Muslim Identity, Cultural Trauma, and the Racialized Backlash
Jeffrey Alexander writes that “cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways” (2004). With this basic definition in mind, can we call the shootings that took place at the Fort Hood army base a “cultural trauma”? In this case, the identity of the United States military may have been terribly complicated. Military leaders have made many statements in the media decrying this incident as the work of a deranged individual, and have stated repeatedly that Muslims serving in the military have made sacrifices as great as those belonging to any other religious group.
However, there have been reports of growing concern in some areas of the media (such as Fox News) that directly blame the alleged shooter’s faith for the incident. Such commentators blame a climate of “political correctness” for ignoring the “warning signs” that Nidal Hasan was becoming “radicalized.” A more nuanced analysis of the situation might place Hasan in the same group of other military men and women who have been experiencing strain related to eight plus years of armed conflict in the Middle East. Although Hasan had yet to be deployed, his work as a military psychiatrist counseling the victims of post-traumatic stress syndrome made him an asset that the army could not afford to lose, and some believe that this fact above all else was the main reason that the command structure overlooked or downplayed his past disciplinary problems.
Whatever the eventual outcome of Hasan’s trial may be, the identity of the U.S. military has been thrown into a state of flux. By extension, the concept of who is a “real” American has been dealt another blow. This incident, in conjunction with the racialized discourse surrounding the birth origins of President Obama, has added to the cultural trauma of Muslim and American identity in the U.S. that has plagued the 21st century so far.