Suppose Maj. Nidal Hassan had called a meeting of agents of the FBI and top officers of Fort Hood, and then said something like this:
"Hey, I am a radical Islamic jihadist. I hate America and what it stands for, and especially what it is doing to my fellow Muslims in this so-called war on terror. I am thinking a lot these days about killing people. And in fact, I think killing Americans is justified by the Koran. You get me"
Well, they probably would not get him. They would probably have just left him alone. For the fact is that Hassan did explicitly, unmistakably, repeatedly announce his terrorist attitudes.
He had e-mail exchanges with an al Qaida-friendly cleric. He told a meeting of doctors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center that Muslim solders such as himself should be let out of the Army and could become suicide bombers if they were not.. He engaged in diatribes against America during sessions of a public health course at a military university. To him, it is reported, the war on terror was actually a war on Islam.
None of this was secret, you understand. It was mostly done in public, some of it seems to have been reported to high-ranking officers, and the FBI found out about the e-mails. The FBI called off its investigation and nothing else was done to stop Hasan until he found a crowded spot at Fort Hood, began firing his semi-automatic handgun, shouted "Allahu Akbar" – "God is great" – and killed 13 people. Heroic police officer Kimberly Munley fired back and he is now in a hospital, recovering and waiting for a military trial.
It is pretty clear why no one in authority paid as much attention as the situation demanded. I am not the first to fear that officials were inhibited by the politically correct concern that really, truly investigating this man and his attitudes would be understood as racial or religious profiling, as unwarranted discrimination against Muslims. A probe and appropriate, life-saving action – getting him out of the military, pronto – would have been no such thing, of course. We can all understand that there is no reason to be suspicious of someone just because he or she is a Muslim, but that there is if the person is a self-proclaimed loyalist to the terrorist cause.
"If Hasan was showing signs, saying to people that he had become an Islamist extremist, the U.S. Army has to have zero tolerance," U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman is quoted as having said in a TV interview.
Of course, as others have noted, no such political correctness extends to Americans who happen to be conservative. Some left-wing commentators fret endlessly over the violence that could come from excessive right-wing rhetoric even as they employ the same kind of rhetoric themselves, and then there’s the infamous memo from the Department of Homeland Security. It warned police that, in times of recession and following the election of a black president, right-wing extremists might find ready recruits for terrorist groups among people worried about gun controls, illegal immigration and the like, and that returning war veterans might also be pulled in.
While some right-wing berserkers have in fact committed acts of violence, there was no evidence of the kind of thing the department was talking primarily about. You can see the bigotry evident in this form of thinking if you imagine a memo warning police to be wary in general of American Muslims because they might be drawn to violence. The need is to be suspicious of people when they trot out solid reasons for that suspicion, and then to do your level best to save others from them, whatever group they might belong to.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.