12 Nov, 2009 The Jihad Seminar of Major Nidal M. Hasan
The contents of a two-year old seminar presented by Major Nidal M. Hasan, the medico believed responsible for the Fort Hood massacre, were apparently recorded in the form of powerpoint slides.
These slides are in one sense nothing new. They review the basics of Islam: the pillars and core beliefs, the Koran, abrogation (‘later verses abrogate former ie: peaceful verses no longer apply’ – slide 35), the rewards for believers in paradise and punishments of hell for those who do not submit to Allah’s will, defensive and agressive jihad. However, in addition, Major Hasan explains the implications of this theological material for the lived situation of Muslims in the US armed forces. He is saying that Muslims can experience problems in the military for two reasons.
One reason is the prohibition against Muslims killing other Muslims (‘whoever kills a believer intentionally, his punishment is hell’ – slide 12).
The other is the requirement that Muslims wage war against non-believers in both defensive jihad (slides 37-41) and aggressive jihad (slides 42-48). This command, he is saying, can be expected to be followed by devout, God-fearing Muslims (‘Allah expects full loyalty’ – slide 49), especially if they are persuaded that in so-doing they would be ‘fighting against the injustices of the “infidels,”‘ (slide 48). His point is that if US Muslim soldiers can be persuaded that fighting against fellow-Muslims is an injustice, this could trigger a deadly attack against fellow US soldiers instead, e.g. by means of ‘suicide bombing, etc’ (‘We love death more than you love life!’ – slide 48).
The Major was explaining that when Muslims in the military are ordered to fight against other Muslims (such as in Iraq or Afghanistan) this can trigger their religious convictions to such effect that they will seek to be discharged from their combat duties. Otherwise they could feel compelled to attempt to kill fellow US soldiers in a personal jihad. Major Hasan refers to this possibility as ‘adverse events’. He cites the case of convert to Islam and US soldier Hasan Akbar (slide 13), who killed two US officers in a grenade attack during the Gulf War, and had written prior to the attack: ‘I may not have killed any Muslims, but being in the Army is the same thing. I may have to make a choice very soon on who to kill.’
Major Hasan was right to present this material in the context of psychiatric care of soldiers. It is tragic that his superiors apparently did not take his message seriously. Those responsible for the psychological well-being of US soldiers in the armed forces should indeed be made aware that asking Muslims to fight against and kill other Muslims can lead to intense theological pressure upon them which drives them toward two outcomes, either that they could seek to avoid active combat duties, or else they could be incited to attack fellow soliders in the US military. This will happen, Hasan argues, in accordance with deeply held religious beliefs about the Koran, abrogation, jihad, paradise, hell and the will of Allah.
I admire the honesty of Major Hasan’s attempt to accurately delineate a serious issue for the US military. In the light of subsequent events, his presentation could also be regarded as a cry for help. In the face of such candour and seeming foresight it would seem to be sterile and callously irresponsible to hide behind the mantra that no genuine religion endorses violence.
In the face of the evidence of Major Hasan’s powerpoint slides, denial is bankrupt. It cannot offer security to US military personnel, and it will put US Muslim soldiers under continued unreasonable intense pressure.
What the US military has to accept is that some Muslims in the armed forces could be poor soldiers in wars against Muslims. In a sense what Major Hasan was arguing was that Muslim soldiers can only be relied upon to kill non-Muslims.
Underlying this world view, fed by the streams of centuries of Islamic theology, is the distinction that a Muslim’s blood is sacrosanct, but an infidel’s blood is not.
The US military is between a rock and a hard place. It could a) choose to discriminate and refuse to recruit Muslims, b) not use Muslims against Muslim enemies, or c) obtain a rock-solid fatwa declaring that the Muslim enemies of the US are not true Muslims at all, so they can lawfully be killed.
Will clear-thinking prevail? Not likely. It is a tragic irony that Major Hasan may well have acted in accordance with his own training material. Sadly the US armed services did not heed his message two years ago.
Mark Durie is the founding director of the Institute for Spiritual Awareness, a Fellow at the Middle East Forum, and a Senior Research Fellow of the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at the Melbourne School of Theology.