Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Major Nidal Hasan

The Army psychiatrist accused of killing 13 of his fellow service-people.

What makes this not just "another serial killing" in the U.S.? First or second, it is unusual for any officer to turn on his fellow-officers, and it is unusual for military people to be assaulted while on base. (Michael Peck says an attack on a base is inevitable but, er, he doesn't seem to be able to think of one that has actually happened). What is getting the most attention: Major Hasan is an observant Moslem, of Arab (Palestinian) ancestry, who had expressed concern about Moslems being asked to take part in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

So was he part of a group, and was the attack planned as one of a series of attacks? This in a way has been the U.S. nightmare since at least 9/11. So far it seems the answer is no, although Hasan probably had some contacts with imams and such who are too radical for the good of society. Jonah Goldberg says the lone nut possibility is actually more frightening--presumably because law enforcement has very little way of identifying a plan in progress. He refers to the so-called Washington Sniper, who was just executed.

It is surely wise to be aware of the relevance of Islam to this case, and to see if there are radicals who are actually persuading Moslems in the U.S. to commit crimes. Contrary to Goldberg, groups are more frightening because they can use the tools of conformity and enthusiasm to recruit fanatics. Without claiming moral equivalence, their cause is aided by attacks by outsiders. There were probably no Palestinians who were actually prepared to commit suicide while launching attacks until the intifadas got underway. Suicide attacks in Lebanon and Iraq have followed, and been responses to, specific events which have made groups identify themselves as oppressed, with very few weapons at their disposal.

Having said all that, the U.S. has a lot of serial killers--whose victims are often their own families. The Washington Sniper (John Allen Muhammed) had in mind--well, God knows what. The big question, very hard to answer, is why the U.S. is prone to this type of crime. Despite all the talk of individuality and choices, and partly because of it, people get lost in the crowd? TV and movies (with Hitchcock's Psycho a major event) make it clear that a serial killer can really gain a high profile, his views and utterances pored over by experts, and perhaps his intelligence praised?

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