What was the craziest reaction to the attack at Ft. Hood by Major Hasan, the crazed jihadist? It could be Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s saying that what we most have to fear now is a possible wave of anti-Muslim sentiment. Or it could be journalist Michael Tomasky’s saying that we should not draw any inferences from “Allahu akbar,” the murderer’s battle cry, because it’s just something that votaries of the religion of peace say in moments of stress. We vote for a collective prize to all who attributed the bloodbath to post-traumatic stress disorder, not that Hasan ever experienced any trauma himself, but only heard tales of it when treating patients — presumably in the intervals when he was not trying to convert them to Wahhabism.
In time of war, a man who redefined his identity (he called himself Palestinian, though he was born in Virginia), prayed with a jihadist cleric, complained and preached to acquaintances, and may have contacted terrorists, shoots several dozen people, most of them servicemen and -women, and our commentariat wonders what is going on.
We see the operation of the same political correctness that cocooned Major Hasan in his Army career. Fellow soldiers noticed his strident and unbalanced behavior, but did not report him, lest they discriminate against him (or — their more likely fear — be rebuked for discrimination). He was invited to attend a conference of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University in 2008. (Major Hasan, as it turned out, had a lot to say — not that he would have said it all, or that his plump-minded peers would have listened, even if he had.) We should not be surprised that journalists and pundits are no smarter than our defense and security bureaucracies.
We also suffer from a larger American unwillingness to acknowledge political violence. We rightly applaud ourselves for having avoided Europe’s upheavals. Yet the historic free flow of ideas in this country means that pernicious ones will lodge in the minds of very bad actors. Few of our famous assassins were mere loony loners without political motives. JFK’s assassin was a Marxist, RFK’s was another Palestinian, McKinley’s was an anarchist. Lincoln was murdered by a rogue Confederate intelligence operation. The solution is not to restrict freedom, but to take ideas seriously — to flag them and combat them; to monitor those who take them to extremes and to come down on them when they first cross the line to incitement or action; certainly to keep them out of positions of power or responsibility, even to the rank of major.
We have a difficult enough problem as it is: We cannot know where we are unless we honestly identify and discuss what happens around us.