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Did Alleged Fort Hood Shooter Warn Of Violence?

MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Later in the program, my conversation with Mo'Nique. We'll talk about her new late night talk show and why she says she took on her most provocative film role yet in the film "Precious." And we will talk about Lou Dobbs. The controversial CNN anchor has decided to step down. We'll try to learn more. That's all later in the program.

But first, we return to the tragedy at Fort Hood last week, and we examine an issue that has arisen in the wake of the shooting that left 13 people dead and more than 40 wounded. The question is this: Did colleagues and associates of Major Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused in the shooting fail to raise warning flags about him because of concerns about being, quote, "politically incorrect," which is to say because of fears that raising concerns would be seen as prejudiced or insensitive to Muslims? Conversely, did fellow Muslims with whom he associated and worshipped fail to raise warning signs about him because of their fear about being seen as causing dissention or disharmony in their community? We'll examine both sides of this sensitive question with a number of people who have been thinking about it and writing about it over the past few days.

First, though, we want to talk about just what some of those warning signs were. Washington Post reporter, Dana Priest, wrote a piece for the paper earlier this week about a PowerPoint presentation Major Hasan gave as a senior psychiatry resident at Walter Reed Army Hospital when he was posted there. Dana, welcome, thank you for joining us.

DANA PRIEST: Nice to be here, Michel.

MARTIN: What was this PowerPoint presentation and what was in it that has caused some concern in retrospect?

PRIEST: Well, he was a fourth year resident. And during that year, all residents are supposed to give a medical presentation to all of the physicians that they work with. And instead of giving a medical presentation, he decided to write about the Quranic world view and implications for the U.S. military. So, he is first giving some history about the Quran explaining some things, but you see soon that his version of the Quran's world view is very much a radical extremist version in which people cannot live in harmony in which believers are okayed to fight against non-believers. And that there is an inherent conflict among Muslims themselves over fighting in a war that involves other Muslims.

Well, first of all, he admonished the army to identify these people and then to figure out a way to resolve their conflict which he gave as a recommendation allowing them to leave the service as conscientious objectors. The question that you raised about political correctness is really spot on, because the people who heard this from what I know is that some of them didn't know how to approach him about it for that very reason, that they felt that touching on the subject, even talking about Islam with Muslims would be somehow politically incorrect and certainly questioning or criticizing even the extremist version that he was giving would not be acceptable.

And so that issue I think really is at the crux of why the Army and his colleagues didn't say to him, you know, in a more in-depth way, you know, what is your thought? What is going on? And furthermore, I think that it really points to the fact that the people in the Army are so unaware of what Islam really is that they're not even sure how to ask the question.

MARTIN: That was going to be my next question. Do you, in your reporting, those who spoke with you, do they recall being uncomfortable at the time and were they uncomfortable at the time because they did not agree with his findings or because they thought it was just outside of the scope of the presentation? Because I must say, when I read the report, it occurred to me that some of the things he was saying are the same things that have been said by some conservative pundits...

PRIEST: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...who suggest that there is a dissonance for some observers, for some and therefore that dissonance between the military mission, the current mission and their beliefs may cause anxiety and has to be reconciled. Can you identify what is it that you think caused these people distressed at the time?

PRIEST: Well, I haven't talked to enough of the people that sat in the room to be certain of this. What I do know is that the supervisors were unhappy because of the nature of the presentation. Now whether or not they caught on to the extremist views that were in there that I'm not sure about. And the people that I did speak to who themselves were there said they certainly felt uncomfortable. They thought it was really weird. It's not that they linked those feelings with him in particular, but they thought it was really strange that he was taking that view.

And the other thing is that once the presentation was, you know, we put it on our Web site, there are other Muslims soldiers there who they spent a lot of time asking a very honest, you know, upfront, what does this mean? What does that mean? And really it again points to this issue of not even having the basic understanding of the religion to know even how to address issues that might make you feel uncomfortable?

And in that sense, it's like any other discussion between a minority and majority groups. If you don't know how to begin it, you know, you're likely not even to start because you might make a mistake and make a fool of yourself.

MARTIN: Dana Priest is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter who writes for the Washington Post. If you want to read the piece that we've just been talking about, we'll have a link on our Web site. Just go to npr.org, click on programs, and then on TELL ME MORE. Dana Priest joined us from her home office. Dana, thank you so much for speaking with us.

PRIEST: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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