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What should we learn from Nidal Hasan?

PH2009110900836.jpg"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

By Ezra Klein  |  November 10, 2009; 5:42 PM ET
 
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Comments

I think we will learn that nothing is to be learned -- a paraphrase of Hegel's famous quote on learning from history.

The Army will resolve even more firmly not to allow any out of going to fight in the Forever War in the Middle East. Not for mental, religious, or moral reasons -- after all, who do they think they are, George Bush, or Dick Cheney, or Paul Wolfowitz, or Donald Rumsfeld, or someone special like that? So that will put even more pressure on such individuals to do something violent either to themselves or others or both.

Posted by: evelyn911 | November 10, 2009 5:58 PM | Report abuse

The only thing I'd change about your post is calling Hasan's act jihadist per se -- we don't know yet. Though he may have experienced conflicts between his religious beliefs and his military mission, we don't know what the tenor of those conflicts might have been, nor do we know how much sympathy he may have felt for terrorist jihadism. But I agree totally with your assessment otherwise. This was a lone actor, and a troubled man. More lone than McVeigh or the D.C. sniper, each of whom had at least one identifiable accomplice. And though you can't really associate the D.C. sniper with a developed violent ideology, there's no getting around the fact that McVeigh drank at the fount of U.S. right wing extremism. We need to wait and see what stripe of motivation drove Hasan.

Posted by: nolo93 | November 10, 2009 6:05 PM | Report abuse

what lesson should we learn from nidal hasan?


i think one lesson that we should learn, is that the culture of xenophobia, prejudice and paranoia, spawns violence.
we would learn, that in different parts of the united states, you are already in trouble if your name is nidal hasan, even if you didnt do anything.
how many years now, have we been identifying muslims as the "enemy?"
what must it do to a person's psyche to be a practicing muslim in a military culture where we are obsessed with fighting muslim terrorists in iraq, iran, afghanistan, pakistan, day in and day out?
the lesson that we should learn is as much about ourselves and the direction of our culture, as it is about the pressures created on an overworked, unstable person who has the face of the enemy.
the lesson that we should ask ourselves, is what does it take to push a person over the edge?

Posted by: jkaren | November 10, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

I am not at all convinced that Army Brass is free of blame here for not doing their duty. For example, WaPo reports that Hasan advocated that Muslims in Army should not be required to fight against Muslim.

That is blasphemy and unbelievable that upon hearing these views he was not tried in military court.

If you are serving in an army, you better not have such views. Further the real blame goes to officers to tolerate such 'crap'. Such 'weed' must be wiped out totally and if things turn out to be what they look at present in this case, American Army fails here miserably.

This is basic separation of Church and State and I do not believe it is the question of freedom of speech here. You cannot remain in 'any army' with such thoughts, that is mortal danger as is shown by this case. You are in Army only for one single purpose – follow the orders of your superiors unless those orders contravene to what your rule book prescribes (e.g. if your Army has accepted the code of Geneva Convention).

This is way too lax and unacceptable.

Posted by: umesh409 | November 10, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I think there were a lot of ingredients here that got stewed up in the pressure cooker of a questionable war. Among them Hasan's personality issues, growing up with prejudice and persecution, the Virginia Tech connection, stress of being a mental health provider, possible medication effects, the Waco/Killeen connection, and the 685 KIA and 75 suicides at Ft. Hood in recent years. Then there were the institutional factors, including the fact that everybody else in the military is operating under unusual stress too and his superiors failed to recognize the warning signs.

The WORST thing to take from this is what David Brooks did in yesterday's Times. He said we were caught off guard because of political correctness and that there really are evil forces stalking Americans.

The whole concept of evil is problematic. Most people have given up believing in witches and ghosts. But lots of people still believe in evil forces. It is simply not scientifically-based. The sooner we get away from this kind of moralizing, the better off we'll all be.

Posted by: bmull | November 10, 2009 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Goldberg asserts that the discovery of Jonathan Pollard's spying led to Jews in general being viewed with suspicion, and that "loyal Americans were questioned, and sometimes denied security clearances, simply because they were Jewish, or had visited Israel," but he doesn't cite any instances of this happening.

He does cite the case where Lawrence Franklin passed classified documents to two individuals working for AIPAC, who presumably passed them on to Israel. It seems to me that one hardly needs to invoke the Pollard case to explain why the FBI would take a dim view of this. (Franklin pleaded guilty, but the charges against the AIPAC employees were dropped after a pre-trial ruling that the government would have to prove that these individuals knew that their actions would harm the United States.)

Posted by: KennethAlmquist | November 11, 2009 2:13 AM | Report abuse

if the holocaust museum guy can be called as a white supremacist then hasan can and should be called a extremist mulsim terrorist.

religion makes people do a lot of strange things, and militant islam is responsible for more murders than any other take on any religion in the past few decades, and the destructive ambitions are truly horrific.

Posted by: dummypants | November 13, 2009 1:30 PM | Report abuse

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