Both were angry, disgruntled men. Both may have been in the midst of mental collapse. Both went on shooting rampages — one day apart — with unequal but deadly results. And while one of the shootings — at Fort Hood in Texas, was more deadly, and more shocking to the national consciousness — the intent of the two shootings was nonetheless the same. So why is it that Jason Rodriguez, who shot up his former employer’s office building on Friday, killine one person and injuring four, considered just as much a terrorist as Nidal Hasan? Or why aren’t both men considered cold-blooded, perhaps even psychotic killers, similar to Seung Hui Cho, the troubled college student who mowed down 33 people on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007? Or Dylan Kiebold and Eric Harris, who committed the Columbine massacre, which left 13 people dead and 25 wounded in 1999? Are these people not fruits from the same sick tree — taking out their internal troubles on others, who conveniently are located at a place familiar to them?
Instead, the right is taking this tragedy, and turning it into yet another opportunity to attack and demonize American Muslims. Maybe it’s the shock of a mass shooting on a military base. Or maybe it’s residual dread from 9/11. But since Nidal, who was born in the U.S., has not, thus far, been found to have terrorist ties, why not class him a crazed spree killer, or a serial killer, or a domestic terrorist if you like, like Timothy McVeigh, without making his religion the central issue? Aren’t the families of the 13 dead in Texas suffering enough, without having to have the added layer of speculation about “terrorists infiltrating the military” to deal with? And by the way — why is it that right wing chickenhawks feel free to question the military about such a thing, and even to call for special screenings of Muslim troops but they go ballistic with the (Kafkaesque) Homeland Security Department puts out a report that warns about extremism being encouraged among some elements of returning troops?
The right tells us we can’t judge all police officers by the odd rogue cop … and we can’t judge all teabaggers by the people with the Hitler and jungle monkey signs, or all Republicans by Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck … but they forget to take their own advice when dealing with criminals who also happen to be Muslim.
From the Washington Post reader forums, conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru sounds a familiar theme:
Two tropes of the coverage have been that Hasan was disturbed by the Iraq and Afghan wars and just plain disturbed (“He did not reach for help when he should have,” asserted one tv expert). Isn’t at least possible that this guy subscribes to an extremist ideology that goes way beyond opposition to the wars and isn’t wholly explicable as a reaction to stress? Let’s not assume what we don’t know.
Well it’s also possible that he’s a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks the Beatles told him to shoot up Fort Hood. But “let’s not assume what we don’t know,” right Ramesh? For gods sakes, what happens to the righties if, as the initial investigation indicates, Nidal has no ties to foreign terrorists, and his plot is not found to be a Tim McVeigh style conspiracy to commit domestic terrorism, or even a Columbine style conspiracy to commit group mayhem. Then what? And since what we do know — that this guy is a mass murderer — is enough to convict him in military or civilian court, does his religiosity, or ideology, have any relevance beyond establishing motive in court? The Rodriguez shooting makes it clear that we are in as much danger — if not more — from angry, laid off workers, or people off their meds shooting up their former places of employment than we are from Islamist extremism. Whatever the reasons are for people to go on these kinds of shooting sprees — whether they are Chos or Klebolds or Rodriguez’s or religious extremists (which McVeigh was, by the way, or which George Tiller fully admits to being, while the right sits mum…) we as a society need to start figuring out how too protect ourselves from all of them — not just the Muslims. At Fort Hood, as in Virginia Tech and Columbine, and Orlando, for that matter, we might want to start with our mental health system. It appears to have a lot of serious gaps. Better gun control wouldn’t have helped at Fort Hood, for obvious reasons, but it darned sure would have helped at Virginia Tech. And in all four cases, a little more vigilance in paying attention to the warning signs a troubled person is exhibiting — a little non-terror related public vigilance — would seem to be in order.
The military surely needs to better screen its recruits — but not for their religion. (As Col. Jack Jacobs pointed out yesterday on MSNBC, with two wars going on, the military is in such need of bodies, it couldn’t let a soldier go who was telling them very clearly that he was not mentally fit to serve…)