With 13 dead, 30 wounded and a Muslim officer who shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he opened fire on them, we must do three things: first, most importantly, we must care for the injured, support their families, and comfort the mourners. Second, we must fight all efforts to use this tragedy to cast aspersions upon an entire tradition and all of its followers. And third, we, and more importantly those followers, must ask tough questions about the relationship between the faith which the shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, followed and the actions which he took.
The human issues really are job one. And the test of that commitment will be in the way which people not only reach out to the families of the victims, but also to the Hasan family as well. They too, by all accounts, are victims. There is no evidence that they supported Maj. Hasan in his terrorist attack, and they are among the most vulnerable to any potential backlash which may occur. While the military and the FBI will certainly continue to investigate all aspects of this case, including Hasan’s family, until we know otherwise, they too deserve our compassion and concern.
We must also resist the temptation to extrapolate from this act and the role which faith seemed to play in it, to the effects of that faith in general. Ironically, those who will use this event to disparage all Muslims or Islam in general, even to the point of violence, will prove themselves no different from those they oppose. In fact, they will prove how much they share with Mr. Hasan. Such generalized hatred is precisely the animating approach of anyone who opens fire on a collection of individuals who pose them no immediate threat.
All this having been said however, when a man commits mass murder and shouts ‘God is great’ as he does so, hard questions must be asked. And the place they must be asked the most, is where they seemed to be asked least i.e. the community from which the murderer came. It’s not enough to say that this was the work of a lone madman, or that this “has nothing to do with Islam”. None of us operates in a vacuum and clearly for Maj. Hasan it did.
Collective guilt is never appropriate, but collective responsibility always is. In fact, it is the hallmark of any ethical community. Today is Friday, the Muslim Sabbath, and in every Mosque across this nation communities will come together. I wonder what sermons will be preached.
Will they simply be calls for understanding, condemnations of the murder without any soul-searching about the culture of the murderer, or will there be Muslim leaders with the courage to mourn publically the fact that once again Americans are burying their dead, people who died hearing ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they did so? I wonder.
I do know that if the rest of us do not play our part by taking care of steps one and two, there is no possibility of Muslims taking care of step three. We all have work ahead of us, today and in the weeks ahead, in order to both heal and help assure that such tragedies never occur in the future. I hope that we settle down, overcome our respective fears, take real responsibility, and do that much needed work. So much for an easy weekend, whether in Fort Hood or across the nation.