Long before Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on Fort Hood, killing at least 13, there was a well-established formula for covering this story.
Start with shock and awe. Then, as information starts to get out, report that the suspected shooter has an Arabic name. Confirm that he was, in fact, a Muslim. Once that has settled in, add to the story about motive the possibility of jihad and the references to 9/11. Finally, within short order, fill out the picture with a story about American Muslims condemning the alleged act of their misguided brother.
Let’s look specifically at coverage from The New York Times: “Muslims at Fort Voice Outrage and Ask Questions.” (The Los Angeles Times also delivered a pretty straightforward story mixing man-on-the-street with advocacy leaders and The Washington Post offered this six-paragraph roll-call of the organizations speaking out.)
In the NYT story, we’ve got great quotes and a narrow window into Muslim life on and around the largest Army base in the country. Oddly, it’s not clear whether the lead quote is from a Muslim or just a friend of Hasan. Often, that wouldn’t matter. But here, on the face of the story, it does. Particularly when you read the remark:
“When a white guy shoots up a post office, they call that going postal,” said Victor Benjamin II, 30, a former member of the Army. “But when a Muslim does it, they call it jihad.
“Ultimately it was Brother Nidal’s doing, but the command should be held accountable,” Mr. Benjamin said. “G.I.’s are like any equipment in the Army. When it breaks, those who were in charge of keeping it fit should be held responsible for it.”
This story from reporter Michael Moss is fairly short, which almost always serves as a valid defense for not offering more religious depth. But the problem here is more fundamental. This is a classic example of a story about religion that is complete void of any religion.
We get a glimpse of the people at Friday prayers, but learn nothing of the religion that American Muslims are seeking to distinguish from Hasan’s alleged actions:
Among those attending Friday prayers at the Killeen mosque was Sgt. Fahad Kamal, 26, an Army medic who wore his Airborne uniform, and later he said he was angered on several levels. “I want to believe it was the individual, and not the religion, that made him do what he did,” said Sergeant Kamal, who returned to the United States last year after a 15-month tour in Afghanistan. “It’s an awful thing. I feel let down. We’re better than this.”
It was Major Hasan, though, who increasingly felt let down by the military, and deeply conflicted by his religion, said those who knew him through the mosque. Duane Reasoner Jr., an 18-year-old substitute teacher whose parents worked at Fort Hood, said Major Hassan was told he would be sent to Afghanistan on Nov. 28, and he did not like it.
“He said he should quit the Army,” Mr. Reasoner said. “In the Koran, you’re not supposed to have alliances with Jews or Christian or others, and if you are killed in the military fighting against Muslims, you will go to hell.”
That’s really the only religious reference in the story. More importantly, I’d like to know where in the Koran that verse is. The latter might be true — I don’t read Arabic — but I’m pretty sure the former isn’t. Ever heard of the Spanish Golden Age?
I could be wrong here. But it would be nice if the reporter would show me how.