There have been two views on what happened last week when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire on unarmed military colleagues at Fort Hood, Texas, killing 12 soldiers and one civilian. The politically correct version blames a lonely soldier's personal meltdown, precipitated by the fear of being deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. The politically incorrect view portrays Hasan, the son of Palestinian immigrants, as a homegrown Islamic terrorist, whether he coordinated with any terrorist groups or not.
In the end, it may turn out that both views are correct -- in that Hasan would not be the first unstable person to immerse himself in an extremist ideology before he turned his rage on his fellow man. Perhaps that is how seemingly benign men become terrorists.
I've been hearing from folks who are furious at headlines and reports that downplay Hasan's religion and focus on his opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It's astonishing how people have used their political beliefs to recast this murderous rampage to reflect their politics. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert, for example, wrote a column Saturday that focused on the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by troops who have served three or four tours of duty -- unbothered by the fact that Hasan never served in a war zone.
Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, went on the Sunday television shows to warn against jumping to conclusions on this case. That's his job; he must work to prevent a backlash against Muslims serving their country in the military, often at great personal sacrifice. Let me add that to view all Muslim troops as suspect -- or otherwise attempt to isolate them -- would be to reward Hasan's attack.
That said, soldiers reported hearing Hasan proclaim "Allahu Akbar" -- God is Great -- as he opened fire. The Associated Press has reported that law enforcement had investigated whether he posted pro-suicide-bombing statements online. According to news reports, former co-workers from Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington complained that he would not allow his photograph to be taken with women for group holiday pictures. On Monday, the Washington Post reported on Hasan's association with a Yemeni al-Qaida promoter who hailed Hasan as "a hero" and a "man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people."
If the Fort Hood shooter had been a white man who yelled the N-word before firing, I don't think you would see military brass warning against a rush to judgment that the shooter was a racist.
I watched the story as it broke Thursday, and I understand why news anchors hesitated before coming to conclusions on the shooting. After all, early reports got it wrong -- it was reported Hasan was dead.
By now, however, it seems pretty clear that Hasan perpetrated what Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., called on Fox News possibly "the most destructive terrorist act to be committed on American soil since 9/11."
And guess what? Most Americans are not stupid -- they can process that information with the clear understanding that Hasan does not represent your average Muslim or your average Muslim serving in the U.S. military. His own words as he opened fire -- "Allahu Akbar" -- and perhaps his online screeds show who he was. He acted not as a stressed-out shrink, but a violent and twisted extremist.