When a Muslim-American Killer Is in The News

Media coverage of Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 and wounded 30, often focuses on his religion

This article is from the archive of our partner .

The motives behind the Fort Hood shootings are still hazy, but that hasn't stopped coverage of one very personal detail of Major Nidal Malik Hasan's very personal crime: He is Muslim. A 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, he appears to have not been motivated by his Muslim religion, his Palestinian heritage (he is American by nationality), or any related political causes. Nevertheless, as Hasan spent 24 hours topping news broadcasts, his identity remained a thorny point of coverage. For the Washington Post and many others, his religion led the news. Others, especially Muslim-American groups, feared the Muslim-American shooter would inflame Islamophobic backlash.

As we struggle to understand why Hasan killed 13 people and wounded 30, his religion may shed light on what led to his rampage or prove incidental. Until Hasan begins to speak, we won't know, but speculation on the role his religion played will continue. What does it mean for American-Muslims, the media, and America at large that its last mass shooter is also a Muslim-American?

  • 'Horribly Predictable Islamophobia'  The Nation's John Nichols wishes he could be surprised by the Islamophobic reaction. "There was clearly something wrong with this imperfect follower of Islam. But that does not mean that there is something wrong with Islam. Enlightened Americans -- at least those who trace their patriotism to Thomas Jefferson, a man fascinated by and respectful of Islam and whose library contained copies of the Koran -- should be unsettled by the rush to judgment regarding not just this one Muslim but all Muslims."
  • A Muslim Marine's Condemnation  Former Marine Robert Salaam of The American Muslim felt compelled to "condemn these actions and pray for the victims of this madman" immediately upon hearing the news. "I'm sad for those killed and wounded by a traitor to both God and our country, and I regret that I even feel that I have to write something on the subject. Words cannot express my emotions and the instant headache I received when notified [...] concerning the alleged culprit. They have not yet released further details such as the motive but I will state for the record that no true Muslim could ever commit such a crime against humanity. As Muslims we are reminded that to take one innocent life is as if one killed of all mankind. Muslims are also commanded to keep their oaths when given." Salaam signs his post, 'Semper Fidelis.'"
  • Hasan Inflamed Anti-Muslim Hatred  Reihan Salam worries that Hasan may have seriously harmed Muslim-Americans by inciting mistrust and fear. "What Hasan has done, regardless of his motivation, is sow fear and anxiety among millions of Muslim Americans, who have served in the years since the 9/11 terror attacks as America's secret weapon against Islamic radicalism. The prosperity and religious freedom enjoyed by Muslims in America contrasts rather well against the grinding poverty and violent oppression faced by those living under Islamist rule," he writes. "And though there are pockets of distrust, far more Americans worry that Muslims face discrimination than hold negative views of Muslims. The danger is that Hasan's despicable crime will subtly and slowly change these perceptions for the worse. Overnight, Twitter feeds and message boards pulsed with anti-Muslim anger. This kind of venting is important to a free society. But it could also be an ominous sign of tensions to come."
  • Media's Emphasis on Religion  The San Francisco Chronicle's Michael Yaki deplores the media's role in putting Hasan's religion up front. "It is how that chapter is currentely being written by the media that has immense implications for who and what we are as a nation. Once the name of the protagonist was established, the blogs lit up and the talking heads immediately turned to the 'terrorist' word," he writes. "And that is a singular injustice to the American Islamic community. It forces relatives of Hasan to immediately proclaim their loyalty as Americans in the same paragraph as expressing sorrow for the victims. It sets off alarm bells in many of my Arab American friends -- who may or may not be Muslim -- as they prepare to go to work tomorrow, and many are already worried about how to deal with the inevitable water-cooler speculation about Hasan's religious beliefs and their role, if any, in the massacre."
  • Al Qaeda Wants Us To Blame Muslims  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer suggests that blaming all Muslims for Hasan, in addition to being harmful and wrong, serves Al Qaeda. "Indeed, the attempt to assign collective responsibility to Muslims worldwide for the murderous actions of a few is sadly predictable. Doing so is the first step in rationalizing the unthinkable and justifying the unjustifiable," he writes. "This is, quite frankly, the best reaction groups like al-Qaeda could hope for: The strength of their narrative of a war between Islam and the West ultimately rests on our own actions. We should not indulge them or those that share a similar worldview."
  • His Name Doesn't Imply Terrorism  Conservative blogger William A. Jacobson cautions against politically-charged speculation. "It turns out that the shooter has a Muslim name, but that proves nothing other than that he has a Muslim name. Fox News is interviewing a soldier who knew the shooter, and who is attributing anti-U.S., religious comments to the shooter, but we'll see what an investigation proves. It may be that this has a religious or political motive, or it may be that the person was just crazy, or some combination of the two. If the evidence is that this was a political and religious shooting, we should not hesitate to say so. But don't engage in the sort of politicized speculation we saw in the Sparkman case."
  • Far-Right Hypocrisy on Islam  Spencer Ackerman slams some of the more conservative pundits for their writing on Islam. "I love how elements of the right who hector us about spreading freedom to those unwashed Arabs and Muslims as a pretext for invasion and occupation turn around and spread innuendo about Muslim rampages, as if Hasan's religion can unlock some secret about his motivation or herald an emerging onslaught of 'Muslim' attackers." Ackerman added: "Let's not let anyone get away with euphemism or prejudice. Those in the media who insist on pointing out that Hasan is a Muslim should have to account for why, exactly, they find that characteristic so significant. Chances are they can't and won't — because few people want to face up to their own bigotry, and fewer still will want to do so in public."
  • Muslim Doesn't Mean Terrorist  Several writers took to Twitter to express their exasperation. Matt Duss: "Note to conservative clowns: the definition of terrorism is not 'any violence by any Muslim anywhere at any time for any reason.'" Michael Moore: "After a shooting like this it's very important that no one jump to conclusions and take out any revenge against doctors or phsychiatrists." Matthew Yglesias: "Lucky for us Christians never shoot anyone. Otherwise America might have the developed world's highest murder rate."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.