Sunday, 8 November 2009

fort hood

i've had a pretty busy weekend, following a hectic week, so again little on-line time. yesterday i attended a media workshop in auckland, followed by lunch with some wonderful women, and a visit to see a newborn. today we had the shama AGM.

but my mind is really with the families of soldiers killed and injured at fort hood. it's a horrible thing, and i can't begin to imagine what those people are going through. the first i heard of the shooting was from emails sent out by CAIR, condemning the shooting, and then later, giving details of a press conference. that was enough to let me know (even though the name hadn't been released) that the killer had been muslim.

we don't know yet whether his religion was a factor in the shooting. after all, there is the fact that fort hood has a high number of suicides, 75 since 2003. then there is the fact that funding of mental health services for american military personnel is not anywhere near sufficient:

There is a shortage of professionals specifically trained in the nuances of military life, and those who are highly qualified often experience "burn out" due to the demands placed on them. Another complex and challenging task is how to modify the military culture so that mental health services are more accepted and less stigmatized. This would greatly improve the probability that service members would seek care when needed, but even if providers were available and seeking treatment was deemed acceptable, appropriate mental health services are often not readily accessible. This is usually due to a variety of factors that include long waiting lists, limited clinic hours, a poor referral process and geographical location.

there is the fact that the killer was, as a psychologist, having to listen to some pretty horrific stories about current conflicts, and then put in the position of having to go out and serve in the same place. we don't know what level of peer support he had in his job to help him deal with the daily stress.

i have to say that i don't know much about the nuts and bolts of military operation. i didn't know, for example, that you can't just resign from the military, nor can you walk away. if you refuse to serve in the role you've been assigned, they put you in a military prison. there is no escape. and if you have heard from traumatised soldiers about their experiences, and if you feel that you have been harassed because of your religion (as a cousin of the killer has alleged), and are being sent on this assignment as a punishment, then the feeling of being trapped might be overwhelming.

which is not to excuse what he did. of course not. it's just to say that there are many other factors that may explain why he did it other than religion. and that's why i've found the media coverage around the shooting disturbing - particularly the fact that he had worn "traditional" muslim dress some hours earlier when going shopping. or that he was not a convert. or any number of other details which may be totally irrelevant as to why he did this.

i am at least heartened by president obama stating clearly that assumptions as to motive should not be made. because the backlash against the muslim community in america has begun, with death threats being delivered to a mosque in texas. the wider effects of this tragedy on other muslim personnel serving is also a concern. as is the impact on the family of the killer.

it's a tragedy that touches so many people. when i think that tragedies similar to this were happening every day in iraq and afghanistan, and are still happening regularly, well it's really hard to process. i can't think of anything that will be a comfort to the loved ones of the soldiers who died in fort hood. my thoughts are with them.

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