Why I Murdered 13 American Soldiers at Fort Hood: Nidal Hassan Explains It All to You
By Barry Rubin
How do we know that the attack at Fort Hood was an act of Islamist terrorism? Simple, Major Nidal Hassan told us so. You've seen reports of a long list of things he did and said along these lines. But what's most amazing of all is this:
Hassan is the first terrorist in history to give an academic lecture explaining why he was about to attack. Yet that still isn't enough for too many people-including the president of the United States--to understand that the murderous assault at Fort Hood was a Jihad attack.
It was reported that the audience was shocked and frightened by his lecture. He was supposed to speak on some medical topic yet instead talked on the topic: "The Koranic World View as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military." All you have to do is look at the 50 Power Point slides and they tell you everything you need to know.
It is quite a good talk. He's logical and presents his evidence. This is clearly not the work of a mad man or a fool, though there's still a note of ambiguity in it. He's still working out what to do in his own mind and is trying to figure out if he has a way out other than in effect deserting the U.S. army and becoming a Jihad warrior. Ultimately, he concluded that he could not be a proper Muslim without killing American soldiers. Obviously, other Muslims could reach different conclusions but Hassan strongly grounds himself in Islamic texts.
In a sense, Hassan's lecture was a cry for help: Can anyone show me another way out? Can anyone refute my interpretation of Islam? One Muslim in the audience reportedly tried to do so. But unless these issues are openly discussed and debated--rather than swept under the rug--more people will die.
In fact, I'd recommend that teachers use this lecture in teaching classes on both Islam and Islamist politics.
Follow along with me and you'll understand everything.
Hassan deals with three topics: What Islam teaches Muslims, how Muslims view the wars in Afghanistan and Iran, how this might affect Muslims in the U.S. military. [Slide 2] Hassan defines Jihad, showing how silly are the claims that it only means a personal struggle to behave better. It also signifies holy war, of course. [Slide 5].
Now here's Hassan's central theme. Muslims cannot fight in an infidel army against other Muslims. And Hassan himself says that it's getting hard for Muslims in the U.S. military to justify doing so. [Slide 11] Obviously, Hassan was deciding that he couldn't do so.
He then quotes the Koran extensively to prove the point. Allah will punish anyone who kills a Muslim [Slide 12]. Hassan then gives four examples of Muslim soldiers who broke under the strain. One who killed fellow American soldiers (which Hassan would himself do), one accused of espionage (but was acquitted), one who deserted, and one who refused deployment to Iraq. [Slide 13]
Quoting the Koran, Hassan next provides a number of quotations to show that the believer must obey Allah. If they do, they will enjoy great delights (though he left out the 72 virgins, there's one quote hinting at pederasty), and if they don't they will suffer torments of Hell.
Finally, he gets into the heavy stuff. Hassan introduces the concept of "defensive Jihad" which is a core element in radical Islamist thinking and has especially been promoted by Usama bin Ladin and al-Qaida. [Slides 37-39]. If others attack and oppress Muslims, then it is the duty of all Muslims to fight them. September 11 was justified by its perpetrators by saying that the United States had attacked Muslims and therefore it was mandatory to kill Americans in return.
And here is the crux of the matter: Verse 60:08, "Allah forbids you…from dealing kindly and justly" with those who fight Muslims." [Slide 40]
If Nidal Hassan believed this and would follow it, he must-to be a proper Muslim in his eyes-pick up a gun and join the Jihad, Muslim side. He was not shooting Americans because he caught battle fatigue from American soldiers he treated. Think about it. To have done so, Hassan would have had to sympathize with them, thinking about what it would be like for him if he'd been fighting…Muslims in Iraq or Afghanistan. But that was precisely his problem. He sympathized with the other side.
Being ordered to ship out to one of these countries, Hassan now had to decide: which side are you on? Would he choose the side of Allah and the Muslims, to be rewarded in Heaven? Or would he join with the infidels, to be punished with Hell and to betray his religion? He made his decision.
It is interesting that no Muslim debate has developed over a very simple issue: What if two groups of Muslims are fighting, cannot one side with one group, even if it has non-Muslim allies? After all, Americans are not going to Iraq or Afghanistan simply to "kill Muslims" but to defend Muslims from being killed. The Saudis, Kuwaitis, and Egyptians had no problem with using Western troops to save them from Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991, for example. The Iraqi and Afghan governments, made up of pious Muslims, do the same thing.
Arab nationalists who are Muslims can take this position more easily. But for Islamists the problem is not some abstraction but knowledge that they are fighting a battle to seize control of all Muslim-majority states and indeed perhaps of the entire world.
The true problem, then, is not that some Muslims help infidels kill Muslims, but that some Muslims help infidels kill Islamists. But Hassan never considered this point, which could be quite persuasive to other Muslims in Western militaries.
So, in his thinking, how might Hassan have escaped from that stark choice? Hassan answers that question. Quoting the Koran, he indicated that if the Americans ended the wars, then that would be okay and no killing would be necessary. [Slide 42]
Another alternative is if the Americans accepted Islam or agreed to become subservient to Muslim rulers (dhimmis) and paid a special tax [Slide 43-44].
The third alternative would be if the Muslim Messiah came, destroyed Christianity as a false religion and set off the post-history utopia. [Slide 45]. He didn't mention another part of this description, which was the murder of all Jews.
A digression is appropriate here. Hassan, although a Palestinian, has never been quoted as attacking Israel or the Jews. This is one more reminder that this struggle isn't all just about Israel. But it also tells something important about Hassan which also applies to many Muslim radicals in Europe. Hassan is an American. As such he has no other nationality, neither Palestinian nor Arab. He doesn't support Hamas or Fatah. But he has a religion that directs his thinking. That's why he is an Islamist and why he supports a generalized Islamist revolutionary movement, al-Qaida.
As one moderate Muslim from Canada pointed out, the clothes he wore the day before committing his Jihad attack was not (as some sources put it in a silly manner) some martyr or even Arab garb but the clothing of Pakistan and Afghanistan. He is an al-Qaida Jihadi, having changed sides in the War on Terror.
Hassan was no fool or blind fanatic. Indeed, he presents a sophisticated view. For example, he quotes contradictory Quranic verses, one suggesting that all religions can enter Heaven; another that all non-Muslims will go to Hell [Slide 47].
His conclusion takes on tremendous significance in light of what would happen at Fort Hood. He writes:
"If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God against injustices of the `infidels'; i.e., the enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc."
And of course, these groups did so convince Hassan. [Slide 48]
Why? Hassan tells us:
"God expects full loyalty. Promises heaven and threatens with Hell. Muslims may seem moderate (compromising) but God is not." [Slide 49]
And at the very end, he proposes what might have been his own escape route:
"Recommendation: Department of Defense should allow Muslim soldiers the option of being released as `Conscientious objectors' to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events." [Slide 50]
If that had existed for Hassan, I think, he would not have killed people. This proposal is worth debating, though it has negative implications too, of course. But then he had other options. He could have resigned his commission, deserted, or refused deployment as a conscientious objector and gone to prison. In fact, Hassan himself cited individuals who had done the last two.
Consequently, Hassan's lecture also tells us why Muslims can choose not to be Jihadists, though this requires ignoring or rationalizing clear, religiously binding commandments in their religion or by being basically secular people of Muslim background. This is the kind of solution found in Christianity and Judaism, of course.
Hassan was too pious and consistent to take this way out. The answer to his personal behavior must be found in a mix of psychological factors and political-religious beliefs. The fact is, however, that he clearly did see himself as a Jihad warrior in the end. The existence of psycological factors in no way negates the importance of religious considerations.
All terrorists have some psychological forces working to make them follow such a path. Yet if not for ideological--and in the case of Islamists, religious--beliefs they never would have become terrorists. In contrast, criminals have psychological factors plus material goals, while mentally ill people who commit crimes are compelled by purely psychogical factors. Hassan does not fit either of those two categories.
Equally, his action cannot be attributed to a "misreading" or "heretical" interpretation of Islam. To read this lecture is to understand how carefully and self-critically he approached the issues. Anything so obviously false or deviant from mainstream Islam would simply not appeal to so many Muslims. Hassan was looking for a way out in the texts and listed the "loopholes" he did find: either the United States must not fight anyone who was a Muslim or it must let him out of the military.
What Hassan neglected was an explanation that lay outside what his strict reading of the Muslim texts would allow him to say: the United States must fight, in general, because the Islamists have been the aggressors. And the United States is actually fighting as allies with one group of (more moderate) Muslims against another (of radical Islamists). Yet the sacred texts of Islam always deal with the Muslim community as a united whole (the umma) without violent internal conflicts, an interpretation that just doesn't correspond with reality, nor hasn't for many centuries.
Indeed and ironically, this view enables Islamists to themselves kill thousands of Muslims all over the world while protesting that everyone who doesn't support them is a heretic who is breaking this mythical unity. And one of the main ways they allegedly betray the umma is to side with the infidels, precisely the personal problem that Hassan was facing!
The fact that Hassan's lecture has not been the centerpiece of the whole post-massacre debate is a true example of how impoverished are the "experts," journalists, and politicians at dealing with these issues. Of course, without exploring the Islamic factor, they're wasting everyone's time. They're also going to be wasting quite a few lives.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.