Was Fort Hood Massacre ‘Terrorism’?
Nidal Malik Hasan is a Muslim who killed 14 people. Does that make him a terrorist? Some think so.
Sen. Joe Lieberman called the Fort Hood massacre an act of “Islamist extremism” – even as top Army brass warned Sunday against guessing at a motive, fearing backlash against Muslim soldiers. “There are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and, therefore, that this was a terrorist act,” Lieberman (I-Conn) told Fox News on Sunday. “If the reports that we’re receiving of various statements he made, acts he took are valid, he had turned to Islamist extremism.”
Lieberman, the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, chairs the Senate Homeland Security committee.
Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 people and wounding 30 more on Thursday, reportedly expressed moral concerns about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Lieberman’s comments were in stark contrast to U.S. Army chief of staff George Casey, who told CNN he’s deeply worried “that the speculation could cause something that we don’t want to see happen.” “It would be a shame – as great a tragedy as this was – it would be a shame if our diversity became a casualty as well,” Casey said.
The fact that outrage over Hasan’s villainy could spark a backlash against innocents has no bearing on this question. It’s a separate issue entirely.
Whether Hasan is a “terrorist” depends entirely on his motivation. To qualify as “terrorism,” the act has to be committed to instill fear for the purpose of achieving political goals. If he’s just an angry Muslim who went nuts and started shooting people, he’s a psychopath and a killer but not a terrorist. Even if he was trying to send an “I’ll show them” message, he’s no more a terrorist than the Columbine killers, the lunatic who shot up Virginia Tech, or one of those postal workers who go on a rampage.
Now, evidence is still pouring in. Hasan reportedly “once gave a lecture to other doctors in which he said non-believers should be beheaded and have boiling oil poured down their throats” and actually “was attempting to make contact with people associated with al Qaeda.” That, combined with various Internet postings and other rants, at very least makes him a terrorist sympathizer. And Jim Lindgren sees some matchup of Hasan with the typical psychology of a terrorist.
But even if Hasan was an al Qaeda wannabe who was trying to restore the Caliphate with his evil deeds, I’m not sure that he’s a “terrorist” in any sense that really matters. If he’s just a lone fanatic rather than part of an organized group, the difference between him and any other mass murderer is academic. Indeed, Charles Manson was politically motivated and actually had a group of followers but he’s never referred to as a “terrorist.”
UPDATE: Some commenters are apparently under the impression that, unless we call Hasan a “terrorist,” we’re somehow excusing his crimes. My argument is not that he’s merely some poor soul who needs help and deserves our compassion. Or that there’s no such thing as Islamist terrorism.
Rather clearly, Hasan willfully committed criminal acts that were at least partly motivated by radical Islamist ideology. I simply think “terrorism” is more than that.
UPDATE II: A commenter points to the case of Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who was almost universally judged a terrorist, a label with which I would concur. Like Hasan, McVeigh was ideologically motivated. So, what’s the difference? Aside from the fact that McVeigh formed a criminal conspiracy with a likeminded group and carefully plotted his attack for months, he was clearly trying to send a political message to his government. It’s not clear what Hasan’s intent was at this juncture.