Nidal Malik Hasan, Terrorphobia, and the Safe Haven Freakout

As soon as it emerged that the spree killer at Fort Hood was named Nidal Malik Hasan it was of course inevitable that people would start speculating about motives (“This Was An Act of Jihad” wrote New Republic editor in chief Martin Peretz) and in some quarters we saw talk about the need to do more discrimination against Muslim Americans. Why bother, I figured, an actual investigation will happen. And it seems that “After two days of inquiry into the mass shooting at Fort Hood, investigators have tentatively concluded that it was not part of a terrorist plot.” Rather, they think he “acted out under a welter of emotional, ideological and religious pressures, according to interviews with federal officials who have been briefed on the inquiry.”

This is perhaps a moment to reflect on the fact that the murder of innocent people is not really made better or worse by deep inquiry into the precise nature of the crime. It’s not as if had Hasan left a note saying “despite my name I don’t practice Islam and am acting out of wholly non-religious motives” that his victims would somehow be less dead. Alternatively, suppose this had been part of a “plot”—they wouldn’t be any more dead. But the terrorism fears around this subject should also remind us that the fear of a “save haven” in Afghanistan continues to be an underscrutinized concept. Suppose there had been a terrorist plot here? What role would a safe haven have played in it? The key assets Hasan had, from the point of view of committing acts of violence against Americans, were access to weapons and a physical location inside the United States of America.