Thursday’s shooting at Fort Hood — which left 13 people dead and 30 others wounded — was indeed a tragedy. Another: The incident inspired an all-too-predictable outbreak of Islamophobia.

News reports named the man who used two handguns in the assault on his fellow soldiers as Major Malik Nidal Hasan. Hours after the incident, and hours after news anchors and politicians cited his religion as an explanation for the shootings, a family member told reporters Major Hasan was indeed a Muslim. But that was hardly the only relevant detail about the major.

For instance, according to Sen. Bailey Hutchison, a senator from Texas, Hasan was preparing to deploy to Iraq. Several reports suggested that the major saw a deployment to Iraq as his “worst nightmare” and recounted how he had treated — as a psychiatrist at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress — victims of combat-related stress and was upset about the war.


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.” Fox News host Shepard Smith asked Sen.

Hutchison on air: “The name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?”`
Hutchinson’s response? “It does. It does, Shepard.”

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, declared that, “Our entire organization extends its heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed as well as to those wounded and their loved ones.”

Those are sentiments that are worth noting, especially by news anchors and senators who are in a position to inform the discussion of a horrific incident — rather than to inflame it.

— John Nichols is a correspondent for The Nation magazine.

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