Editorial: Embrace facts, not biases, regarding Fort Hood killings

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

President Barack Obama spoke at a memorial service at Fort Hood on Tuesday. Before him were 13 sets of boots, helmets, rifles and photos, representing those slain in a rampage allegedly carried out by a fellow soldier - Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan - the week before.

Like President Clinton at Oklahoma City in 1995 and President Bush following Sept. 11, 2001, he was the eulogizer in chief, trying to say the right things to settle a distraught nation. "It may be hard to comprehend the twisted logic that led to this tragedy, but this much we do know: No faith justifies these murderous and craven acts. No just and loving God looks upon them with favor ...."

In many ways it was the right touch, neither knee-jerk in its conclusions nor overreaching and counterproductive in its condemnation. And naturally it was not and never could be good enough for those who've already made up their minds before all the facts are in. Said a Baptist minister in nearby Killeen, Texas: "If this was a Muslim terrorist thing, to not call it that is an insult to people who know different." Really. How do they know? What special insight do they possess?

But first, we're curious: What was George Hennard's religious persuasion when he drove his truck into a Luby's Cafeteria on Oct. 16, 1991, and shot 43 people, killing 10 more than Hasan allegedly did on Nov. 5, 2009?

We don't know the answer, though we'd wager that if the perpetrator of what was then the worst massacre in U.S. history was Muslim, we'd have read about it. We don't recall that anyone made much of an issue of it at the time. We'd further bet that if Hennard were Baptist, or Methodist, or Presbyterian, that same minister would not have referred to the incident as a "Christian terrorist thing." We trust as well that many a preacher in Killeen would have been "insulted," not by the omission of that potentially salient description, but by the opposite - giving it voice, not five days after the smoke had cleared.

Look, it's fair to consider the whole horizon of possible triggers here, to wonder what was going on in the mind of a U.S. soldier and practicing, outspoken Muslim as he began picking off those military peers who were to be deployed to U.S. wars in two Muslim nations - especially when we read of a relationship with "radical cleric" Anwar al-Awlaki, who now cheers Hasan as "a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people." That reportedly echoes what Hasan himself said - among other disturbing things - in a lecture a year and a half ago. It's at the least suspicious, and therefore worth exploring.

What we object to is the rush to judgment from every side of this issue, the turning of allegation into fact, the spin from those who wish to politicize this issue, to exploit someone else's tragedy for personal gain.

Amid the chaos was Hasan really heard to yell "Allahu akbar" - "God is great" - as he was shooting? Did he definitively try to make contact with al-Qaida? Terrorist, or psychopath? Ideological, evil, or sick? Real evidence, or Internet-fueled rumor? Don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know, don't know. And unless those with already cemented opinions have spoken to Hasan themselves or to those who witnessed the slaughter, we suspect they don't know at this point, either.

It cuts both ways. Some of Hasan's apologists refer to an Army "at its breaking point" after multiple deployments of its members, and to a Fort Hood where there have been a military-high 75 suicides since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Does the latter speak to something wrong with the culture at Fort Hood, or to the fact that it's the Army's largest base, with 53,000 soldiers and all the stresses that go with being a primary player in this war?

Again, don't know.

It does seem clear that there were some red flags regarding Hasan that were not fully acted upon, with the FBI, CIA and Department of Defense all having him on their radar at some point. As always in America, somebody should have known in advance to be able to prevent this tragedy. Well, maybe. Sometimes we forget that these are human beings functioning in a whirlwind, prioritizing perceived threats because they can't possibly deal with them all.

Meanwhile, to claim these deceased soldiers are victims of political correctness run amok in America is to believe Hasan was ignored because he is Muslim. At first blush that doesn't pass the smell test, with this nation paying ample attention to Muslim Afghanistan and Muslim Iraq and having celebrated recent, supposedly terrorism-foiling successes in this country allegedly involving Muslims. We don't see many folks in positions of authority giving Muslims a pass.

It is just as plausible that the 13 were victims of a lone loser and turf-conscious bureaucracies that, eight years after Sept. 11, still don't do enough talking to one another.

Ultimately there's no reasoning with those who believe this is all part of a stealth Muslim president's plot to destroy America, or who would discharge the less than one-third of 1 percent of the U.S. Army - fewer than 2,000 active-duty soldiers in a total force of 553,000 - that identifies as Muslim. As always, such views speak more about those who hold them than about those they're aimed at.

Crazies cross every creed and color line. Murderers are murderers; does it matter to the victims that theirs was Muslim? Wiser heads will wait until the facts are in, and then make their judgments. Now is the time to mourn these soldiers.

Peoria Journal Star