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Robert David Jaffee

Robert David Jaffee

Posted: October 18, 2010 02:36 PM

Will Fort Hood's Iago Speak?

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Iago had not spoken in nearly a year. Since Nov. 5, 2009, when he killed 13 military personnel and wounded numerous others at Fort Hood in Texas, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan had said nothing to the public.

Hasan, a baby-faced killer with cherubic cheeks, resembled Othello's Iago in many respects. Just as Iago commanded no loyalty from and had a poisoned relationship with his wife, Hasan had never had success on the dating scene. And just as Iago sought to destroy the reputations of the stalwart soldiers, Cassio and Othello, Hasan, who had done poorly on performance evaluations, sought to destroy the lives of soldiers, men and women better than he, in the U.S. Army.

But the most chilling similarity came in Hasan's refusal to speak, some of which was no doubt recommended by his attorney and some of which may have been due to his being placed on a ventilator after getting shot during last year's rampage.

I made this comparison a year ago when I wrote:

We would learn later that Hasan was in a coma, but upon hearing the early news that he would not talk, I thought immediately of Iago. The famed villain from Othello says at the end of the play, after he has been apprehended as the orchestrator behind the death of Desdemona and others, "Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I will never speak word."


Nearly a year later, as of press time on October 13, Fort Hood's Iago still hadn't broken his silence on the first day of an Article 32 hearing. Paralyzed from the chest down, his cheeks noticeably less cherubic after losing weight, Hasan sat in a wheelchair and said nothing.

The hearing, to determine if Hasan would face a court-martial, was scheduled to go on for weeks. The prosecution's first witness, Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who lost much of his vision in his left eye after being shot five times, testified that Hasan screamed, "Allahu Akbar," Arabic for "God is Great," before opening fire. In days to come, others will cite Hasan's alleged attempts to correspond with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric reportedly based in Yemen.

While those pieces of evidence should be used to indict Hasan, they should not be used to indict Islam, a point I made last year. Despite the public delirium a month or so ago over the proposed building of a mosque near Ground Zero, an anti-Muslim panic reminiscent of the Red Scare in the 1950s, it goes without saying that the vast majority of Muslims in this country are law-abiding citizens.

And we should keep in mind that every religion has its extremists. No one would ever say that David Koresh, onetime head of the Branch Davidians who allegedly engaged in sexual abuse and other crimes at his compound in Waco, Texas, embodied Christianity, or that Yigal Amir, a right-wing zealot who in 1995 assassinated then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, stood for anything other than a lawless fringe of Judaism.

Just as Hasan's despicable actions should not be blamed on the Muslim faith, they should not be attributed to mental illness. While there was speculation that his legal team was preparing the grounds for an insanity defense, Hasan is not mentally ill at all. Psychotics, individuals who are divorced from reality, rarely get violent except when they misread a situation.

As I have noted before, when I was having my second psychotic break in 1999 and thought that I was going to be blamed for a series of murders across the country, three burly orderlies entered my room at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute to ensure that I took my medication. Never did I become violent even though I could conceivably have misread the situation and thought that I was going to be attacked.

By contrast, Hasan not only committed violent crimes, he did so in premeditated fashion. In planning his cold-blooded killings, for which he has shown no remorse, Hasan proved that he is a psychopath; and psychopathy is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, nor is it considered a mental illness by most psychiatrists.

In the days prior to the shootout, Hasan gave away many of his belongings to friends. He told them he would not be seeing them again. He allegedly used a neighbor's computer, destroyed documents and assumed fictional identities on the Internet so as to avoid detection of his murderous scheme.

Psychopaths like Hasan adhere to Iago's "I am not what I am" creed. Frauds and sadists, they live by a nihilistic code that attempts to negate the life-affirming ethos of Yahweh, who proclaims, "I am what I am."

Hasan, like Iago before him, is the kind of person who seeks to destroy, whether it's by ruining someone's reputation or relationships, shooting up an army readiness center or a school campus like Cho, the Virginia Tech gunman, or incinerating the lives of nearly 3,000 individuals in the World Trade Center, as Osama bin Laden did on 9/11.

Fortunately, these psychopaths are bound to fail. Most of us choose life. We refuse to allow these nihilists to cripple our planet.

It is comforting to know that while Hamlet, Rosalind, Portia and other sublime intellects do not exist in Othello, they do exist in life, and they will always outthink the Iagos of the world. They see through them, even those with cherubic cheeks.