Horrific shooting at Fort Hood

What does this mean for America's Muslim soldiers?

Having spent two years working in the relentless, 24-hour world of Sky News, dealing with "breaking news" stories, I am almost immune to reports out of the United States of gunmen running amok and killing members of the public/co-workers/students/delete-as-applicable. However, the latest incident at Fort Hood -- the largest US military base in the world -- in which 13 people were killed and more than 30 injured, is different for two reasons.

First, the nature of the attack is so shockingly treacherous, a US army major and mental health professional turning his weapon on his own colleagues and fellow soldiers in such a cold-blooded manner, in the middle of a military base. As President Obama said, "It is difficult enough when we lose these brave men and women abroad, but it is horrifying that they should come under fire at an army base on US soil." And that, too, by a fellow serving officer. The attack came less than 48 hours after it emerged that five British soldiers in Afghanistan had been killed -- in a surprise attack -- by a "rogue" Afghan policeman who opened fire on them as they sat sipping tea at a checkpoint in Helmand Province. The stench of betrayal, in both incidents, is overwhelming.

The second aspect of the attack that makes it stand out is that the attacker, who has survived and is in hospital, is Muslim: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a trained psychiatrist. Was this, therefore, a "terrorist attack"? Is Hasan a "jihadist" infiltrator? These are perhaps understandable questions that are now being raised.

However, some commentators on the US right and far right have gone further in providing definitive, conclusive and politically convenient motives for the attack, based on little more than speculation and prejudice. Take Robert Spencer. The bestselling conservative author, self-proclaimed "scholar of Islamic history" and notorious Muslim-baiter has a piece on the attack, entitled "Jihad at Fort Hood" (!), on the Front Page magazine website. In it, he opines, under a huge mugshot of Hasan:

Major Hasan's motive was perfectly clear -- but it was one that the forces of political correctness and the Islamic advocacy groups in the United States have been working for years to obscure. So it is that now that another major jihad terror attack has taken place on American soil . . .

"Clear"? Spencer must be a mind-reader, because Hasan has not said why he carried out the attack, nor have the authorities provided a motive -- yet. Perhaps he was a terrorist, and mounted the attack out of "Islamist" or "jihadist" hatred for US foreign policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps he was mentally unbalanced and simply "snapped". The BBC is reporting "that he had been increasingly unhappy in the military", and his cousin has told US media that the idea of overseas deployment had been Major Hasan's "worst nightmare" and that he had been battling racial harassment because of his "Middle Eastern ethnicity". Then there are the internet postings which discuss suicide bombings and other threats that officials say he may or may not have made.

The point is that, at this stage, we simply don't know. So why speculate, let alone conclude? Back to the BBC report:

Asked whether the shootings were a terrorist act, Lt Gen Cone [the base commander] said: "I couldn't rule that out but I'm telling you that right now, the evidence does not suggest that."

People like Robert Spencer are nasty, divisive, Islamophobic bigots who seize whatever opportunity, whatever tragedy, they can to stir up hatred against Muslims and Islam in the west.

I wonder what it must be like to be a patriotic American Muslim serving in the United States armed forces right now. There are up to 10,000 American Muslims serving their country who will now, I assume, be treated with suspicion and considered, by Spencer and others of his ilk, as potential fifth-columnists or al-Qaeda infiltrators.

As one Fort Hood soldier told the BBC:

"They've taken it hard, due to the fact that it kind of puts a negative light on them and makes people distrust them because everybody is going to look at them [and think]: 'Well, you're probably going to pull something like this'," the soldier said. "And it's a sad fact that that will happen."

Update: The BBC website now has added a piece on how the attack might affect the thousands of Muslims serving in the US military.

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty
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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.