By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Terrorism, Islam and Fort Hood

Jay Fitzgerald has a great post on the Muslim-terrorism meme that’s being flogged by some on the right following the Fort Hood tragedy. He writes:

Here’s a challenge to conservatives: What specifically would they do to prevent these types of attacks in the future? It’s put up or shut up time.

And Fitzgerald wrote that before today’s non-Muslim terrorism attack in Orlando.

Let’s be clear: Nidal Malik Hasan may well have been motivated by religion. But does it matter? We have a history of mass murders in this country because, sometimes, tragically, someone just goes off. Religion is a symptom, not a cause.

In today’s New York Post, the novelist Ralph Peters begins his commentary thusly:

On Thursday afternoon, a radicalized Muslim US Army officer shouting “Allahu Akbar!” committed the worst act of terror on American soil since 9/11.

You know what? I didn’t even bother to keep reading. Thirteen people died in the Fort Hood attack. Thirty-two were slaughtered at Virginia Tech in 2007. Then again, the Virginia Tech killer, Seung-Hui Cho, wasn’t a Muslim.

Rather than looking for a group to blame, we’d be better off celebrating the heroism of Sgt. Kimberly Munley, who shot Hasan, stopped his killing spree, and was injured while so doing. Patrik Jonsson has a terrific story in the Christian Science Monitor on how Munley applied the lessons learned at Virginia Tech.

In short: Move in and start shooting.

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In memoriam


Deval Patrick’s misplaced priorities


  1. Ben

    “Religion is a symptom, not a cause.” I’m not sure I understand. I assume you’re not saying religion is a symptom of being crazy or homicidal.

    There are some Muslims who hate Americans to the point of committing acts of homicide and terrorism against us. I don’t think it’s helpful to pretend that this isn’t the case. Sometimes there are patterns to human behavior that are worth paying attention to.

    Dan, I’m curious, do you think that motivation doesn’t matter in the case of hate crimes? How about lynchings?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Ben: I start with the premise that Hasan is mentally ill. It’s certainly possible for the perpetrator of such a crime to be merely evil, but we’ve already seen evidence that, in his case, he was descending into madness. All I’m saying is that, for such people, all kinds of things emerge as a motivation. In his case, it may have been religion. I’m not saying religion makes you crazy. I’m saying that if you’re crazy, religion can feed into it.

      And of course motivation matters. But we draw all kinds of unwarranted conclusions when the perpetrator is Muslim that we don’t bother with in other cases of mass murder.

  2. lkcape

    If it bleeds it leads.

    Journalism 101.

  3. Dunwich

    I wouldn’t look for a group “to blame.” But I would look for individuals within that group, to keep an eye on.
    Dr. Hasan looked like a potential person of interest, as it were. A single guy with lousy evaluations, getting ready to ship out?
    Somebody should have paid his off-base housing a visit.

  4. newshound

    When people become mentally ill there are diverse eccentricities which sometimes, unfortunately, extend deep into areas of violence.

    But if we were to explore all the various displays and results of weirdness of the mentally ill, religion with subsequent violence is only one of many.

    Religion is not necessarily the only unsafe extension of leaving sanity.

    This person appears to have provided enough clues that he should have been identified and discharged as unfit for military duty . . . somewhat an understatement at this point. And, still, we can conjecture that his mind would have wandered into dangerous territory in civilian life, too, but maybe if some stress had been relieved he could have lived a relatively incident free life.

    Some people sometimes do not radiate easily detectable clues and when those circumstances turn violent it is a greater challenge to learn how to prevent similar tragedy in the future.

  5. mike_b1

    I will add to what Dan says by pointing out that those who fall victim to the spell of violent leaders are in almost all societies coming from a place where they have little to lose. Common threads are strong feelings of disenfranchisement, alienation from society, and often they are poor. Fanatics of all stripes — some religious, of course — play on this. A good example in the Western World is Jim Jones and the massacre at Guyana.

    (Obviously, bin Laden is/was wealthy, but is also an utter psychopath. If you don’t know what n=1 means, bite your tongues. You know who you are.)

  6. DaveL

    There appear to be many indications that Hasan’s views and behavior were a problem for a long time, and had apparently been ignored.

    So, the answer to the rhetorical question (for conservatives or anyone else) is “Take such problems seriously.”

  7. Hope

    While I agree this man was clearly mentally ill, is it possible that he would not have turned into a terrorist if Islam was not feeding anti American thoughts into his mind? We cannot simply ignore the fact that a religion (even if it is only a small sect) encourages and praises people to commit such terrible acts.

  8. rozzie02131

    There are a lot of crazy people who get religion mixed up with the insane thoughts in their head. How many times has somebody said “God told me to (shoot my neighbor, lock my kids in a closet, etc.)” Nobody turns this into a Christian terrorism rant.

    One of my own reactions to the Fort Hood tragedy was to be relieved it wasn’t linked to terrorism, because then we could (mostly) be spared another decade-long round of fear-mongering and inappropriate loss of our own freedoms.

  9. Ben

    Dan, if you’re talking about stereotyping potential murders and terrorists, that’s certainly not limited to Muslims. Remember Columbine? My local Police started questioning every student at the local school who wore a trench coat. The media frequently does this with high profile murder cases. Oaklahoma City made everyone concerned about the right wing “militias”.

  10. Brad Deltan

    Can Ralph Peters be sued for libel by the survivors and victims’ families from Virginia Tech? After, he just stated a demonstrably untrue fact – that it’s the worst terrorist attack – that slanders the memory of those victims by reducing their level of victimhood.

    Psychologically maybe that’s a good thing for the victims, but I’ll take whatever I can get in smacking around idiots like Peters who play fast and loose with the ledes.

  11. Aaron Read

    @Mike_B1: Actually that’s not a very good indicator. There are quite a few terrorists that have attended and graduated universities and colleges in western countries, including the United States and Britain. Some even have masters and doctorates.

    If anything, that can make it easier for some people to be radicalized because they often learn the history of the countries involved, and the massive hypocrisy of our government (not to mention our citizens) and that usually just makes the inherent inequalities all the more glaring.

  12. Ben

    Dan, you’re noting a lone journalist who said that the Oklahoma City bombing had “a Middle Eastern trait” and was promptly dropped by serious media organizations thereafter. I’ve also heard some right wing wakos say there is a Saddam Hussein connection to the bombing. But I think it’s fair to say that the media narrative following the bombing focused (with good cause!) on right wing extremism. If I remember correctly, Clinton even succeeded in getting some unfavorable attention directed at Gingrich, Limbaugh and the mainstream right.

    • Dan Kennedy

      “Islamic terrorism” was the conventional wisdom following the OKC bombing. Then, hours later, the truth began to come out.

  13. mike_b1

    Aaron, poverty and alienation are great indicators. They are not exclusive to the perpetrators, of course.

  14. newshound

    When people become stricken with mental illness and turn to violence their minds can stray way off safe boundaries into just about any eccentricity.

    When I was a child a woman in the neighborhood was institutionalized when she doing and saying peculiar things, one of which was her serious intention to ride her bicycle across the Atlantic – not religious or violent in this case but she most certainly required and was provided treatment.

  15. GuyfromNH

    Dan — The “novelist Ralph Peters” that you so casually dismiss is a former lt. colonel in the U.S. Army, an intelligence officer, and experienced essayist and author. I would trust his insight and writings more than a lot of other columnists and editorial writers…

    • Dan Kennedy

      GuyfromNH: You’d think so, wouldn’t you? Too bad his column sucks. It’s just hate, strung together with banal clichés. If this is any indication of how he writes, his novels must truly be a piece of work.

      • Dan Kennedy

        I went back and read the whole thing before I posted the comment. It didn’t get any better.

  16. Dunque

    Dan, I thought you stopped reading it after the opening sentence.

  17. Local Reporter

    Dan: Any thoughts on why the national press has fixated on the Fort Hood and Orlando shootings while more or less ignoring the far-clearer case of domestic terrorism is Seattle (besides the body count)?

    • Dan Kennedy

      Local Reporter: The Seattle story has gotten so little national attention that I didn’t even know about it. Thanks for the link. And, no, I have no idea. Orlando, too, though admittedly not as big a story as Fort Hood, has practically disappeared. I do think it’s huge news when members of the military are targeted by a gunman, as it should be.

  18. Aaron Read

    If a schlub like Ralph Peters was an O-5 in the Army and an intelligence officer…it doesn’t speak too well to the quality of the military, does it? This is the same SOB who said (according to Wikipedia that “Although it seems unthinkable now, future wars may require censorship, news blackouts and, ultimately, military attacks on the partisan media.”

    And this is someone the POST gives a voice to? Man, doesn’t speak much for the New York Post either, and that’s saying something, ain’t it?

  19. Dan Storms

    Scott Roeder kills Dr. George Tiller because God hates abortion. Eric Robert Rudolph leaves a pipe bomb at the Atlanta Olympics to thwart the ideals of world socialism embodied in the games. This culminates a series of bombings at abortion clinics perpetrated by Rudolph as a member of the Army of God. FBI records show 15 terrorist attacks by the Jewish Defense League in the US between 1980 and 1985. White supremacist James Von Brunn opens fire in the National Holocaust Museum in the name of Aryan purity. You don’t have to be Muslim to be crazy.

  20. mike_b1

    @Dan Storms: Agreed. lkcape proves that in spades.

  21. O-FISH-L

    When it’s practically a hate crime to mention our President’s Muslim middle name, imagine how risky it is for low-level intelligence officials to undertake an investigation of a Muslim showing possible signs of sympathy to the jihad. Thus, Fitzgerald’s challenge is formidable.

    The madness that is political correctness, now unstoppable, probably prevents any wise and meaningful policies that would stop these types from joining the military or even careful monitoring once they’ve joined, but conservatives should still try.

    They should play video of Obama praising Islam as a religion of peace, then run the laundry list of jihadists who have infiltrated the US Military, with a brief description of the offenses committed.

    Nidal Malik Hassan, Ft. Hood Massacre.

    Sgt. Asan Akbhar, lobbed hand grenades into the tents of sleeping US soldiers.

    Ali A. Mohammed, joined the US Army despite being on terrorist watch list. Later conspired with bin Laden to take out Western targets in the Middle East.

    Semi Osman, Muslim cleric and US Naval Reservist assigned to a refueling station, accused of trying to set up a terrorist training camp in OR. Guilty of weapons violations.

    John Muhammad, beltway sniper and member of US Army’s 84th Engineering company.

    Hasan Abujihaad, US soldier convicted of espionage and providing material support to al-Qaeda, including the movements of US ships.

    Conservatives should also run a 30 second clip of Obama, in the hours after Cambridge, as he passed judgement on the Cambridge Police, then contrast it with Obama saying there should be “no rush to judgement” on Malik Hasan. Keep repeating it for all 30 seconds, perhaps with a split screen. It could help tilt close Congressional and Senate races next year.

  22. Dan Storms

    You present no evidence that Hasan’s or Akhbar’s motivation was Islamic fundamentalism of any stripe–the jury, literally, is still out (more properly, not yet convened) on Hasan, and though I remember Akhbar, I don’t recall what the final verdict was. Osman, in your words, is only accused and, given US prosecutors dismal record of terrorist indictments (e.g., the 6 yutzes in Miami with the half-baked plan to blow up the Sears tower), I’d wait to see how that one pans out before citing it. As to weapons charges, I’d bet a goodly portion of 2nd Amendment zealots could as easily be charged with same. And both Muhammads on your list–you don’t say whether their terrorist activities began before or after their service, although I believe John was not radicalized (or crazified) until after. That leaves Abujihaad as your only real example, far as I can see. Even if all your cites were valid, however, you leave out the one figure that might give your point some cogency–how many persons of Arabic descent or Muslim religion serve in the US military? Without that, your roll call simply equates being Muslim with being terrorist ipso facto. My seven-year-old grandson can reason more logically.

  23. bkaplovitz

    Can’t believe you actually tried to pair Orlando spree shootings with Fort Hood jihadist attack–whether in terms of motive or effect. One was emotionally-deranged, but still selfishly criminal; the other surely is an act of terrorism–undertaken in the name of, in defense of, and for the supremacy of radical Islam.


    • Dan Kennedy

      And how do we know that? Because one’s a Muslim and the other isn’t. Thank you for your insights, Barry.

  24. lafcadio mullarkey

    The Virginia Tech killings though greater in number were not an example of terrorism. Cho was a nutjob who didn’t have any greater agenda than just killing a bunch of people on his way out. Mass murder isn’t terrorism.

    Nor was the shooting spree in Orlando a “non-Muslim terrorist attack”. Rodriguez was a schizophrenic off his meds. Not only not Muslim, but not terrorism either.

    So Peters’ point that Fort Hood is the biggest terrorist act on American soil since 9/11 stands, if he can make the case that it was a terrorist act in the first place. For what it’s worth (not much) Joe Lieberman said the same thing on ABC.

    However the reasoning is weak. Hasan looks like another mentally unstable man pushed to an extreme act by pressure he couldn’t manage, who happened to take on the most obnoxious trappings of his religion, on his downward spiral.

    “Terrorism” as a term is susceptible to being used too loosely, diluting its meaning. The association to some entity with an ideological or cultural agenda, however bizarre, should be clear, and not just in the perp’s head. If it’s just some mentally ill asshole going off with no message beyond die die die, or even “Allahu Akbar”, that’s mass murder, not terrorism.

    Also, the Fort Hood victims, though unarmed, were military personnel. Terrorism targets non-combatants. They were victims I think of the unfortunate combination of mental illness and too-easy access to a semi-automatic weapon. Amazing now to see how nobody noticed this guy cracking up.

    • Dan Kennedy

      Iafcadio: I used the “T”-word to make a point. But I agree with everything you’ve said here. Granted, there is still much to learn about Hasan, but early indications are that whatever messages he was receiving from Osama bin Laden were via the tinfoil hat he wore to the mosque every Friday.

  25. mike_b1

    lckape and O-Fish are the same person, right? I mean, is there any reason for her to switch her pseudonym as a way to pretend their is actually someone who agrees?

  26. Rick in Duxbury

    Thanks, Mike. I was afraid we would go a day without an ad hominem. Worry less about the guy’s religion and more about the fact that he was overseen by the same government that wants to handle our healthcare too. Gee, what could go wrong?

  27. Dunque

    Mullarkey, I hate to have to point out the obvious to you but unarmed individuals are non-combatants.

  28. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    Dunque, non-combatants are civilians and those military personnel whose duties do not include fighting, such as chaplains and surgeons. Other than these exceptions, a soldier is not a non-combatant, whether armed at any particular moment or not. Google the term.

    Beware “defining terrorism down”. Applying the term “terrorism” to more and more events dilutes its meaning. It should only be used sparingly.

  29. Dunque

    Mullarkey, your name defines your opinions.

  30. mike_b1

    Rick, yes, because the two topics are oh-so related!

    My wife’s a doctor. She thinks the public option is a great idea. My mom’s a doctor. She agrees. My dad is a doctor. He agrees. Hell, the AARP agrees.

    So I should care what you think, why?

  31. jason

    Imagine if the 6th foundational doctrine of Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or any other religion was to wage violent Holy War against all non- believers.

    Jihad is an accepted doctrine of Islam and is continuing to be preached boldly. So was Hasan just some diabolical nutjob living in a vacuum? Or was Hasan the fruit of a truly diabolical doctrine? The real elephant in the room is the way our culture legitimizes the 6th pillar of the religion of peace by failing to confront its inherrent immorality.

    Instead of worrying about offending virtuous Muslims, why not use this incident to call all virtuous Muslims to renounce the doctrine of Jihad and separate themselves from it?

    A Jihad-Free Islam? Sounds more like the religion of peace.

  32. mike_b1

    jason, in fact, many leading Islamic scholars have for years insisted that the notion of jihad is inconsistent with the true teaching of the Torah. I think President Obama has attempted, through words and actions, to demonstrate that we are willing to reach out to the citizens of the major Muslim countries. Of course, the shoot-first, understand-later mentality of the loons on the right doesn’t help, but then again, that’s to be expected.

    • Dan Kennedy

      [M]any leading Islamic scholars have for years insisted that the notion of jihad is inconsistent with the true teaching of the Torah.

      You’re certainly correct about that. I think you mean the Koran, not the Torah.

  33. mike_b1

    Of course.

  34. Religion should not be think as a source of terrorism. In particular, Islam, which mean ” Peace” should not be matched with the word” terrorism” If you look at the Qur’an you will see the verse” If you kill one innocent person, you will likley to kill every human being in the world” You can take a look at that web-site in order to understand how Islam views terrorism

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