Alleged Fort Hood Shooter Is Muslim. So What?

This morning, the lead headline on the Washington Post’s web site read: “Hazy, contradictory picture of suspect emerges.” That might be due to the rampant speculation and fact-free “reporting” that has dominated coverage of yesterday’s tragedy at Fort Hood.

Maj. Nidal M. Hasan allegedly went on yesterday’s shooting rampage that killed 13 and injured more than 30 more at the Army base in Texas. He is an Army psychiatrist born in the northern Virginia suburbs and is described in some accounts as a “devout Muslim.” But even before that detail emerged, the internet was aflame with speculation — based on Hasan’s name, of course — that the shootings had something to do with Hasan’s religion.

Of course that leads many to jump to conclusions: did religion cause him to pull the trigger? Is a terrorist in our midst?

As John Nichols wrote in the Nation last night:

No one knew on Thursday whether stress, fear, anger over mistreatment, mental illness or a warped understanding of his religion might have motivated Major Hasan. The point here is not to defend the soldier or his alleged actions. Rather, it is to question the rush to judgment regarding not just this one Muslim but all Muslims.

It should be understood that to assume a follower of Islam who engages in violence is a jihadist is every bit as absurd to assume that every follower of Christianity who attacks others is a crusader. The calculus makes no sense, and is rooted in a bigotry that everyone from George W. Bush to Pope Benedict XVI has condemned.

But that did not stop right-wing web sites from exploding with incendiary speculation about a “Jihad at Fort Hood?” and a “Terrorist Incident in Texas.”

The Huffington Post reported this morning that a Republican congressional candidate in Florida, Allen West, a retired mililtary officer, issued a statement on the massacre headlined “Terrorists Are Infiltrating the Military.”

Muslim groups were quick to condemn the shootings — as if they were obligated to much a special effort to do so merely because the alleged shooter was Muslim. The Muslim Public Affairs Council-DC, the Islamic Society of North America Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, and the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council issued a joint statement that they “completely denounce this barbaric act of violence. All three organizations unequivocally denounce the incident in the strongest terms possible and offer their deepest condolences to the victims and their loved ones. Further, they hope and expect that law enforcement officials will resolve this matter as swiftly and justly as possible.” The groups are holding a press conference with Reps. Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Andre Carson (D-IN) this morning.

The American Islamic Fellowship and Muslims for Progressive Values issued a joint statement that “Thoughtless and groundless violence cannot ever be justified by any religious or personal beliefs and actions such as the shocking events in Fort Hood go against Islamic teachings of love and respect for life.”

More than 3,000 Muslims serve in the United States military. Jumping to conclusions about Hasan’s supposed religious motivations, and worse, sowing rumors and fears of a fifth column infiltrating the military is shameful and goes against the principles of religious freedom that so many conservatives claim to defend.