November 8, 2009

Since we're already seen so much innuendo and the "how do we know whether this guy was a terrorist?" routine from the "get it quickly if not accurately" television news, I thought readers would be interested in a more human slant on the Ft. Hood tragedy:

Reporting from Al Birah, West Bank - When Rafik Ismail Hamad last traveled from the West Bank to visit relatives in America, he was struck by the pressures one of his nephews was facing.

The younger man, an American-born Muslim of Palestinian descent, spoke to his uncle of ethnic taunts by army colleagues. He was haunted by the wartime disabilities of soldiers he treated as an army psychiatrist, Hamad recalled, and was overwhelmed by a growing caseload he felt unable to manage.

On top of that, the uncle said, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had drifted apart from his family; he was a sensitive, solitary man bearing his burdens alone.

Late Thursday, Hamad was home in the West Bank town of Al Birah when he heard the news on television: A shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, had left 13 people dead, and Maj. Hasan, wounded and in a coma, was being accused of the killings.

"The whole family is in a state of denial," Hamad said today. "We don't believe he is capable of doing something like that. I was amazed and shocked, because it's not him. He's very quiet, gentle."

"Maybe it built up together -- the harassment, too many patients, the workload, the tragedies his patients brought to him," said the 65-year-old retired real estate broker. "Whatever it was, it must have been big pressure, something terrible he couldn't handle."

[...] Hamad described his nephew as a gentle soul who once, as a young adult, mourned for three months after rolling over during a nap and crushing his pet parakeet. During medical school, the uncle said, Hasan switched his major to psychiatry after fainting at the sight of blood while delivering a baby.

The young man became more religious after the death of his parents, who were Muslims but not observant, Hamad said. He noticed the change during the visit last year, when his nephew urged him to accompany him to pray at a mosque.

His turn to religion had nothing to do with political identity, Hamad and other West Bank relatives said. He never traveled outside America except for two brief visits to the West Bank, the last one more than a decade ago, they said.

"He never knew anything about politics," Hamad said. "He didn't know who is the president or the king of any Arab country. He's American. He once told me, 'The chances I have in the United States I couldn't have in any other country in the world, so I appreciate what this country has done for me.'"

Hamad said that although his nephew complained last year about ethnic slurs, he appeared to be handling them well. Fellow soldiers once handed him a diaper and told him to wear it around his head, the uncle said; another time they sketched a camel on a piece of paper and left it on his car with a note that said "Here's your ride."

"He told me, 'They're ignorant. I'm more American than they are. I help my country more than they do. And I don't care what they say.' He felt sorry for them. He didn't feel grudges; he felt sympathy."

Hamad said that during their time together last year the major seemed more afflicted by his case load of physically disabled and traumatized war veterans.

"He didn't have time even to breathe," Hamad said. "Too much pressure, too many patients, not enough staff. He would say, 'I don't know how to treat them or what to tell them' because he didn't have enough time. They just kept coming one after the other. Sometimes he cried because of what happened to them. How young they are, what's going to happen to the rest of their lives. They're going to be handicapped; they're going to be crazy. He was very, very sensitive."

Mohammed Munif Hasan, a 24-year-old cousin of the major, said he heard the same story from relatives in America. Major Hasan brought his case load home, he said, seeing patients at his house when the clinic was not open.

"He was a good doctor, and he liked working with soldiers and helping them," Mohammed Hasan said as he absorbed the news of the shooting. "We're the first to wonder how he could have done something like this. It's baffling."

The uncle said: "I think he snapped. Something big happened and he snapped."

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