Friday, November 13, 2009

Clothes and the Man

As coverage of the Ft. Hood shootings continues, I find myself wondering less about Major Hasan's religion than about his clothing.
Let me explain. As someone who has worn a religious habit for over 20 years, I have had to reflect a lot on what this specific uniform means in itself, for me, and for the people I encounter or meet. Within Catholic circles, my habit identifies me as a member of a community called the Daughters of St. Paul, a community with its own history, spirituality and field of work. On the streets of Chicago, my habit identifies me as a full-time “Church lady” (although that means different things to different people). For myself personally, the habit is a practical expression of simplicity of life and a daily reminder that my life, like that of Jesus, is to be at the service of others. That's a lot of meaning riding on one set of clothing!
But the media have presented Major Hasan in two distinctive uniforms: that of the U.S. Army, and the habit-like Middle-Eastern clothing he is seen wearing in a convenience store video. Each of those uniforms says something about the wearer's values, beliefs and relationships. I haven't heard otherwise, but, it's hard to imagine that Major Hasan wore Middle-Eastern styles growing up in southwestern Virginia. I was in Dearborn, Michigan last week; this city has the highest concentration of Muslims in the entire US, and while I saw many women in headscarves, I didn't see a single man in a flowing tunic.
Clothes don't make the man (nor the habit the monk), but knowing the circumstances under which this American military officer began to don the vestments of Middle-Eastern culture might help us better understand what was going on that day in Ft. Hood.

This post was originally written for the Chicago Tribune's Religion blog.


Adoro said...

Interesting observations. Here in the Twin Cities, MN (esp. Minneapolis) we have a huge Somali population, the majority of which, if not all, are Muslim. I DO see a lot of flowing tunics, so I don't know if your own observations say much about that.

We also have a radical contingent and we have radicals "stealing" kids to be trained as terrorists. So in that sense, perhaps that habit-like clothing does say something.

But even within Islam, we have to take into consideration the different countries and cultures where it is lived out and how that is expressed outwardly among those who follow the religion.

Seems to me to be just as ubiquitous as Christianity in many ways.

(And I realize that what I just said is redundant..again) :-)

Anonymous said...

It's not just the clothes that he wore, but the words that he spoke and wrote. I believe our Jewish friends have a saying that they developed after the Holocaust of WWII. "If a man says he is going to kill you, believe him."

Anonymous said...

He reminds me of Cho, the Virginia tech shooter, a loner who was teased. It looks like he never fit in anywhere and chose to take out his life long schizoid existence in a violent act. Interesting that he, too, went to Virginia Tech. His basic problem was not that he was radicalized. He was a sad sack from the beginning. I'm sure if we heard his childhood story, his lack of relationships would tell a familiar story.

Sr Anne said...

I imagine that Maj. Hasan is going to prove to be one majorly maladjusted person. I just thought it odd that he would begin to wear distinctive garb at some point. In my life, it was on approaching my religious vows. (Now the novices receive the habit the day before their first vows; we received it in the mid-point of our novitiate.) But there doesn't seem to be any ceremony of induction for a lifelong Muslim in which he would assume a different style of dress than he had previously worn. The timing of the addition to his wardrobe may tell us what (if anything) the garb says about what was happening in the poor man's mind as he went about the seemingly deliberate preparations for the massacre.
Clearly, as Adoro pointed out, there are different countries and cultures represented by Islam.

Fred said...

It seems odd to me, even criminal, perhaps that other senior officers and psychiatrists failed to read the signs this man was shouting out to the world. There is fault due right there in the Army and at the hospital for letting the man "slip by the system" Sad! Sad! Sad!
Father Fred