What do we make of Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist, who went on a shooting rampage at Fort Hood on Thursday, killing 13 soldiers and wounding 30?

He was certainly a man of contradictions, polite to his neighbors, giving away food and personal items, including a Quran, to friends and neighbors before he left for his deployment to Afghanastan, and thanking them for their friendship. He had also cold-bloodly plotted his horrific deeds in advance, with the legal purchase of two powerful handguns: one a .357 revolver and the other a FN 5.7mm automatic pistol that can carry a 30-round clip of high velocity ammunition capable of penetrating bullet-proof vests, so-called “cop killer bullets.” He allegedly purchased the handguns and ammunition in a Texas gun shop in August. Major Hasan, born of Palestinian parents in America, graduated from Virginia Tech, and might have armed himself in the manner of the Tech killer who likewise toted two hand guns.

Major Hasan walked into a base medical facility where some 300 unarmed soldiers were lined up for eye exams and vaccines in preparation to being shipping out to Afghanistan, and opened fire. According to one soldier interviewed by ABC News Nightline Friday night, he shouted “Allah Akbar! (God is great!), or words to that effect.” He reloaded and killed and wounded more victims until he was tracked down by a air pf local cops, Sergeant Kimberly Munley and Sergeant Mark Todd, who confronted him at a range of approximately 20 feet and exchanged pistol fire with the Major until Munley and Hasan went down. Hasan got the worst of it.

Relatives say Hasan reported to them that fellow soldiers teased or ridiculed him for being a Muslim, and that he had grave doubts about the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, where he was to go the next day to counsel combat victims, the same sort of professional treatment he had performed as a psychiatrist stateside for returning veterans. Apparently, Major Hasan considered the War on Terror to be a war against Islam itself.

So it would appear, from what we know, that when the major made his decision to take action, he reached for two things: his guns and jihad.

If major Hasan survives his wounds, he might shed further light on his actions. Maybe not. He will be talking through a lawyer, and what is unique about him will be buried in legal code. We will be hearing: “No comment.” In his 39 years, Nidal Malik Hasan has said and done enough to make him an enigma. He was polite on the outside, steaming on the inside toward the end. We have seen that before in our killers. On official Army papers he stated “no religious preference.” Yet to others he stated more recently that Islam took precedence in his life. The last person seen to enter his apartment near the Ft. Hood base was dressed in Islamic clerical clothes, according to one witness.

There are presently small numbers of Muslims in the U.S. military, less than 4,000, about the same number as there are Jews. The Army values them for their language and cultural skills. The Army spent many thousands of dollars to educate Major Hasan. According to his aunt, Noel Hasan, the Major wanted to leave the army because of harassment after 9/ll and offered to repay the cost of his medical training, but the Army would not let him go. He sent up red flags on his way to the slaughter. But as so often happens in these terrible incidents, the red flags went unnoticed or unheeded. He was a loner, something else we have seen all to often in mass murderers.

He purchased the guns, and heard to call to jihad, one of the most unfortunate words in any language. Whereas some disaffected youths will throw rocks through the windows of abandoned buildings or roll a drunk, Muslim youths might well say: “Let’s do jihad.” And they are off and planning. It comes easily to their lips, jihad, with devastating consequences when they are successful.

American Muslims have served their country with valor. Colin Powell reported staring for an hour at the photograph of a Muslim woman grieving at the tombstone of a Muslim loved one in uniform. Today there are the images of fellow soldiers and family lighting candles and grieving together at Fort Hood. Today there is the enigmatic smile of Major Hasan in uniform everywhere on the Web.

There will be a full investigation of the matter. Millions of words of wondering and condemnation will be generated. The Army might well institute a new round of sensitivity training regarding conduct toward Muslim soldiers. The American Muslim community has already denounced the shootings as despicable. Hasan’s family has declared its love for America.

We often speak about the cultural diversity of this country. In good times it is a strength. It is also a witch’s brew when something like the Ft. Hood massacre takes place. Who is to blame? How do we prevent it from happening again? Who is “we” anymore? There are so many factors, so many variables, so many “if’s.” Was Hasan principally a psycho, or a jihadi?

The short answer is: The gunman is to blame. The 2007 Virginia Tech gunman, Seung-Hui Cho, wrote a long confession that he mailed the day of his wrath, saying that “this didn’t have to happen.” Yes. He could have thrown his guns away. He could have demanded attention with lesser acts of violence for his grievances. He could have turned his rage inward and killed himself—at the beginning rather than at the end. He could have gone public rather than going postal. Major Hasan could have done the same.

What is it about Virginia Tech?

Despite futuristic movies like Minority Report, in which a Washington D.C. policeman tracks down potential criminals before they can commit a crime, there are too many places in American society for dangerous individuals to hide for any such scenario to work effectively. We can be thankful for the inspired efforts of trained professionals and ordinary citizens who nip these mass murderers in the bud. The Columbine Massacre has given students, parents and faculty a profile of student misfits that has occasionally proved useful in preventing repeat performances of that type of violence.

Major Hasan was not the first American Muslim soldier to commit lethal violence against fellow soldiers; I doubt that he will be the last. He has sent up a huge red flag that cannot be ignored. The scanners and lasers are turned on this man’s life. One thing we know: Nidal Malik Hasan was born an American, with all the rights and complexities we bestow upon our citizens. Despite his deep alienation from mainstream America, Major Hasan is one of our own and joins the rogue’s gallery of mass murderers: jihadi and psycho.

Update: 11-17-09: According to the New York Post, Major Hasan visited a strip club in Killeen, Texas, near the Fort Hood Army base days before his shooting rampage. He purchased several lap dances, took a personal interest in the strippers’ personal lives, preferred blondes, drank moderately, was a good tipper.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

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