On the afternoon of November 5, Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan walked into a building at Fort Hood, the sprawling military base in central Texas; sat briefly in solitary silence; and then opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol, shooting roughly a hundred rounds and killing 12 soldiers and one civilian. As soon as news of Hasan's spree started circulating, a debate began raging, which continues as of this writing — and which doubles as an argument over the place of Islam in America. That Hasan's faith and its impact on his actions were topics worthy of sober, nuanced analysis seemed to elude pundits on both sides. Instead, the question was framed in stark terms: did Hasan kill because he's a Muslim; or was linking Islam to last week's massacre a gratuitous move that reeked of religious bigotry?
For much of the conservative commentariat, the answer was obvious from the outset: anyone seeking to explain the atrocity Hasan perpetrated, they claimed, can start and end with his faith. Here in Boston, for example, WTKK-FM's Michael Graham teased his afternoon radio talk show by saying of Hasan's motive: "Let's face it: you and I both know the answer." At michellemalkin.com, meanwhile, the author herself situated Hasan in a broader category she'd created six years ago — "Muslim soldiers with attitude"— and reiterated her own previous contention that the Muslim members of the US armed forces constitute a menacing fifth column. (In Malkin's incendiary words: "The Islamist infiltration of our troops is scandalous. Not one more American, soldier or civilian, must be sacrificed at the altar of multiculturalism, diversity, open borders, and tolerance of the murderous 'attitude' of Jihad.")
And then there was Shepard Smith, every liberal's default choice as favorite Fox News personality, who followed a similar line of thinking when he described Hasan's name — without actually saying it — during an interview with US Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas on Thursday:
SMITH Senator Hutchison, other news organizations are identifying the shooter. . . . Have you been given a name, and what do you know about this suspect? How much are you able to tell us?
HUTCHINSON I have been given a name, but I would not want to confirm that, because I don't know if this person's family has been identified. . . .
SMITH We've been given a name, as well, and quite frankly, I'm not comfortable going with it till it's given to me by the United States military. . . . But the name tells us a lot, does it not, senator?
HUTCHINSON It does. It does, Shepard. And that's why it's a very sad situation.
So far, so bad, conservative media. But it wasn't much better on the left.
Despite the abundance of religious details surrounding Hasan's crime (more on that in a bit), many of my fellow liberals seemed determined to keep their analysis secular. Some studiously avoided any reference whatsoever to Hasan's religion. Writing at the Huffington Post, for example, Christine Pelosi (daughter of Nancy) cast the shootings as one more grim reminder that the military needs to take post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) seriously — and did not mention Islam once. (Hasan, a psychiatrist, hadn't yet served in a combat zone, but had counseled returning soldiers; implicit in Pelosi's analysis was the debatable notion that, as he discussed his patients' first-hand traumas, he experienced second-hand trauma of his own, a novel diagnosis — see online sidebar "Collateral Damage").