Leading article: Murder and integration in America

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The Independent Online

A spell back home should be a time of quiet and safety for soldiers fighting in gruelling foreign wars. Instead, Fort Hood in Texas on Thursday became a place of carnage. The rampage, apparently perpetrated by an army psychiatrist, may be the worst instance of soldier-on-soldier violence in modern US history. The casualty count of 13 dead and 30 wounded would have been shocking enough on the battlefields in Iraq of Afghanistan. In the event, this took place on a base which has already lost some 500 men killed in those two conflicts.

It is not clear to what extent this latest massacre in America can be blamed on the nation's lax gun control laws. But even if they did contribute to the tragedy, potentially the most disquieting aspect of the incident is that the alleged gunman was an Islamic-American, the son of Palestinian immigrants. His motives for the attack must for now be a matter of speculation. Major Nidal Hasan appears to have been a devout Muslim strongly opposed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Relatives say that after the 11 September attacks, he was taunted for his faith. He was apparently about to be deployed to Afghanistan, something he was dreading. By all accounts, those apprehensions only grew during his work at Walter Reed military hospital in Washington DC, where as a psychiatrist he dealt directly with the wounded of those wars.

The risk is that this incident will increase distrust of America's substantial Muslim community. Muslim groups in the US have been quick to appeal for calm, condemning the shooting as an indefensible atrocity that no religion or ideology could justify. They point out too that thousands of Muslims are serving in the US military, some of whom have given their lives in battle.

Since 11 September there have been instances of violence against the Muslim community, and scattered death threats and warnings of attacks on mosques have already been reported after this incident. These killings are tragic enough on their own. It would be a double tragedy if they led to a breakdown in relations between Americans and the Muslims in their midst, notably better integrated into national life than their counterparts in Western Europe.

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