What should we learn from Nidal Hasan?
"If we grant that Hasan was motivated by religion, what does that actually tell us?" asks Ta-Nehisi Coates. "What is there beyond the fact that people will, at times, interpret religion as a justification to commit heinous acts. ... What is the big 'thing' that we should be seeing, in this case?"
Answering him, Jeffrey Goldberg brings up the case of Jonathan Pollard, an intelligence analyst who was convicted of spying on behalf of Israel in 1986. Pollard, many feared, was not the only service member covertly cooperating with Israel. And that fear was grounded, says Goldberg. "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."
Similarly, Goldberg writes, the "one big thing" here is that "we should take slightly more seriously the degree to which jihadist thought has penetrated parts of the American Muslim community."
Looking at Hasan, however, seems to offer an encouraging answer. Tellingly, Hasan was not organizing attacks or cooperating with terrorist groups. He did not work with others or carefully conceal his leanings from authorities. Hasan, to an almost surprising degree, does seem to be an isolated case: An increasingly unstable loner who repeatedly voiced anti-American views, conflict over his service and a desire to be released. And his crime is receiving so much attention because it is so isolated: It is the worst Jihadist violence on American soil since 9/11, and given that Hasan's death toll is much closer to Columbine than 9/11, that is commentary on how few Jihadist attacks there have been, not on how deadly Hasan proved.
All that makes this case very different than a foreign country demonstrating successful penetration of our military. At this point, the lesson of Hasan seems to be the need for better screening of individuals, rather than more aggressive monitoring of groups. New information could change that, but right now, this looks a lot more like the D.C. sniper than Jonathan Pollard.
Photo credit: Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences via Associated Press
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