Holy terror?

By ADAM REILLY  |  November 16, 2009

* Was harassed for his faith on multiple occasions. In August, for example, an irate fellow soldier reportedly tore a bumper sticker reading "Allah is Love" off Hasan's car, then keyed the car. (On another occasion, according to the Times, someone put a diaper in Hasan's car and said, "That's your headdress.")

* Argued in an Internet posting that suicide bombings did not contravene Islam's prohibition against suicide, comparing an individual suicide bomber to an individual soldier who jumps on a live grenade to save the lives of his comrades.

* Shouted "Allahu Akbar"— "God is great" in Arabic — immediately prior to opening fire last week.

* Argued, in a bizarre 2007 presentation at Walter Reed Army Hospital, that the military should allow Muslim soldiers to exit its ranks, lest "adverse events" occur.

*Communicated last year and this year with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Yemeni cleric who preached to three of the 9/11 hijackers at a Virginia mosque and who stated, after the Fort Hood killings, that Hasan "did the right thing."

According to a certain school of thought, Hasan's expressions of religiosity should be taken as manifestations of a deeper, secular malaise. "Based on what we know so far, I'm of the view that it was more of a 'brand' for an all too common problem — despair, hopelessness, and post-traumatic stress disorder," Jessica Stern, author of Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill and academic director of Harvard Law School's Program on Terrorism and the Law, told me earlier this week (prior to revelations of Hasan's Walter Reed speech and ties to Awlaki). "If the Columbine kids had been Muslim, they would have described their rage and pain in terms of Islam. We wouldn't say that Islam was irrelevant in that case, but it wouldn't be the most important factor."

The problem with this approach, though, is that it ignores how instrumental Hasan's faith could have been in causing his despair and hopelessness in the first place. Maybe Hasan's dissatisfaction with military life made him reluctant to aid what he came to see as a war against his co-religionists. Then again, maybe that reluctance stemmed from the gloss that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan routinely get from Christian and Muslim extremists alike. Or maybe it came from Hasan's own reading of the Koran — copies of which he gave away on the morning of the shootings — which states that Muslims are natural antagonists of Jews and Christians (5:51), and that no Muslim should kill a fellow believer (4:92–3).

True, most American Muslims would not do what Hasan did — just as most American Catholics don't follow the lead of John Salvi 3d, who murdered two women at two Brookline abortion clinics in 1994. But that shouldn't obscure the theological sheen of each man's crime.

The path to prevention
The point here isn't that Islam is more inherently violent than Judaism or Christianity (take a look at Deuteronomy 2:33–34, or Pope Urban II's speech launching the First Crusade before you make that argument). It's that, if we're not honest about the possible religious roots of Hasan's violence last week, we risk fundamentally misunderstanding why he acted as he did — and increasing the likelihood that, if another Hasan comes along, the warning signs will again be ignored until it's too late.

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  Topics: Media -- Dont Quote Me , Culture and Lifestyle, Nidal Malik Hasan, Religion,  More more >
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