Jason Zengerle argues that if one calls Scott Roeder’s killing of abortion doctor George Tillman a terrorist act, then one has to call Nidal Hassan, who perpetrated the Fort Hood massacre, a terrorist because his actions were “motivated, in part, by religious and political views.” I don’t think I agree with Jason – at least given the evidence to date about Nidal Hassan’s motives.
We don’t know yet what motivated Nidal Hassan – to say the same thing, what he hoped to accomplish by killing his fellow soldiers. It is not enough to say he had political or religious views. To make a case that he was a terrorist, you have to know a little more than we do.
I associate terrorism generally with a political movement that has certain objectives that it believes it cannot accomplish either through ordinary politics or conventional military engagement, but only – given the asymmetry of force -- through solitary acts that by sowing fear and creating discord, force the oppressor to cede power or to cease whatever activity the movement objects to – from Czarist rule to performing abortions in a clinic.
We don’t know yet whether Nidal Hassan had any connection to al Qaeda or a similar terrorist movement, or even whether, like the Oklahoma City bombers or Scott Roeder, he imagined that he was acting on behalf of such a movement. It is still possible that his was an act of suicidal protest at his being sent to Afghanistan and was not intended to reduce support among Americans for the war in Afghanistan. Until we know this about him, I am reluctant to call him a terrorist, particularly because doing so arouses fears of a Jihadist conspiracy in our midst that may not exist, or that may be containable by the same means we are presently using.