The XX Factor

Labeling Nidal Hasan a “Jihadist” Sidesteps Calling Him an American

Emily and Marjorie , don’t you think we ask ourselves different questions about Major Nidal Hasan because he wasn’t just a Muslim or jihadist, he was also a U.S. citizen and a member of the armed forces? It’s easy to reduce the 9/11 terrorists to pure villains. Because Hasan was truly one of us-born here of an immigrant family, like 20 percent of the population-this feels different.

Both Dorothy Rabinowitz and David Brooks fault the media coverage of the Fort Hood shooting as a willful avoidance of the obvious. Emily agreed with Rabinowitz, saying that we as a nation find it “more comfortable to look away from his religious beliefs for an alternate theory.” Brooks claimed that looking beyond Islamic extremism to the other factors affecting Hasan “sought to reduce a heinous act to social maladjustment.”

I’d argue that we’re looking beyond his religious beliefs because that’s what we as a society do. When we look at other religiously motivated domestic terrorists, like Eric Randolph (who bombed both the Olympic Park and an abortion clinic), we don’t accept religion alone as a motivation. It’s just not enough to explain how an American would look other Americans in the face and then end their lives.

Marjorie, you’re right that a “rush to judgment, and willingness to accept bits and pieces of information as a whole picture of a fractured man we have yet to fully know,” would be wrong. But I don’t think that’s what’s happening. I think we’re all engaged, publicly and privately, in trying to understand not just why something like this happens, but how to keep it from happening again-and wrestling with the fact that, inevitably, it will. When we question the ways that Hasan’s former colleagues were bothered by his behavior, we’re trying to understand how his behavior was different without using 20-20 hindsight to attack everyone who ever knew him. When we look at his life outside the base and the mosque, we’re doing our best to wrap our minds around the incomprehensible.

If we write Hasan off as nothing but a religious zealot, we’re missing the bigger picture. This shooter wasn’t some mysterious other or foreign power. He was, like Timothy McVeigh, like Seung-hui Cho, like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, a citizen of the United States-and he chose a particularly American methodology for his terror. People in other countries (other than those at war) just aren’t as inclined to shoot up their schools and workplaces. When we put aside the idea of Hasan as part of a jihad, we’re not avoiding reality-we’re looking it squarely in the face. We have met the enemy, and far too often, he is us.

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