Did Muslim Extremism Motivate Fort Hood Shooter?

Revelations about Hasan may indicate more than just a troubled mind

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Speculation about the motives behind Major Nidal Malik Hasan's rampage through Fort Hood is focused increasingly on evidence of his extremist beliefs. (The Atlantic Wire covered early discussion about Hasan's religion here.) ABC reports that he attempted to contact Al Qaeda associates online, and NPR recounts a radical Islamist lecture Hasan once gave. The new light on Hasan's troubled psyche is causing pundits to argue over the lack of attention to warning signs, the shortcomings of media coverage, and whether there was a religious element to his crime.

They, you know, dozens of medical staff come into an auditorium, and somebody stands at the podium at the front and gives a lecture about some academic issue, you know, what drugs to prescribe for what condition. But instead of that, he - Hasan apparently gave a long lecture on the Koran and talked about how if you don't believe, you are condemned to hell. Your head is cut off. You're set on fire. Burning oil is burned down your throat.

And I said to the psychiatrist, but this cold be a very interesting informational session, right? Where he's educating everybody about the Koran. He said but what disturbed everybody was that Hasan seemed to believe these things. And actually, a Muslim in the audience, a psychiatrist, raised his hand and said, excuse me. But I'm a Muslim and I do not believe these things in the Koran, and then I don't believe what you say the Koran says. And then Hasan didn't say, well, I'm just giving you one point of view. He basically just stared the guy down.
  • Don't Ignore Islam's Role  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg worries we haven't faced up to the truth. "[W]hen 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," he writes. "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."
  • 'Pretext for Psychosis'  Spencer Ackerman downplays the emphasis on Hasan's religion and the Mosques he may have attended. "As an anonymous ex-counterterrorism official cautions to the Post, tons of people attended [Mosque] Dar al-Hijrah with no connection to al-Qaeda. What seems more important, judging from what’s being reported about the Hasan investigation, is that the accused murderer apparently spent a lot of time on extremist Websites, which might have sharpened his focus." Of the episode at the medical conference, Ackerman writes, "The fact that Hasan didn’t listen only deepens the point that his religion was a pretext for his psychosis."
  • Was It Terrorism?  James Joyner says it "depends entirely on his motivation." He writes, "To qualify as 'terrorism,' the act has to be committed to instill fear for the purpose of achieving political goals.   If he’s just an angry Muslim who went nuts and started shooting people, he’s a psychopath and a killer but not a terrorist. Even if he was trying to send an 'I'll show them' message, he's no more a terrorist than the Columbine killers, the lunatic who shot up Virginia Tech, or one of those postal workers who go on a rampage." Joyner concludes, "If he’s just a lone fanatic rather than part of an organized group, the difference between him and any other mass murderer is academic."
  • How Did Military Miss Signs?  The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan is appalled at the lack of proper oversight. "To have an army psychiatrist giving talks on Jihad in a military context and not have anyone call him on it, or take measures to monitor him, or challenge him is ... mind-blowing. It's p.c. at its most lethal," he writes. "So he was actually challenged on these grounds in public and yet no one monitored him or disciplined him for this. He may not have been in any way connected to al Qaeda. But the point is: he didn't have to be. This kind of Jihad requires no sleeper cell - just a murderous, fundamentalist psyche."
  • Fear of Islamophobic Backlash Overblown  Military blogger Jonn Lilyea scoffs at liberals afraid that discussing Hasan's religion could lead to a backlash against Muslims. "No, I don’t think that all Muslims are terrorists nor that we should rid ourselves of them. I made that clear the other day, but on the other hand, it disturbs me greatly that everyone is so willing to suspend the Muslim excuse and embrace the crazy GI excuse. I still think he’s just an immature little rich boy who was angry that he couldn’t get his way. But it's more enchanting to imagine that the Right is going to take to the streets and smash the windows of Muslim businesses in a frenzy of irrational hatred."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.