Seven salient facts about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
6) Though he may have been upset by the harrowing stories of returned soldiers—as many, many of us have been, incidentally—his overwhelming and reiterated objection to the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and al-Qaida in Iraq, is that it is "a war on Islam." It might be worth noting that this means that the Taliban does represent Islam, whereas the current governments of Iraq and Afghanistan somehow do not—a core belief of the Islamic purists who use the dogma of takfir to excommunicate such Muslims and render them liable, along with many other kind of infidel, to holy slaughter.
7) He seems to have been especially obsessed with the Quranic injunction that forbids devout Muslims to make alliances with Christians and Jews.
The above list is not exhaustive, but I would submit that five of the seven items (the first and the last four) would have been grounds to have had him either put under close surveillance or dismissed from the service. Proselytizing in uniform, for example, is already banned by a general order. To be "inclusive," the United States armed forces must exclude or discipline those who oppose inclusion. This, of course, goes for zealots of all faiths, and it won't do to point out that it isn't always universally applied. The Hasan atrocity makes such an application more urgent, not less.
What about the emphasis on Hasan's supposedly knife-edge mental state? Well, even supposing it to have been precarious, it can hardly have been improved by immersion in the rantings of Anwar al-Awlaki. I do not say that all practitioners of woman-hating, anti-Semitic, sadomasochistic suicide immolations are themselves insane, but I do say that the teaching itself is demented. In the same way, I do not say that all Muslims are terrorists, but I have noticed that an alarmingly high proportion of terrorists are Muslim. A paranoid or depressive person—of whom we have many millions in our midst—does not have to end up screaming religious slogans while butchering his fellow creatures. But a paranoid or depressive person who is in regular touch with a jihadist "spiritual leader" is presented with a ready-made script that offers him paradise in exchange for homicide.
All right, then, wasn't the gallant major also subject to ill treatment and even abuse? Only up to a point, when you consider that his parents had been given refuge from Palestine and enabled to build a life here, that he himself had knowingly joined an all-volunteer army, that he had been promoted (it seems rather faster and higher than his true abilities warranted) and allowed on the job to vent extremely noxious opinions about members of other faiths, to say nothing about his adopted country. No doubt he came in for a taunt or two, but if you want to avoid that, then don't express contempt for your fellow soldiers while in uniform. Black Americans used to be segregated. Jewish recruits were mercilessly hazed, as were men or women who looked as if they might be gay. Did any of them ever come up with an act of mass murder as a response? Did any of them ever offer a black or Jewish or gay ideology in justification of it? Would they have earned sympathy and understanding if they had? By the time the mushy "pre-post-traumatic" school was done with the story, Maj. Hasan was not just acquitted of being a bad Muslim. He was more or less exonerated of having even done a bad deed.
This is not at all a matter of the usual stupid refusal of the FBI and other security services to understand an early warning even when they have detected one. It is a direct challenge to the unity and integrity of the armed services, which have been one of our society's principal organs and engines of ethnic and religious integration. A U.S. soldier who wonders about the reliability of his, let alone her, Muslim colleague is not being "Islamophobic." (A phobia is an irrational or uncontrollable fear.) If Maj. Hasan has made this understandable worry in the ranks more widespread, he has done his fanatical preacher friend the greatest possible service. But that's his fault for doing what he did, and his superiors' fault for letting him openly rehearse it for so long, not mine for pointing it out.
I wrote some years ago that the three most salient characteristics of the Muslim death-squad type were self-righteousness, self-pity, and self-hatred. Surrounded as he was by fellow shrinks who were often very distressed by his menacing manner, Maj. Hasan managed to personify all three traits—with the theocratic rhetoric openly thrown in for good measure—and yet be treated even now as if the real word for him was troubled. Prepare to keep on meeting those three symptoms again, along with official attempts to oppose them only with therapy, if that. At least the holy warriors knowthey are committing suicide.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Hasan by U.S. Government Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences via Getty Images.