It was, depending on your perspective, bound to happen or incredibly insensitive and prejudiced. Once Nidal Malik Hasan's name was out there as the shooter at Fort Hood, somebody was bound to note the name... and leap to a conclusion. And clearly, some did.
As it turns out, Dr. Hasan was apparently an observant Muslim who followed religious traditions. He prayed every day. He wore traditional clothing. He was aware, and resentful, of anti-Muslim prejudices that became apparent after 9/11.
... And none of that makes him an example of "home grown terrorism."
Time and investigation will tell if there's any connection to be made, or other indication to consider, but for the moment, nothing about Nidal Malik Hasan suggests a connection to terrorist organizations, or that his act had a terrorist component. And I doubt it will - his family, who seem to have no need to hide or not talk about the man they knew, describe a sad, lonely person who they can't imagine resorting to violence. Which speaks volumes, I think, more about what we see, and don't see, when we describe another's mental health.
In our quest to make mass shootings about something, anything but the mental health of the person doing the shooting, we all pick distractions. In the case of Seung Hui Cho, many liberals honed in on the ability to acquire guns easily in Virginia, while conservatives resisted any talk of gun controls... both sides ignoring more obvious solutions like improving campus mental health services, or identifying the steps the University could have takemn to separate Cho from the school.
With Nidal Hasan, we get the distraction of knowing that it was a Muslim soldier who resorted to violence, despite the fact that we know that all sorts of soldiers with mental health issues are doing the same thing. Ironically, the military aspect may have robbed liberals of their usual fallback of blaming the gun; we can do lots of things to rein in some gun sales... but military soldiers and weapons are likely to be together no matter what we do.
And so liberals have had to counter the "ohmygodmuslimradicalislamterror" moment with admitting the obvious - that Hasan probably acted alone, and that some sort of mental health issue was probably involved. Which leads, uncomfortably, to the discussion of soldiers and mental health issues and treatment problems we've been trying to avoid for a long, long time. Which may be why, despite little else happening in the news, the Fort Hood shooting is quietly sinking to the bottom of the news coverage pile, now the place of tributes, memorias, and video montages to sad music.
For all the rejection of snap judgments about Islam=Terrorism, we shouldn't, and we can't, just ignore that Hasan was Muslim, and that his life in a religious minority was somehow not a part of him or what happened. We need to talk about this in order to make, at least, a couple of obvious points: that if we plan to class Hasan as "Muslim terrorist" we've just made the "War on Terror" impossible to fight or win, and that, if we plan to hold these kinds of views of Muslims, we should be asking ourselves far more thoroughly just what it is we're still doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East. Because if we can't ratchet down or deal with these prejudices and false assumptions, we're nowhere in figuring out how we plan to coexist with the Islamic world. And no matter what crazy conservative war types suggest... we're not going to defeat the whole idea of Islam with our Army - an Army that contains Americans who are themselves Muslim.
It's easy to call the revelations about Hasan's religious beliefs a distraction, even the unnecessary invitation to expression of unwarranted fears and prejudice. But the liberal inclination to tamp down any discussion of a difficult topic for the potential of some extreme to offend doesn't help us deconstruct, demystify or figure out the relevant aspects of the story. We have to find a way to deal with the part about Nidal Hasan being Muslim so that we can put his actions into a context, sort out what matters, and what doesn't. And than, I keep hoping, figure out how all of this context helps us to better understand the mental health issues that really need to be explored.