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?
To most people, the answer is obvious. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been frustrating, exhausting, and seemingly endless, and some people just can’t take it any more. But the Pentagon is spending $50 million to search for other possible causes, because it doesn’t like that answer.
The U.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 United States 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 United States invades Muslim countries, some Muslim-Americans are bound to think that America 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.”
Some of them are enemies of the U.S. government, and some of them are innocent civilians. Some of them are even “friendly fire casualties” among soldiers collaborating with the United States, like the Afghan soldiers killed recently in a U.S. airstrike. But every single day since 2003 U.S. soldiers have killed Muslims, and every day those deaths have been reported in the media.
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 (though probably a minority among American Muslims) who, unable to discover any rational basis for U.S. strategy since 9/11, have drifted toward the conclusion that the United States is indeed waging a war on Islam?
Perish the thought! Rather than entertain such a subversive idea, official spokespersons and media pundits in the United States have been trying to come up with some other motive for Major Hasan’s actions. Maybe he was a coward who couldn’t face the prospect of deployment in Afghanistan. Maybe he was a nut-case 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.
After a few days during which the commentariat hesitated before competing narratives, the media are settling on the explanation that it was ethnic/racial/religious abuse that drove Nidal crazy. Bad people doing un-American things were ultimately responsible for the tragedy, and there’s an end to it.
The one explanation that is excluded is that America’s wars in Muslim lands overseas are radicalizing Muslims at home. Never mind that the home-grown 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 radicalizing them.
Never mind, above all, that what really radicalized them was the fact that those invasions made no sense in terms of Western security. No Afghan has ever attacked the United States, 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 United States, 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 United States that the most obvious explanation for Major Nidal’s actions didn’t even make the media’s short list.
I cannot know for sure what moved Major Nidal to do the terrible things he did: each individual is a mystery even to himself. 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.