New information about Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of shooting dozens of soldiers at the Fort Hood post in Texas, does little to clarify what went wrong. Congressional hearings may shed more light, but only if all possible explanations — and failures that allowed Maj. Hasan to stay in the military despite apparent glaring warning signs — are examined.
One possible conclusion is that the “global war on terror” has at its heart some irreconcilable conflicts with Muslims. Another conclusion is that if religious belief and or mental illness prompted the premeditated violence, the acts are ultimately personal and inscrutable.
Recent reporting about Maj. Hasan revealed that he was a devout Muslim who struggled with his part in wars fought against nations with Muslim populations. That much makes sense. Japanese and German immigrants to the U.S. faced similar internal conflicts after Pearl Harbor. Some young Japanese and German men joined the military and were eager to prove loyalty to their new country by fighting for it. But others must have wrestled with the idea of killing former countrymen. And some were sympathetic to their former countries, if not outright subversive against the U.S.
Those on the political right believe Maj. Hasan was a subversive, and argue the media is remiss in not labeling him a terrorist. But there is a fine line between terrorism and insanity, and often, it is drawn by the winning side.
And to date, there is limited evidence that Maj. Hasan had a political agenda or subscribed to a worldview that included the goal of killing American soldiers.
Clearly, however, there were other problems that shouldn’t have been overlooked. Colleagues and supervisors said Maj. Hasan was often aloof with patients, late to work and refused to answer the phone when he was the psychiatrist on call. He tried to convert one patient to Islam, a clear breach of ethics. He was seen as belligerent and argumentative “in his frequent discussions of his Muslim faith,” The Associated Press reported, and while in training, he was described as a “mediocre student and lazy worker.”
The red flags were flying, it would seem, which leads us to question why Maj. Hasan was not demoted, discharged, or referred to counseling. Some have suggested that it was political correctness run amok. After all, dismissing Maj. Hasan could reinforce the notion that Muslims are not tolerated in the U.S. military.
Another view is that the military has practical reasons for retaining those of Middle Eastern descent and Muslim belief, and so may have given Maj. Hasan the benefit of doubts that would not have been extended to others. Muslims serving in the military can help persuade Iraqis, Afghanis, Paki-stanis and others that the U.S. is not waging a war against Islam. Before more is known, drawing broad conclusions from the Hasan case could set back such efforts.
Since he survived, Maj. Hasan himself may settle the debate about his motives for the horrific tragedy. Until then, assigning blame to various theories is premature.