures could really be so stupid, so the conspiracy theories proliferate.


It is a testimony to the moderation and loyalty of Muslim communities in the West that so few of their members have succumbed to these conspiracy theories. It is evidence of the profound denial that still reigns in the majority community in the U.S. that the most obvious explanation for Hasan’s actions didn’t even make the media’s short list.

I cannot know for sure what moved Hasan to do the terrible things he did: each individual is a mystery even to him or herself. But I do see the U.S. media careening all over the road to avoid the huge and obvious fact that obscures half the horizon.

Time to grow up.


• Gwynne Dyer is a London- based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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