Fort Hood: The War at Home

The nation is still reeling from the recent tragedy at the Fort Hood base in Texas, which left 13 U.S. soldiers dead and over 30 wounded. Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, perpetrated the horrific crime. Most media outlets have turned this into a case of security at military bases and have focused attention on ideology and religion as motivating factors.

The mainstream media, however, is neglecting Hasan’s primary motivation behind the attack: war and occupation. Specifically, he was driven by anger about U.S. actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, Hasan is a domestic example of what our policies in those two countries may be creating abroad. To miss the connections between the attacks and U.S. foreign policy is to miss the whole story.

The Fort Hood tragedy is directly linked to U.S. foreign policy. The tragic effects of the policies that motivate those abroad to attack U.S. soldiers have finally hit home in a direct and devastating way.

Opposition to War

Hasan strongly opposed the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was traumatized by his work at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he was a psychiatrist who helped veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with combat stress. Hasan was also visibly upset by the mental and physical anguish the soldiers were going through. This almost certainly pushed him toward stronger opposition to the wars. His view that these wars were unjust acts of aggression is hardly radical — a majority of Americans no longer support the continued occupation of Iraq, and there is rising opposition against the war in Afghanistan. Protestors have spoken against both wars in the streets around the world; many scholars and experts, few of which could accurately be called liberal or progressive, opposed the wars as well. Thus, Hasan’s political opposition to these wars is hardly unusual. His views coincide with the majority of Afghanis, Iraqis, and Americans.

The wars also created problems for Hasan in the military. After 9/11, he suffered strong harassment. He was mocked because of his name and his faith. One soldier, returning from Iraq, scratched Hasan’s car and ripped off a bumper sticker that read “Allah is Love” because he objected to Hasan being a Muslim. The situation had gotten so serious that he consulted an attorney to find a way out of the military. He had even offered to pay back the Army for his medical training if they would discharge him. Hasan also pushed for Muslim soldiers to be eligible for conscientious objector status in an effort “to increase troop morale and avoid adverse events.” However, none of this was successful. In fact, he had recently been notified he was to be deployed to Afghanistan. The army isn’t yet confirming that Hasan asked for a discharge, but it seems fairly obvious that he wanted out of the military.

Hasan was, by all accounts, a very calm, quiet, and relaxed person. Yet he committed an incredibly violent act at Fort Hood. The attack seems premeditated as well. Hasan said lengthy goodbyes to people beforehand. He also cleaned out his apartment and gave away his food. Hasan was a textbook case of an individual who engaged in risky behavior because of a very negative frame of mind. He apparently stated that Muslims should stand up and fight the aggressor, and was also reportedly hopeful that Obama would pull troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Receiving orders that he was to ship out to Afghanistan, to directly participate in one of the two wars he deeply opposed, almost certainly infuriated him.

This is also happening with Iraqis and Afghanis. They have been subject to an incredible amount of violence over much of the past decade. The civilian casualties in both wars are numbingly high. The social, political, economic, security, and environmental conditions on the ground in both countries are terrifying. Hasan assaulting his colleagues in Fort Hood, a particularly irrational and risk-seeking act, is thus a domestic glimpse into what American foreign policy is producing abroad. Hasan’s mental breakdown is parallel to the mental conditions of thousands of hitherto calm, quiet, and relaxed civilians in war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan.

Changing Our Approach

The Fort Hood attack should serve as a critical moment for America to reconsider its actions abroad. If pursuing an aggressive and militaristic foreign policy could trigger such a response at home, especially from someone who spent his whole career in the Army, what is it doing abroad to those who are directly in the line of fire? Military punishment is meant to coerce a population into compliance and thus produce relative stability. However, the punishment doesn’t seem to be doing that at all — it may instead be driving populations toward more risky behavior. In Iraq, that could involve using IEDs. In Afghanistan, some have had turned to suicide bombing. In Fort Hood, that involved a gun.

Many Muslims perceive U.S. foreign policies as specifically anti-Muslim. The United States continues its occupation of Iraq, is considering escalating in Afghanistan, has launched drone attacks in Pakistan, supports authoritarian dictators in many Muslim lands, is currently waffling on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, has detained and tortured many innocent Muslims…the list goes on. Even though these are all primarily political issues, Muslims can’t help but see them differently — as a deliberate campaign against a group of people based on their religion. This is evident in poll numbers. A report from July showed that Muslims still held unfavorable views of America, even after Obama’s much-touted Cairo speech, a clear sign that rhetoric cannot undo the effects of policies. Fewer than 20% of Pakistanis, Palestinians, and Turks held positive views of the United States. In fact, Indonesia and Jordan were the only two Muslim countries where over 30% of the public viewed America favorably.

The Fort Hood assault could lead to an anti-Muslim backlash in America. Indeed, some conservatives are trying to link the attack to a wider conspiracy theory involving Muslims working with terrorists infiltrating the U.S. government. This plot, which allegedly involves the Muslim Brotherhood and the Council on American Islamic Relations, among others, would be far more comical if congressional leaders weren’t supporting it. Representative Sue Myrick (R-NC), who wrote the foreword to the book behind the ridiculous theory, Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld that’s Conspiring to Islamize America, has already stated concern that Hasan was an example of the jihadist infiltration of the military. With her seat on the House Intelligence Committee, she will attempt to investigate Muslim intern “spies” on Capitol Hill. Many conservatives want to use the tragedy to increase surveillance of Muslims.

President George W. Bush said we were fighting terrorists abroad so they couldn’t attack us at home. The problem is, our punishment techniques in Iraq and Afghanistan do not seem to be pushing fighters in both countries toward real stability. Instead, our policies are pushing people there — and now here at home — toward violence. The best way to honor the victims at Fort Hood, as well as those in Afghanistan and Iraq, would be to change our policies of war and military occupation, and promote real stability instead.

Foreign Policy In Focus contributor Fouad Pervez is a writer, actor, and policy analyst working on his PhD in international relations at Georgetown University. His creative work was performed on NPR, Pacifica radio, and the Hip Hop Theater Festival. He blogs on There Is No Spoon and can be reached at fouad0 (at) gmail (dot) com.