Fewer than 1% of America’s 1.4 million troops are Muslims and that number is really just the military’s best guess, since just 4,000 troops have declared their faith in their service records. By all accounts, the percentage of Muslims who are outstanding, competent or misfit soldiers is proportional to that of every other ethnic group. But that logic is increasingly hard to hear in the aftermath of Major Nidal Hasan’s killing spree at Fort Hood.
While the word was merely whispered in the hours following Hasan’s rampage, Senator Joe Lieberman, who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, made it close to explicit on Fox News Sunday. He didn’t call Hasan a terrorist, but Lieberman suggested the psychiatrist became “an Islamic extremist” while in the Army and should have been weeded out of the ranks. Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer representing a not-insignificant strain inside the U.S. military, argued in the New York Post that the Hasan raised all sorts of red flags, and that the Army was too timid to address them. “Political correctness killed those patriotic Americans at Fort Hood as surely as the Islamist gunman did,” wrote Peters. “Maj. Hasan will be a hero to Islamist terrorists abroad and their sympathizers here.”
Determining whether Hasan’s actions were inspired by religious fervor , his exposure to the mental trauma of the soldiers he counseled or other unknown factors may be impossible. Currently Hasan is in intensive care at a San Antonio hospital, breathing without a respirator. But given his mental state, even he may not know what caused him to kill.
At least for now, the Army is more worried about how the world is reacting to Hasan’s actions than an explanation for them. “I’m concerned that this increased speculation could cause a backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers,” General George Casey, the Army’s top officer, said Sunday on CNN. “And I’ve asked our Army leaders to be on the lookout for that.” At least one Muslim Army veteran agrees. “Muslims have been serving for generations in the United States armed forces and we will continue to serve proudly and with honor,” says Abdul-Rashid Abdullah, who served as an Army parachute rigger from 1991 to 1998. Hasan’s religion “is immaterial,” says Abdullah, deputy director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council.
Since Sept. 11, Muslims in uniform have come under increased scrutiny and tested the ability of the U.S. military to balance its needs with the Islamic beliefs of a small number of its members. While there have been occasional tense moments around questions like, “Can the Air Force compel Muslim troops to wear pigskin boots” or “Should the U.S. stop fighting during the holy month of Ramadan,” the rarity of such cases highlights how smoothly the integration of Muslims into the ranks of the U.S. military has gone. .
The Army appointed its first Muslim chaplain in 1993, and five years later the Navy opened the U.S. military’s first mosque at Norfolk Navy Base in Virginia. The Pentagon is eager for the language skills of Muslims, and has been awarding signing bonuses and expedited citizenship since 2003 to recruits fluent in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Kurdish and Pashto.