The "war on terrorism" didn't cause the Fort Hood shootings.
It's both amusing and educational to observe a consensus when it suddenly starts to give way at all points without yielding an inch. A couple of weeks ago, the consoling view was that Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was a man more to be pitied than feared, a full-blown officer in the U.S. armed forces who was too shaken up by the stories of returned veterans to be able to function properly, and a physician too stressed-out to bear in mind that there was such a thing as a Hippocratic oath. Why, even the FBI had interpreted his e-mails to Anwar al-Awlaki as quite "consistent with research being conducted by Maj. Hasan in his position as a psychiatrist at the Walter Reed Medical Center."
That latter finding does not stack up very well with the disclosure that the major was imploring Awlaki's spiritual advice some time before the online imam issued a finding of his own to the effect that bullets discharged at American soldiers were fired in a holy cause. The Washington Post and ABC News, which drew well ahead of the consensus in their reporting, also unearthed e-mails from Hasan to the Yemen-based preacher, asking when jihad tactics might be justified, what were the circumstances that would license the killing of innocent bystanders, and expressing the hope that the e-mailer and his respondent might one day be united in paradise. Since Awlaki was only in Yemen in the first place because he'd found the United States an inconvenient domicile (after having had direct contact with three of the 19 air pirates and mass murderers of Sept. 11, 2001, or "9/11 hijackers" as they are now euphemistically termed), we can apparently congratulate ourselves on paying for an FBI that lacks the nasty and suspicious mind that spoils so much police work in "the community."
Very well, then; the case for Maj. Hasan the overburdened caseworker seems to have evaporated. Robert Wright, among others, is big enough to admit as much. Wright, now emerging as the leading liberal apologist for the faith-based (see his intriguing new book The Evolution of God), now proposes an alternative theory of Maj. Hasan's eagerness to commit mass murder. "The Fort Hood shooting," says Wright, "is an example of Islamist terrorism being spread partly by the war on terrorism—or, actually, by two wars on terrorism, in Iraq and Afghanistan." I know that contributors to the New York Times op-ed page are not necessarily responsible for the headlines that appear over their work, but the title of this one—"Who Created Major Hasan?"—really does demand an answer, and the only one to be located anywhere in the ensuing text is "We did."
Everything in me revolts at this conclusion, which is echoed and underlined in another paragraph of the article. Why, six months ago, did "a 24-year-old-American named Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad—Carlos Bledsoe before his teenage conversion to Islam—fatally shoot a soldier outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark.? ABC News reported, "It was not known what path Muhammad … had followed to radicalization." Well, here's a clue: After being arrested he started babbling to the police about the killing of Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan." Wright describes this clue-based deduction of his as an illustration of the way that "an isolated incident can put you on a slippery slope." Though I can't find much beauty in his prose there, I want to agree with him.
For a start, did Hasan or Muhammad ever say what "killing" of which "Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan" they had in mind? There isn't a day goes by without the brutal slaughter of Muslims in both countries by al-Qaida or the Taliban. And that's not just because most (though not all) civilians in both countries happen to be of the Islamic faith. The terrorists do not pause before deliberately blowing up the mosques and religious processions of those whose Muslim beliefs they deem insufficiently devout. Most of those now being tortured and raped and executed by the Islamic Republic of Iran are Muslim. All the women being scarred with acid and threatened with murder for the crime of going to school in Pakistan are Muslim. Many of those killed in London, Madrid, and New York were Muslim, and almost all the victims callously destroyed in similar atrocities in Istanbul, Cairo, Casablanca, and Algiers in the recent past were Muslim, too. It takes a true intellectual to survey this appalling picture and to say, as Wright does, that we invite attacks on our off-duty soldiers because "the hawkish war-on-terrorism strategy—a global anti-jihad that creates nonstop imagery of Americans killing Muslims—is so dubious." Dubious? The only thing dubious here is his command of language. When did the U.S. Army ever do what the jihadists do every day: deliberately murder Muslim civilians and brag on video about the fact? For shame. The slippery slope—actually the slimy slope—is the one down which Wright is skidding.
It is he, who I am taking as representative of a larger mentality here, who uses equally inert lingo to suggest that Maj. Hasan was "pushed over the edge by his perception of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." That's a nice and shady use of the word "perception." Might it not be equally true to say that Hasan was all-too-easily pulled over the edge, having already signaled his devout eagerness for the dive, by a cleric who makes a living by justifying murder of Muslims and non-Muslims alike?
In many recent reports of this controversy one has seen reporters from respectable papers referring not just to generic, uniform "Muslims" but even to the places where they live as "Muslim lands." If you would object to seeing the absurd term "Christendom" in your newspaper as a description of Europe, let alone to reading about "Jewish land" on the West Bank, then please have the fortitude to complain next time violent theocracy is smuggled into the discourse under the increasingly feeble disguise of multicultural masochism.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan by U.S. Government Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences via Getty Images.