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Ideology and the interpretation of grievance at Fort Hood

Ideology and the interpretation of grievance at Fort Hood
9th November 2009 ICSR Team
In FREErad!cals

The shooting at Fort Hood has pushed some ideas kicking around in my head to the surface – namely the relationship between ideology and grievance.  (Long post, I apologize)

From what we know now (much more will be revealed in the coming days, weeks, and months – but contrary to what some are saying, this isn’t a reason to abstain from analysis) Major Nidal Malik Hasan had been vocal about the presence of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

For example, Col Terry Lee, a colleague of Hasan’s, claims that at a conference 6 months ago, Hasan said that the US shouldn’t be ‘over there’ and that Muslims should ‘stand up and fight against the aggressors’. Col Lee also reported that in the aftermath of the summer shooting at a Little Rock recruiting station, Hasan was happy about the attack and said that it was a sign that the US should leave Iraq and Afghanistan. Hasan was also very upset about the way the Little Rock shooter was treated and allegedly said that Muslims should blow themselves up in Time Square.He wrote a comment on a website that seemed to justify suicide attacks.  Someone else reported that he ‘heard Hasan equate the war on terrorism to a war on Islam’. And yet another person ‘had previously argued with Hasan when he said that he felt the “war on terror” was really a war against Islam, expressed anti-Jewish sentiments and defended suicide bombings’.

What we see here is the interplay between ideology and grievances, with framing processes mediating between the two. Ideology on its own is not a motivating factor, but once grievances and experiences resonate with ideology, you have something potentially dangerous on your hands (ICSR’s Peter Neumann nudged me in this direction).  How is that resonance achieved?

Frames are ‘schemata of interpretation’ that allow people ‘to locate, perceive, identify, and label’ experiences and events. According to social movement theorists Benford and Snow, collective action frames are ‘action-oriented’ legitimating frames that seek to ‘mobilize potential adherents and constituents, to garner bystander support, and to demobilize antagonists’.

Collective action frames are strategically produced in a process of interaction between movement leaders, supporters, and participants as well as the opposition, neutral actors, and the media. Frames are not the same as ideology, but they often draw heavily on ideology.

Collective action frames have three core tasks: diagnostic (what is wrong and who is to blame?); prognostic (what do we do?); and motivational (why should we participate?).

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and their impact on Muslims there clearly had an effect on Hasan. He spoke about it with his colleagues, even when he knew his opinions were unpopular. These were important issues for him. He felt a strong tie to Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan – people he had never met – which shows powerful affective ties to an imagined community through the concept of the ummah.

Ideology helped make sense of this for him. It both fostered the ‘in-group’ love for fellow members of the ummah and provided a script for understanding and action, through frames, which are disseminated by Islamist activists, scholars, and terrorists through various forms of media. These frames are ubiquitous, due to modern telecomm (a search of his computer found that he visited ‘radical’ websites), and simple to grasp.

They helped him to diagnose, by explaining what was wrong (the US is occupying Muslim land and killing Muslims) and who was to blame (the US and US service members); make a prognosis, by explaining what was to be done (Muslims should attack American targets to deter the US); and motivate his own participation in action (this is justified according to Islam, which states that non-Muslim occupying powers must be resisted).

And the jihadist movement has now incorporated Hasan’s actions into its own framing.Anwar al-Awlaki (pdf), a pro-AQ cleric, has praised Hasan’s actions. Note the (color-coded) diagnosticprognostic, and motivational framing in Awlaki’s blog post:

Nidal Hassan is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people. This is a contradiction that many Muslims brush aside and just pretend that it doesn’t exist. Any decent Muslim cannot live, understanding properly his duties towards his Creator and his fellow Muslims, and yet serve as a US soldierThe US is leading the war against terrorism which in reality is a war against Islam. Its army is directly invading two Muslim countries and indirectly occupying the rest through its stooges….[T]he only way a Muslim could Islamically justify serving as a soldier in the US army is if his intention is to follow the footsteps of men like Nidal….The fact that fighting against the US army is an Islamic duty today cannot be disputed. No scholar with a grain of Islamic knowledge can defy the clear cut proofs that Muslims today have the right -rather the duty- to fight against American tyranny.Nidal has killed soldiers who were about to be deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan in order to kill Muslims.

Awlaki was an imam at the Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, VA when two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that mosque. Awlaki supposedly knew the hijackers well and served as a sort of spiritual guide to them. During the same period, Hasan held his mother’s funeral at Dar al Hijrah.

While Hasan reportedly had great respect for Awlaki’s teachings, this doesn’t mean there is any real connection between Awlaki and Hasan or between the hijackers and Hasan – both possibilities are doubtful. But it is interesting to see that Awlaki seems to have framed both Hasan’s worldview before the attack as well as the attack itself for the rest of the world.


UPDATE: I just saw this (thanks to a friend). Apparently, Hasan was trying to make contact with Al Qaeda.

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