Guest Column: Americans play the blame game

The recent Fort Hood shooting was both a tremendous tragedy and a great crime. Thirteen were killed, in addition to one unborn child, and 30 were hospitalized for gunshot wounds.

Under suspicion for the violence is Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a man who allegedly slaughtered a number of his colleagues and fellow soldiers in an expression of personal psychological turmoil and of his radical religious views.

In addition to blaming Hasan for one of the most violent premeditated killing sprees on American soil in recent memory, many have insisted that we must very clearly acknowledge Hasan’s religious beliefs. Not only did his faith influence his behavior, many believe that it forced him to carry out the shootings.

Some, like Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at New York University, have gone so far as to preposterously claim in a recent Forbes column that Hasan’s actions are indicative of a new phenomenon he terms “going Muslim.”

He and others argue that Hasan’s superiors and the American public have failed to properly acknowledge what they think is the religious source of Hasan’s motivation in an effort to remain politically correct. Clinging to the canons of political correctness, Varadarajan argues, resulted in the Fort Hood shootings.

But the fact that the act was religiously motivated is already widely known. Surely, however, being Muslim alone does not make one more prone to acts of violence, as Varadarajan argues, nor do Hasan’s alleged actions represent the millions of Muslims that live with their fellow Americans in peace.

Also, the fact that Hasan had reported radical religious beliefs is insufficient to explain the Fort Hood shooting. Obviously, a person already predisposed by abnormal psychological conditions would be more susceptible to extremist rhetoric. Thus, the shooting was probably, in part, a result of both Hasan’s beliefs and his mental state.

Ultimately, however, neither is responsible for the Fort Hood shooting. By angrily clamoring that Americans clearly acknowledge his religious motives, Varadarajan and others fail to recognize that the shooting was a product not of fanatical beliefs, but of choice. We can speculate endlessly about the motives, but it will not take away from the fact that an individual was responsible for killing his colleagues. We cannot malign Muslims or Islam instead.

Varadarajan and others think otherwise. He blames the violence on a failure to recognize radical religious beliefs, on the fact that America is too politically correct. The shooting occurred, because Hasan’s colleagues and superiors feared appearing racist or bigoted if they alerted others about Hasan’s disturbing habits and beliefs, Varadarajan added.

Now, I seriously doubt that one of Hasan’s fellow psychiatrists determined that Hasan was mentally unstable and clearly potentially violent, yet failed to report his behavior due to fear of appearing racist.

If colleagues and military superiors really could have stopped the slaughter before it was too late, the reason they did not is either because they were clueless about Hasan’s behavior or because they were too incompetent to conclude that they should have reported him.

Or, they never imagined that his erratic behavior would soon result in a shooting at Fort Hood. The fact that Hasan was not reported earlier cannot possibly be because those that knew him did not in an attempt to remain politically correct.

Hence, Varadarajan’s claim that we should all concede that Muslims are more likely to coldly plan and execute terrorist plots is largely a result, not of a disavowal of political correctness but of xenophobic anger.

The Fort Hood shooting was shocking and nearly unintelligible. Naturally, Americans now feel a need to attach a rationale to what otherwise seems like an act of senseless violence. But blaming Islam or lashing out against those that refuse to blame Islam is not the answer.

Those who declare that Islam is primarily responsible for the Fort Hood shooting, again, forget the fact that Hasan also exhibited signs of mental instability.

Once he was observed to be paranoid, belligerent and anti-social, the religious argument became moot. It is sheer dogmatism to insist that Islam was nevertheless ultimately responsible for his violent outburst.

Indeed, Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, said in The Huffington Post that people such as Hasan “often self-radicalize from a volatile mix of personal distress, psychological issues and an ideology that can be sculpted to justify and explain their anti-social leanings.”

A demand to acknowledge that Hasan’s religious views were solely responsible for the Fort Hood shooting is mere noise.

Again, everyone is already familiar with the religious character of the shooting. Also agreed upon is the fact that his beliefs do not represent Islam or Muslims in general. Clear, too, is the fact that political correctness was not responsible for the Fort Hood shooting.

Varadarajan ends his column by providing some practical advice: Soldiers should be required to report suspicious anti-social behavior. Data of extreme or problematic soldiers should be collected and monitored by high-level officials.

Varadarajan offers all good tips. But recommending that soldiers that espouse violent views should be monitored or treated does not require an additional belief that a Muslim is more likely than others to shoot down his colleagues.

In fact, it does not require that high-level officials or the armed forces in general adopt a less “PC attitude,” either. It requires only that people hold others accountable when they exhibit signs of mental instability and express violent beliefs. It does not require maligning Muslims, or Islam, at all.

The Fort Hood shooting will be remembered as a sad day in American history. But we should avoid antagonizing others simply because they are accidentally related to the suspect because of their race or religion.

Instead, we should acknowledge that, ultimately, the violence was a product of the deliberate and despicable actions of a single individual.

That has nothing to do with being politically correct.

Saif Ansari

UCLA, St. Bruin