Erik Larson

Nov 11, 2009

Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

On the back and forth in the media as to whether the Fort Hood suspected shooter was an Islamic terrorist.

Ugh. I don’t like labels either. So, think of it this way, and I’ll leave you to your own conclusions. Timothy McVeigh, white dude with sympathies with the KKK, a virulent dislike of government authority over individual citizens, and a profound belief in guns rights and the right of revolution, is commonly known and we expect will stay known as a terrorist. Yet, here is a guy, disenfranchised by the military (he failed the physical exams for U.S. Special Forces), unable to secure a meaningful job after his military career (he worked as a security guard), frustrated by his inability to attract a mate (his co-worker Andrea Peters shunned his advances), and turning to a destructive lifestyle (he became an obsessive gambler), who by all accounts seems to fit the mold of an increasingly unattached and ultimately psychochotic lone killer. So, why is he only a Terrorist? Apparently this simple label, for most of us, fits just fine with him. But why? Because he wasn’t deranged? Or psychotic?

If one digs into this comparison, it eventually becomes clear that “Muslim terrorist” is treated differently than the anti-government radical white dude. In the the latter case, there’s an unmistakeable eagerness to attach belief system to violence. In the former, it’s quite the opposite. Wow!

To make my point clearly and once again, imagine the feeling of bizarrness if McVeigh, in some alternate universe, was no longer a terrorist after the Olkahoma City Bombing, but simply a psychotic, sexually frustrated, lonely ex-military guy who just needed the right treatment, if only we could have recognized the symptoms early enough. Imagine if we blamed the military, and the U.S. government (he railed against excessive taxation), and all things governmental. so stifling to sensitive, stressed out McVeigh. This kind of bull shit gloss would never fly for the guy who eviscerated 168 people in that horrific terrorist act, and it repays careful attention why in Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s case, there is currently such a raging debate as to whether he was just sick, or something more. McVeigh, always, was just that something more. And if one is truly Enlightened, as I am, one would see that McVeigh was treated as a moral actor, an autonomous agent, and Maj. Hasan is on his way to being treated like an effect of so many causes outside of himself. And in this way, weirdly, perhaps we do win the battle of words, in Orwellian fashion perhaps, by making those enemies under the panoply of our political correctness not true humans, but only poor actors in dramas that they themselves did not and could not create. Only big bad Western World could create them, you see. We win by proclaiming our guilt.

Then again, maybe we’re just chicken shit. And maybe our chicken shit nature is why McVeigh has his label, and others, theirs.