A consensus seems to have formed here at The Atlantic that the Ft. Hood massacre means not very much at all. Megan McArdle writes that "there is absolutely no political lesson to be learned from this." James Fallows says: "The shootings never mean anything. Forty years later, what did the Charles Whitman massacre 'mean'? A decade later, do we 'know' anything about Columbine?" And the Atlantic Wire has already investigated the motivation for the shooting, and released its preliminary findings. Of Nidal Malik Hasan, the Wire states: "A 39-year-old Army psychiatrist, he appears to have not been motivated by his Muslim religion, his Palestinian heritage (he is American by nationality), or any related political causes."
It seems, though, that when an American military officer who is a practicing Muslim allegedly shoots forty of his fellow soldiers who are about to deploy to the two wars the United States is currently fighting in Muslim countries, some broader meaning might, over time, be discerned, especially if the officer did, in fact, yell "Allahu Akbar" while murdering his fellow soldiers, as some soldiers say he did. This is the second time this year American soldiers on American soil have been gunned down by a Muslim who was reportedly unhappy with America's wars in the Middle East (the first took place in Arkansas, to modest levels of notice). And, of course, this would not be the first instance of an American Muslim soldier killing fellow soldiers over his disagreements with American foreign policy; in 2003, Army Sgt. Hasan Akbar killed two officers and wounded fourteen others when he rolled a grenade into a tent in a homicidal protest against American policy.
I am not arguing, of course, that American Muslims, as a whole, are violently unhappy with America (I've argued the opposite, in fact). But I do think that elite makers of opinion in this country try very hard to ignore the larger meaning of violent acts when they happen to be perpetrated by Muslims. Here's a simple test: If Nidal Malik Hasan had been a devout Christian with pronounced anti-abortion views, and had he attacked, say, a Planned Parenthood office, would his religion have been considered relevant as we tried to understand the motivation and meaning of the attack? Of course. Elite opinion makers do not, as a rule, try to protect Christians and Christian belief from investigation and criticism. Quite the opposite. It would be useful to apply the same standards of inquiry and criticism to all religions.