Yesterday I saw the blogosphere gripped by what I thought was not a very enlightening semi-semantic dispute over whether or not Nidal Hasan should be considered a terrorist. As more information comes out, I think it’s now pretty clear that he wasn’t part of any kind of formal or informal terrorist organization. It also certainly doesn’t seem as if he had any kind of coherent political theory about what shooting people at Fort Hood would accomplish.
At the same time, it also looks like he was motivated by some kind of politico-Islamic ideology. Dana Priest, for example, reports on Hasan’s Walter Reed Medical Center presentation on “The Koranic Worldview as it Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military”:
Under the “Conclusions” page, Hasan wrote that “Fighting to establish an Islamic State to please God, even by force, is condoned by the Islam,” and that “Muslim Soldiers should not serve in any capacity that renders them at risk to hurting/killing believers unjustly — will vary!”
The final page, labeled “Recommendation,” contained only one suggestion:
“Department of Defense should allow Muslims [sic] Soldiers the option of being released as ‘Conscientious objectors’ to increase troop moralex and decrease adverse events.”
I think a pretty good case can be made that this kind of situation actually is the main face of the terrorist threat. Not a big well-thought-out plot centrally directed from a “safe haven” in South Asia and undertaken by brilliant covert operatives, but the desperate violent act of a clearly disturbed individual. It’s going to be very hard to prevent this sort of thing. As long as the United States remains a country in which firearms are widely available—for the foreseeable future, in other words—we’re going to be unusually vulnerable to mentally ill spree killers of various kinds, including spree killers who nod in the direction of Islamist thinking.
But the larger point is that while these incidents are serious crimes and major tragedies for the victims, they hardly rise to the level of a major macro-level social crisis. They’re certainly not a first-order national security threat. And even put in the lower-stakes context of violent crime in America, the whole set of mentally disturbed spree killers is a pretty minor slice of the pie. Reducing the volume of these incidents isn’t going to inspire gun rights enthusiasts to support major curbs in firearms availability, and certainly shouldn’t convince Americans to contravene our commitments to diversity and non-discrimination. Simply put, if this is the terrorist threat then the terrorist threat isn’t that big a deal.