November 11, 2009 Wednesday FIRST EDITION Fort Hood tragedy: Terror or
typical workplace murder?

BYLINE: James Alan Fox and Jack Levin


LENGTH: 610 words

Appearances can be perilously deceiving, especially if Americans do
not look any further than Nidal Malik Hasan's Palestinian descent, his
Muslim affiliation, his Middle Eastern-style clothing, and reports of
his having shouted out "Allahu Akbar," an expression of praise to God,
before allegedly gunning down dozens of soldiers. Superficially, the
Fort Hood rampage looks like terrorism.  Hasan's murder spree appears,
however, to be much more about seeking vengeance for personal
mistreatment than spreading terror to advance a political agenda. In
many respects the Ford Hood massacre stands as a textbook case of
workplace murder, even though a military base would seem to be an
unusual location. Such a crime would seem more likely to occur inside
an office building, such as in Friday's shooting spree in Orlando.
Despite its unique function, Ford Hood is indeed a workplace, the U.S.
Army an employer, and Hasan a disgruntled worker attempting to avenge
perceived unfair treatment on the job. His rampage was selective, not
indiscriminate. He chose the location -- his workplace -- and then
apparently singled out certain co-workers for death.

Bouts of failure

Workplace avengers typically endure profound episodes of failure, as
reflected in the string of negative evaluations Hasan had received for
his substandard performance. In addition, workplace killers
externalize blame, seeing themselves as victims of unfair treatment.
Hasan apparently felt harassed by soldiers because of his Muslim
faith. And, given his standoffish nature, he was not likely to seek
support from others.

Workplace murderers suffer some catastrophic loss on the job that
serves as a precipitant. Despite attempts to gain a discharge from the
Army, Hasan was facing deployment overseas. It was one thing to
counsel returning soldiers here in the States, but quite another to
support the war from the front lines.  Hasan had enlisted more than
two decades ago, hoping to pursue his education and to express his
loyalty as a proud U.S. citizen. This was long before the war in Iraq,
the 9/11 attacks, even the Gulf War. At this juncture, however, he
dreaded going to war against Islam, as he reportedly viewed it. He saw
no way out.

Muslim intolerance

In today's political climate, it is easy to understand why many
observers would uncritically describe Hasan as a terrorist. Going so
far as to post Hasan's photograph above the word "Terrorist," a
columnist with The North Star National news syndicate wrote: "(It) is
terrorism. To state otherwise only compounds the problem." But calling
the Fort Hood ambush an act of terrorism would only compound the
tragedy by reinforcing the kind of intolerance toward American Muslims
that appears to have contributed to Hasan's despair. Unfortunately,
according to FBI figures, there has been a precipitous increase in
hate crimes against Arab Americans since the 9/11 attacks.

Still, the U.S. has not suffered many more acts of jihadist terrorism
since 9/11 in large part because Arab Americans are integrated into
the culture and structure of our nation. Unlike France, where
thousands of Muslim immigrants have rioted in the streets, America's
Islamic newcomers are generally accepted into the mainstream. Most
have a stake in their host country and would not want to destroy it.
Like so many disgruntled workers and ex-workers nowadays, Hasan saw
himself as a victim of injustice and his fellow soldiers as villains
who had conspired against him. The Fort Hood massacre was absolutely
tragic, but likely not terrorism.

James Alan Fox and Jack Levin are criminologists at Northeastern
University in Boston and co-authors of Extreme Killing.