After the Fort Hood murders, we Americans must face a question that we don’t want to deal with: How do we identify potential Muslim terrorists without imposing religious discrimination on those Muslims who aren’t terrorists?
Did Major Nidal Malik Hasan act alone, or was he part of a greater conspiracy? The Government and the Army say he acted alone. I can accept that. The modus operandi was that of a lone shooter. Hasan felt isolated. He lived with few connections to his fellow Soldiers and the greater community. He had work problems and had been transferred from a posting he liked to one he hated. If the shooter’s name was John Smith, we would leave it at this. No one told Hasan to buy pistols and shoot up the clinic.
However, even though Hasan acted alone in this narrow legal sense, he didn’t act alone. Hasan was connected through the Internet with Imam Anwar al-Awlaki, a US-born Muslim cleric now based in Yemen. Before Internet connections, Hasan had attended the mosque in Falls Church, Virginia, where Iman al-Alwaki preached. Iman al-Awlaki had connections, while he was with a San Diego mosque, with two September 11th hijackers. He has spoken at seminars with the background image of New York in flames. We have two degrees of connection between Hasan and terrorists.
Here’s what al-Awlaki said on his blog:
“Nidal Hassan [sic] is a hero. He is a man of conscience who could not bear the contradiction of being a Muslim and fighting against his own people. No scholar with a grain of Islamic knowledge can deny the clear cut proofs that Muslims today have the right — rather the duty — to fight against American tyranny”
Islam is not a very well-organized religion in the sense of order and discipline. There are no Islamic Popes to direct or correct clergy. Anyone, it seems, can find their own iman who will issue a religious ruling that can satisfy personal and/or immediate desires. In the case of Hasan, it can be inferred that al-Awlaki gave his blessing to acts against fellow American soldiers.
Hasan isn’t the only Muslim who has been urged to go on a violent spree. Sergeant Hasan Akbar killed two officers and injured 14 others by means of hand grenades in March 2003, just before the invasion of Iraq. In his defense, as will be noted in Hasan’s defense, attorneys plead mental illness.
Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar ran over nine students with an SUV at the University of North Carolina in March 2006 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison. He noted, I was aiming to follow in the footsteps of one of my role models, Mohamed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, who obtained a doctorate degree." Fortunately, no one was killed.
Five months later, Omeed Aziz Popal killed one man and hurt 14 other pedestrians with his car near a Jewish center in San Francisco. Witnesses say he said, “Everyone needs to be killed, at the scene.
Even if these attacks are rare compared to other forms of violence or workplace violence, they are disturbing. It is the habit of those who train suicide bombers to find people with low self-esteem or trouble coping with the world and make them into the instruments of death. Islamic terrorism gives them the comfort of being “shaheed”, or martyrs in Islamic holy war. (To be fair, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka used similar recruitment techniques, often among those who lost loved ones in the war against the government).
Abraham Lincoln faced similar problems in his domestic war. “Must I shoot a simple-minded soldier boy who deserts, while I must not touch a hair of a wily agitator who induces him to desert?” he asked. In some cases, the agitators were put in prison for the duration of the war, despite the thunderous disapproval of Chief Justice Roger Taney (*). Congressman Clement Laird Vallandigham, a Copperhead (Union anti-war activist), was arrested and deported to the Confederacy.
Religious discrimination is distasteful, as is racial discrimination and national discrimination. Most people are not radicals in deed; personal amiability or squeamishness aside, it takes a Lady Macbeth to force the hand with the knife. However, if a person is in a position of trust or leadership within the military or in law enforcement, he shouldn’t be sympathizing with the enemy, let alone talking to him on the Internet.
Therefore, the government should be increasing its surveillance on military or law enforcement personnel who sympathize with the Islamic radicals too much, as they would and did to those who were active Communists in the Cold War. (**)
This does not imply the entire Muslim population of the U.S. should be put under similar surveillance. Although it is easy to sneer at the last two administrations for laxness in surveillance, not everyone IS a terrorist. However, we certainly can find out who are the al-Alwakis urging violence and we should watch them and those who come in contact with them.
You can destroy a terrorist cell by destroying the population, which doesn’t really work well, or you can identify ringleaders and cut them out before they cause harm.
(*) Who also wrote the Dred Scott decision and came from the secessionist part of Maryland.
(**) I am a short-wave listener. My sister forwarded all my mail to me while I was in basic training. Try explaining to Drill Sergeant Brown why you got a pamphlet from Radio Moscow. Fortunately, it didn’t keep me from getting a commission later in life and annoying the Soviets as best as I could from within New York City.