There is a profound difference between watchfulness and a witch hunt. In the aftermath of the Fort Hood shootings, that's a crucial distinction, though nothing the authorities — and particularly the U.S. Army brass — have said so far has done much to help people make it.
In fact, after Monday's revelations concerning the botched federal investigation into Maj. Nidal Hasan's repeated contacts with a notorious jihadi imam, the military's initial response to the killings in Texas takes on a new coloration.
Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey's insistence that "speculation (about Hasan's Islamic faith) could potentially heighten backlash against some of our Muslim soldiers," for example, now looks less like a sensible plea for tolerance and more like a familiar defensive maneuver designed to protect the rear ends of guys with stars on their shoulders.
As we now know — and as Casey surely knew when he made that remark — the 39-year-old American-born son of Palestinian immigrants had been giving off warning signs of personal distress and instability for much of his Army career. Other physicians in training programs in which he studied formally complained to their superiors about his expression of anti-American, pro-jihadi views in what were supposed to be presentations on psychiatric medicine.
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According to U.S. officials, late in 2008 and into January of this year, federal anti-terrorism operations intercepted 10 to 20 e-mails between Hasan and Anwar al-Aulaqi, an American-born imam who now preaches jihadism from Yemen. On Monday, he praised Hasan as a "hero" on his Web site and urged other American Muslim soldiers to emulate his example.
Yet the FBI and reportedly military investigators concluded that Hasan was pursuing harmless research into post-traumatic stress syndrome. Thus, no notice was taken when he subsequently bought two high-powered handguns at a Texas gun store — purchases reported to the FBI.
Clearly, the FBI screwed up here, but so did the Army. For years, Hasan displayed signs that he was a troubled man, and religion may simply have been the lens through which his inner disquiet focused itself. If convicted, he'd hardly be the first American killer of whom that's true.
The Army's apparent willingness to ignore this may have had less to do with promoting "diversity" or "multiculturalism" than it did with the service's large financial stake in Hasan's medical training and the hard time the military has in recruiting competent mental health professionals.
We need answers, not obfuscation, on all this, and the Army brass needs to cough them up — quickly.
In the meantime, there is a need for perspective that doesn't impugn the more than 3,000 Muslim soldiers now serving their country in the Army.
None of the implications of Hasan's alleged betrayal are unique to Islam. When dealing with soldiers far from their homes and families, and subject to the greatest imaginable stress, the Army needs to be on the watch for the predatory inroads of any form of political or religious extremism — whether it be the jihadism to which Hasan was drawn or the Christian identity nonsense that inspired Timothy McVeigh.