Denying the obvious

As soon as Major Nidal Hasan finished shooting down American soldiers while shouting "Allahu akbar!", we were warned not to jump to conclusions -- by people who promptly jumped to a series of silly and irresponsible ones.

First, many journalists leapt for the "mad vet" stereotype, portraying Maj. Hasan as just one more sad character who snapped under the intolerable strain of military life. The underlying, and insulting, assumption seemed to be that if you were not necessarily insane to want to be a soldier, you probably would be by the time you'd done it.

I pity those who suffer some version of what a less euphemistic age called "shell shock." But to suggest that violent mental illness is more common among those who have worn a uniform is untrue, which surely makes it an unsuitable tool of analysis for sophisticated observers.

A second, related snap conclusion was that even if Maj. Hasan gave a deeply convincing impression of a jihadi, it would be hasty and intolerant to read anything of significance into it. On Remembrance Day The Globe and Mail said, "Whether Major Hasan was motivated by extremist Islamic calls to jihad or broke under the stress of attempting to reconcile his faith with orders to go to war in a Muslim country remains unknown." OK, I'll bite. How do we tell when a guy slaughtering infidels yelling "Allahu akbar!" is a real jihadi and when he just broke under stress? I doubt the bien-pensant would call all jihadis deranged; it might seem culturally insensitive. Do only domestic cases automatically qualify, to forestall any discussion of fifth columns? Let's at least ask.

We cannot avoid these hard questions by euphemistic references to "Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim opposed to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars ..." as though he had a policy disagreement that got out of hand. This is a man who publicly recommended kuffars be beheaded, then have boiling oil poured down their throats (an impulse to desecrate corpses that is, I might add, profoundly morally disturbed and surprisingly widespread among Taliban types).

Nor can it all be swept under the rug by blaming our bigotry. The deputy director of the American Muslim Armed Forces and Veterans Affairs Council quickly complained that "anytime anyone with an Arabic name is linked to a crime, people immediately draw the conclusion that it was based on his faith." But it wasn't his name, it was the boiling oil/"Allahu akbar" business and his online radicalism. To immediately suggest otherwise was as insulting to Americans as it was incompatible with the facts.

Many jumped to another conclusion that, while superficially sensitive, was profoundly hostile and troubling. Under the simpering headline "Was killer a victim?", for instance, Saturday's Globe called Maj. Hasan a "man under intense stress and torn by irreconcilable loyalties." But let us not swallow that "irreconcilable" untasted. It may be poison.

The real cause for concern here is not Maj. Hasan's claim to put his loyalty to God ahead of his loyalty to his country. Any sincere Christian or Jew must also, surely, put the Supreme Being ahead of the elected one. But Judaism and especially Christianity assign to government subordinate but legitimate secular duties that confer dignity on the state, and command the allegiance of believers within limits. Islam does not.

Islam, not just Islamism, firmly rejects the separation of church and state and therefore the whole concept of "nations." It aspires to unite the whole "ummah" or community of all believers under one government that will impose Godliness in every detail of life from dress to foreign policy to architecture. But if the result is "irreconcilable loyalties" for Muslims in non-Islamic states it has ominous implications.

We need to discuss this proposition, not endorse or reject it unthinkingly. We need to know what they're saying about it in North American mosques. And we cannot evade it by jumping to the conclusion that the whole episode was psychological. Ideas matter, and Maj. Hasan held wicked ones. Who else does?

On Sunday, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said: "What happened at Fort Hood is a tragedy. It would be a greater tragedy if diversity became a casualty." But this massacre was not a "tragedy." It was mass murder and treason. And diversity ceases to be a virtue well before the bit where boiling oil goes down the bleeding stump of my infidel neck.

The day after the shooting, President Barack Obama said "I would caution against jumping to conclusions until we have all the facts." OK. But as the facts come in, let's make sure our conclusions fit them.

"Different strokes for different folks" clearly does not qualify given what we've already learned. Anyone who jumps to it and hangs on regardless is a dangerous idiot.

[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]

ColumnsJohn Robson