The horrific news of Army Major and psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan killing 13 people and wounding 30 at Fort Hood that has dominated the press in the past 24 hours leaves us all asking the question, "why?" What would compel an officer in the Army who is also a medical doctor (a psychiatrist) trained to heal people to kill his fellow soldiers or anyone for that matter. We naturally want and demand answers. We all are pattern seeking people who feel compelled to understand what made this man do such a horrific thing. We want an answer. Sadly, we may never know for sure and whatever answers we get may be incomplete at best.
Human behavior is highly complex and rarely are there simple explanations for such remarkable and heinous behavior. What is important is that we don't do the wrong thing by over generalizing and scapegoating groups of innocent people for the tragedy.
For example, some people may wish to blame the fact that Major Hasan is reportedly a Muslim. Tragically, following the events of September 11th, some innocent Americans who happened to be Muslim or in the eyes of the perpetrators, "looked like a Muslim" were injured and some even killed. This risk is with us again for those who may wish to blame the tragedy on Islam.
Others may wish to blame the reported news that Major Hasan was upset about being deployed to Afghanistan. Some may wish to blame the ongoing war and the frustration with not having our men and women in uniform back home by now. Of course we all want the war in Afghanistan and Iraq to end as soon as possible but blaming Major Hasan's behavior on the war itself doesn't likely help answer our question.
Still others may wish to conclude that the irony of Major Hasan being a psychiatrist (a physician who specializes in treating those with mental illness) shows that there is a fine line between the healer and the patient, between psychiatry and mental illness. This feeds into the notion often seen in movies and television shows that psychiatrists are as crazy or perhaps crazier than their patients.
Finally, some may wish to blame post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the idea that most soldiers and military professionals are likely to snap with rage at any time due to PTSD.
There may be a confluence of factors that led Major Hasan to commit this terrible and horrific act. Perhaps the right thing to do is to not jump to conclusions which may victimize others but rather be thoughtful about the complex and sometimes unknowable reasons why some people do horrific things. Although we seek simple answers, the truth often is more complex and sometimes not completely knowable.
In the meantime, the right thing to do is not to blame Muslims, psychiatrists, soldiers who suffer from PTSD, and other groups for the behavior of this one individual. Perhaps the right thing to do is to pray for the victims and their families and to do whatever we can do to comfort those who are impacted by such a horrific event. Perhaps some answers will eventually come to help explain Major Hasan's behavior but they are likely to be complex and incomplete.