Ta-Nehisi, in a post entitled "Mooslim Lovin Media Elites," (which I assume wasn't meant to imply that anyone who questions the motivations, beliefs, behaviors or actions of individual Muslims, or groups of Muslims, is a know-nothing), asks an interesting question in reaction to an earlier post of mine: "If we grant that Hasan was motivated by religion, what does that actually tell us? What is there beyond the fact that people will, at times, interpret religion as a justification to commit heinous acts?" He goes on to write, "That's really my issue. What is the big 'thing' that we should be seeing, in this case? What are those elite blinders preventing us from seeing?"
Let me use an example from my own religious group (I'm Jewish, in case any of you were wondering) to illustrate a possible answer to this question. Jonathan Pollard, an intelligence analyst for the Navy, was convicted of spying on behalf of Israel in 1986. Pollard's actions cast a shadow over many Jews working in the American national security apparatus. Loyal Americans were questioned, and sometimes denied security clearances, simply because they were Jewish, or had visited Israel. The FBI pursued some dubious cases, including the recently-aborted prosecution of two former AIPAC employees, in large part because of fears that another Pollard was lurking somewhere inside the American government.
Was it fair that loyal American Jews had their patriotism questioned by the FBI? No. Was it right of the FBI, in the wake of the Pollard case, to be concerned that Israel, having turned one American Jew into a spy, had turned others? Unfortunately, yes. I'm not excusing the witch-hunts that took place after the Pollard scandal, but I am saying that it would have been a dereliction of duty on the part of the FBI to ignore, because of political correctness, an actual threat. Ultimately, it was the fault of Jonathan Pollard, and the Israeli officials who used him as a spy, that innocent American Jews were suspected of spying for Israel.
So, Maj. Hasan. One of the lessons of this shooting, alas, might be that the military needs to become more aware of the possibility that at least a few of America's Muslim soldiers might succumb to the same impulses that apparently set Hasan on a violent path, and screen, and monitor, accordingly. (This isn't the first time a Muslim soldier has committed violence against his fellow soldiers in the name of Islam). This is a difficult and fraught thing to do, not only because of the risk of discrimination, the sort of discrimination experienced by Jews in the intelligence community after the Pollard affair, but because the military has a real and abiding need to recruit more Muslims, and not fewer, to its ranks, for all the obvious reasons -- language skills and cultural knowledge, for starters.
But I think the evidence is growing that the military ignored some pretty obvious warning signs in Hasan's case, signs that Hasan himself seemed to be providing: The Washington Post reports today on Hasan's extraordinary presentation about jihad to his fellow physicians at Walter Reed. It seems as if he was trying to communicate something to a military that wasn't listening. Here's Ta-Nehisi's "big thing" -- perhaps we should take slightly more seriously the degree to which jihadist thought has penetrated parts of the American Muslim community. Maj. Hasan provided an outline to this sort of thinking:
Under the "Conclusions" page, Hasan wrote that "Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam," and that "Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly -- will vary!"
The final page, labeled "Recommendation," contained only one suggestion: "Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as 'Conscientious objectors' to increase troop morale and decrease adverse events.