The massacre at Fort Hood Thursday afternoon curiously caused me to flashback to my childhood, rather than my experiences as a war correspondent. After my family moved during the 1950's "Ozzie and Harriet"-era from Brooklyn to West Babylon Long Island, becoming the neighborhood's first Latino family, my dad used to say a little prayer whenever there was a particularly notorious crime: "Please God that the person responsible not be another Puerto Rican."
Fighting discrimination and trying to overcome post-World War II-era discrimination as well as our new neighbors' hesitation to welcome our urban brood into their suburban midst, dad saw every act of infamy or notoriety committed by someone who looked like us or who had a name like ours' as an impediment to our ultimate integration.
When 39-year old American-born Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan was identified as the lone gunmen responsible for slaughtering 12 or 13 of his fellow GI's and wounding dozens more, I thought of those uneasy days in West Babylon. Specifically, I felt deep sympathy for the 12-15,000 Muslims serving honorably in the Armed Forces, and the four to five million more who are law abiding, patriotic citizens of the United States. I wondered out loud this morning on "Fox & Friends" how the Fort Hood tragedy is impacting them? The wide-spread, if low-key suspicion and muted resentment toward Muslims that has existed since the 9/11 attacks will only fester and become more generalized. Each Muslim soldier will now have a giant question mark on his back; he or she will worry how their fellow GI's think of them, while those GI's, already stressed by an endless war will worry whether they have to also contend with an enemy within? The attacks overseas on our soldiers and Marines by our supposed allies in the Afghan and Iraqi armies and police forces don't help.
As additional pictures and more jihadist-sounding Internet ramblings from murderous Major Hasan are uncovered, more troubling questions will be asked about who knew of his deep discontent with his nation's policies and his radical Islamic sympathies? When did they know it? Did a kind of political correctness, a hesitation to single out Muslim soldiers for additional scrutiny play any role in preventing the Army from stopping this nut job in his tracks?
Those are fair questions. This slaughter of unarmed sitting ducks demands full investigation. Muslim G.I.'s must now show the same patience Latino G.I.'s do when asked about possible street gang involvement. I ask for only one pre-condition to this necessary probe: recognition that America's Muslims, particularly the G.I.'s, have demonstrated over the extraordinarily stressful period since the September 2001 attacks that their loyalty to their country far supersedes any attraction to jihad.
Major Hasan wasn't the first soldier to crack under the strain of pending deployment. And he wasn't the first Muslim G.I. to go "postal" on his fellow soldiers. That despicable distinction belongs to Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar of the 101st Airborne Division who used grenades to kill two superior officers in Camp Pennsylvania in Kuwait on the eve of the Iraq invasion in March 2003. Two weeks later, when we hooked up with the 101st in Iraq, those magnificent soldiers were still shaken by the cowardly attack by one of their own NCO's.
But considering all we've been through, two nut-jobs do not a trend make.
To me, the accused Fort Hood shooter has more in common with the murderous duo in Columbine High. He's a Palestinian-American version of Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold; a neglected, frustrated, impotent, sociopath who attempts to couch his murderous rampage in the psycho-babble of larger purpose. And by using the lingo of our hated Al Qaeda enemy, mass-killer Hasan has succeeded in sowing doubt and disruption into our multi-cultural military. We have to get through this, together.