I continue to be puzzled/annoyed by the reluctance to call the Fort Hood shootings a terrorist act. If we're going to label Scott Roeder--a man with a history of mental illness and extreme religious and political views who allegedly killed George Tiller--an anti-abortion terrorist, then I don't see the problem in calling Nidal Hassan a terrorist, since there's plenty of evidence* that his actions were motivated, in part, by his religious and political views. The fact that he also appears to have been under severe psychological duress doesn't make him any less of a terrorist than Roeder.
That said, there's the larger question of what political lessons to draw from Hassan and the Fort Hood shootings, and I think Megan McArdle is spot-on when she writes:
[I]t wasn't new information that there are Muslims in the world who object to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would like to kill a bunch of Americans. It was always possible that one of them, somewhere, was going to find their way to somewhere where they could do damage. I can think of half a dozen easy ways to kill a significant number of people without getting caught, if I wanted to. So could most of you. The terrorist's job is made harder by wanting a certain sort of spectacular crime, not merely a death toll. But not much harder.
As of last week, what information did we have that would lead to any useful political response? Were we going to start kicking Muslims out of the government and the armed forces? That's unconstitutional, would brutally wrong the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community that is not involved in terrorism, and would deprive us of a valuable source of translators and other advisers to our military and intelligence efforts. We know that some number of Muslims living in this country hate our government and want to act against it. We also know (by the rarity of attacks, if nothing else) that this number is small, and any loose networks are poorly organized and largely ineffective. Given this, there's not very much you can do with this information, other than what we're already doing, which is have the FBI try to track down terrorist plots. Something that they seem to be doing very well when the attacker is not a lone gunman with no need for a support team. This particular attack would have been very hard to stop for anyone, without doing terrible, terrible things to our Muslim citizens.
Of course, this is why I think it's important not to shy away from using the t-word when discussing the Hassan shootings: so that people of good will can then move on to make McArdle's point, which can't be said enough, since there's no dearth of people loudly making the arguments McArdle is taking head-on.
*-- When I say "evidence," I'm talking about the reports of relatives and colleagues of Hassan who describe him as upset by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increasingly radical in his religious beliefs. I'm not talking about this Brian Ross report for ABC News that Hassan had tried to reach out and touch Al Qaeda. Given Ross's sorry track record on some of this stuff, I'll wait for another reporter to confirm it before I believe it.
"Ford Hood and Terrorism (Continued)", by John B. Judis
"A Bit More on Fort Hood and Terrorism", by Jason Zengerle
"A Bit of a Bit More on Fort Hood", by John B. Judis