Part of what makes this discussion so difficult is that terrorism has yet to be clearly defined—but it’s safe to say that at its core, terrorism is about targeting noncombatants with violence or the threat of violence in order to achieve a political objective. No amount of teasing would justify the crimes Hasan allegedly committed. But if Hasan was taking out his personal anger, fear and anxiety by going on a rampage instead of attempting to achieve a political objective, then Hasan may be more Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris than Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
As the investigation moves forward, however, there may be no clear line with which to distinguish Hasan’s personal motivations from his religious or political views. In a sense, the argument over whether or not Hasan’s actions were terrorism has become a proxy argument about whether Islam in general, and Muslims by implications, are in a larger sense responsible for Hasan’s alleged crimes. In the wake of the shooting, several right-wing figures, including Michelle Malkin, Allen West and Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, seized on the shootings to impugn the service of the thousands of American Muslims in the armed forces—as though American Muslims should be held collectively responsible for the murders Hasan allegedly committed. Then there’s Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., who on Sunday said that “there are very, very strong warning signs here that Dr. Hasan had become an Islamist extremist and therefore that this was a terrorist act.”
The Ft. Hood shootings may be an act of religious terrorism—or radical Islam may have played the same role in Hasan’s mind as South Korean revenge films did in the mind of Seung-Hui Cho. But even if it turns out that Hasan was a true believer, a hardened terrorist and not simply a disturbed individual who went on a rampage—his crimes will be his own.
Adam Serwer is a writing fellow at The American Prospect. Follow him on Twitter.