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.

CREDIT: CREATIVE COMMONS
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Prostate cancer research has had a £75m welcome boost. Now let’s treat another killer of men

Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women.

The opening months of 2018 have seen a flurry of activity in men’s health. In February, figures were published showing that the number of male patients dying annually from prostate cancer – around 12,000 – has overtaken female deaths from breast cancer for the first time. Whether coincidence or not, this news was followed shortly by two celebrities going public with their personal diagnoses of prostate cancer – Stephen Fry, and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull.

Fry and Turnbull used their profiles to urge other men to visit their doctors to get their PSA levels checked (a blood test that can be elevated in prostate cancer). Extrapolating from the numbers who subsequently came to ask me about getting screened, I would estimate that 300,000 GP consultations were generated nationwide on the back of the publicity.

Well-meaning as Fry’s and Turnbull’s interventions undoubtedly were, they won’t have made a jot of positive difference. In March, a large UK study confirmed findings from two previous trials: screening men by measuring PSA doesn’t actually result in any lives being saved, and exposes patients to harm by detecting many prostate cancers – which are often then treated aggressively – that would never have gone on to cause any symptoms.

This, then, is the backdrop for the recent declaration of “war on prostate cancer” by Theresa May. She announced £75m to fund research into developing an effective screening test and refining treatments. Leaving aside the headline-grabbing opportunism, the prospect of additional resources being dedicated to prostate cancer research is welcome.

One of the reasons breast cancer has dropped below prostate cancer in the mortality rankings is a huge investment in breast cancer research that has led to dramatic improvements in survival rates. This is an effect both of earlier detection through screening, and improved treatment outcomes. A similar effort directed towards prostate cancer will undoubtedly achieve similar results.

The reason breast cancer research has been far better resourced to date must be in part because the disease all too often affects women at a relatively young age – frequently when they have dependent children, and ought to have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies have been caused by breast malignancy. Prostate cancer, by contrast, while it does affect some men in midlife, is predominantly a disease of older age. We are more sanguine about a condition that typically comes at the end of a good innings. As such, prostate cancer research has struggled to achieve anything like the funding momentum that breast cancer research has enjoyed. May’s £75m will go some way to redressing the balance.

In March, another important men’s health campaign was launched: Project 84, commissioned by the charity Calm. Featuring 84 haunting life-size human sculptures by American artist Mark Jenkins, displayed on the rooftops of ITV’s London studios, the project aims to raise awareness of male suicide. Each week in the UK, 84 men kill themselves – three times the number of women. Suicide is the leading cause of male death under 45 – men who frequently have dependent children, and should have many decades of life to look forward to. So many family tragedies.

I well remember the stigma around cancer when I was growing up in the 1970s: people hardly dared breathe the word lest they became in some way tainted. Now we go on fun runs and wear pink ribbons to help beat the disease. We need a similar shift in attitudes to mental health, so that it becomes something people are comfortable talking about. This is gradually happening, particularly among women. But we could do with May declaring war on male suicide, and funding research into the reasons why so many men kill themselves, and why they don’t seem to access help that might just save their lives. 

Phil Whitaker’s sixth novel, “You”, is published by Salt

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge