Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is Nidal Malik Hasan a terrorist?

It's a deceptively simple question and I've got two answers depending upon your definition of the word terrorist. Yes, if terrorist means one who commits an evil act that causes terror. Under this definition, Hasan is a terrorist, as are Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine killers, and Seung-hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer. And while such a definition is worthwhile in pinpointing evil, I'd have to say such a definition is fairly worthless in a political sense.

When we use the word terrorist in regards to "the war on terror" or even the "war on militant Islam" we're referring to a far narrower definition of the word terrorist and it's this definition that I wonder whether or not Hassan actually fits. To connect Hassan to Al Queda and to militant Islam is to connect each and every wannabe violent actor to their individual political fantasies. It's not that Hassan's political motivations aren't important; we'll certainly find out over time just what Hassan's motivations really were. But the simple fact is that the militant Islam angle of this case may play to the motivation of this tragedy, but that angle has little to no bearing on the planning, execution, or even the ultimate outcome.

This is precisely not the sort of case "the war on terror" is designed to stop. The purpose of the war on terror is to prevent another 9-11, to prevent those sorts of planned and coordinated terrorist attacks. The moment the war on terror becomes about stopping lone madmen is the moment we know we've gone too far. If this is the sort of terror the war on terror is designed to prevent than the war on terror truly is a lost cause.

To respond to the comments in the last post, if we're to find out that Hassan wasn't dealt with appropriately before this tragedy happened because of PC fears about discrimination, heads should role. But ultimately, the connection to militant Islam is a relatively unimportant one- the idea of a soldier seeking information on and attempting to contact any violent and radical fringe group should have raised enough red flags to prevent this from becoming the violent bloodbath it became.


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