The dilemma and the problems posed by the existence of pockets of qualms of conscience and divided loyalties in the Muslim communities of the non-Muslim world has been tragically illustrated by an incident in a US military base in Fort Hood, Texas, on November 6,2009.Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a psychiatrist of the US Army born to Palestinian migrants to the US from Jordan, suddenly went on a killing spree killing 13 soldiers with a handgun before he was injured and overpowered. He is presently under interrogation.
2.It has been reported that the assistance of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been sought in the investigation to rule out any terrorist conspiracy behind the incident. The indications till now are that it was the act of a lone Muslim with a mind troubled by conflicting loyalties to the US and Islam and angered by his own allegedly negative experiences as a Muslim in the US as well as in the Army and by the US involvement in the campaign against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Iraq and Afghanistan, which is constantly and mischievously projected by Al Qaeda and its affiliates as a campaign against Islam. Media reports claim that over a period of time this officer, with a 20 year record of service in the Army, had been expressing ideas of solidarity with his fellow-religionists, who had taken to arms against the US. He had also come to notice for allegedly speaking with some understanding of what he saw as the compulsions which drove some Muslims to take to suicide terrorism.
3.This was not the first incident of its kind in the US Armed Forces since 9/11, but this was the most dramatic. There were two previous incidents, which were equally troubling, but less dramatic.Just before the US troops entered Iraq in March,2003, Sergeant Hasan Akbar of the US Army based in Kuwait threw hand-grenades and opened fire into a tent in which US military personnel were sleeping. Two officers were killed.There was another incident in which two soldiers were killed outside a recruitment centre in Little Rock, Arkansas.
4. The fact that such incidents have till now been few and far between show that the US military authorities are sensitive to the pressures that are likely to be faced by the Muslim soldiers of their Armed Forces arising from the propaganda that the US military is waging a campaign against Islam and not against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups and that efforts are being made to remove wrong impressions of the campaign against terrorism in the minds of the Muslim soldiers, whose number in the US Armed Forces is estimated at around 3600.
5.The Fort Hood incident shows that despite this, troubled minds continue to exist among the Muslim soldiers. There has been an obvious failure of the human element in that despite past reports of the negative thinking and ideas of Major Hasan timely action was not taken to facilitate his exit from the Army in response to his reported desire to leave the Army.
6. Those opposed to the US role in Iraq and Afghanistan would use the Fort Hood incident as one more reason why the US should quit Iraq and Afghanistan. Isolated incidents such as this should not be allowed to influence policy decisions of strategic significance.
7. As of now, there is no evidence that a terrorist conspiracy might have been behind the incident. But it is likely that Al Qaeda and its affiliates would exploit it to spread disaffection and anger among the Muslim soldiers just as in the 1980s, the Afghan Mujahideen spread disaffection and anger among the Muslim soldiers from Chechnya, Dagestan and Central Asia serving in the Soviet Army. They went on duty to Afghanistan as convinced communists, but returned as born-again and wahabised Muslims. They constituted the initial core of the terrorist movements in Chechnya, Dagestan and the present-day Central Asian Republics. A similar possibility in the US has to be guarded against. ( 7-11-09 )
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )