It is strange. I have a pretty good memory, but I can’t seem to remember the religion of the students who perpetrated the Columbine High School massacre. Nor, for that matter, can I recall the religion of the young man who killed 31 people, and then himself, at Virginia Tech in 2007.
But, there was Sean Hannity last night asking an army officer, who knew the alleged shooter in yesterday’s killing spree at Fort Hood, Dr. Nidal M. Hasan, whether Hasan was a devout Muslim or not. I had gone to bed expecting to call this morning’s blogpost, "Hannity is a Pig." Then, this morning, the front page of the Washington Post has a headline "Suspect, devout Muslim from Va., wanted Army discharge, aunt said." Just imagine reading such a headline, say, about an IRA terrorist twenty years ago with the phrase "devout Catholic." Or imagine reading that Timothy McVeigh, who bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City, was a "devout Christian."
I am not naïve. I am aware that there are fanatical Islamicist forces bent on destroying America. I know that the Taliban and the Al-Queda hate Americans not for what we do but for who we are, because we cherish freedom we do not fear it, because we consider women equal, because we do not care whether a woman’s head is covered or a man’s beard is shaven, because we embrace science and humanism and the arts. Yes, we are at war and it will be a long war and there are times when I get frustrated with my fellow liberals for failing to appreciate the tenacity of our enemy or the stakes at issue. But, Dr. Hasan worshipped in Silver Spring, Maryland not in Saudi Arabia. He grew up in Virginia not Yemen. He was already in the U.S. Army when terrorists struck lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001. If he was "devout," then I would imagine that his devotion makes his alleged murderous act more difficult to explain, not less.
And SHAME on the Washington Post. In a courtroom, the admission of evidence is considered in terms of its prejudicial value. Some evidence is barred because while it might help a jury reach an accurate conclusion, something about that evidence is more likely to inflame the jury in such a way as to prevent them from assessing its evidentiary value. Lord knows (and Lord Blackstone knows) that the evidentiary rules of the court should not apply to the press. But, to put this piece of information about Dr. Hasan’s religion in the headline implies some connection between that information and the rampage yesterday, a connection that is simply not in evidence in the article that follows. Yes, we are told that he "endured some name-calling and harassment about his Muslim faith" but we don’t know whether he was harassed yesterday, do we? And why, eight years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, did he snap now? Has the harassment of Muslim members of the military gotten worse in the ensuing eight years?
No one ever completely grasps what motivated someone to commit an act of evil. I suspect Hasan’s murderous rampage yesterday had more to do with his impending deployment to Iraq and that, as a psychiatrist treating those who come back shattered from their tour of duty, he had many visceral reasons to not want to go. I can see how the military’s recruiting efforts – "Be All You Can Be" and the free college and medical school – lull a soldier into forgetting that the military is not there to provide education and personal fulfillment but to kill enemies, and that the reminder of this primary military mission took its toll on someone who, like most psychiatrists, has the occupational hazard of empathy with the human condition.
The aftermath of a mass killing is no time for political correctness. If it turns out that Dr. Hasan was motivated by extremist impulses that were rooted in his religious sensibilities, let us have the evidence and consider its consequences. But, we do not have such evidence today. The editors of the Post and Mr. Hannity should both do penance in front of the mosque in Silver Spring where Dr. Hasan worshipped. Those who worship there are entitled to the presumption that their faith is devout not fanatical, until someone proves otherwise.