Both left- and right-wing accounts of the mass murder at Ft. Hood are haunted by the specter of "political correctness."
Faced with a man reportedly yelling "Allahu Akbar!" and mowing down dozens of soldiers on a U.S. military base in Texas, journalists at mainstream news organizations and left-wing bloggers were nearly unanimous in promoting explanations that allowed them to ignore the suspect's religious and political beliefs.
In an article that was widely echoed in other newspapers and broadcasts, Erica Goode of the New York Times explained Sunday that the alleged killer, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, was a victim of "post-traumatic stress disorder" even before he had "experienced the reality of war."
A front-page story in the Times on Tuesday, headlined "At Army Base, Some Violence is Too Familiar," provided more politically sanitized context for the killings by describing them as "another blow in an area that has been beset by crime and violence since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began" -- thereby blaming America's wars overseas for rising crime, violence and now the killings at Ft. Hood, while suggesting that Hasan's alleged conduct was not all that unusual.
Much attention was also devoted to largely unsubstantiated allegations -- mostly from family members in Jordan -- that Hasan had been repeatedly threatened and harassed because he was a Muslim.
While no one explicitly suggested that Hasan's alleged response was commensurate with the insults he suffered, the subtext of the coverage was that he was simply another traumatized victim of America's wars -- and that his alleged actions should prompt us to offer a collective mea culpa.
That's absolutely ridiculous. But in taking aim at the evasive psycho-babble that dominated early news accounts, the right has engaged in an equally dangerous bias that conflates Hasan's radicalism with the religious beliefs of mainstream Muslims. In their narrative, any Muslim might suddenly "snap," as Hasan apparently did, and reveal himself to be the enemy within.
Attacking what she called "head-scratching and obfuscation," Jennifer Rubin argued on Commentary's website that the fear of appearing "anti-Muslim" had led the Army and the American media to ignore "the role of Maj. Hasan's Muslim beliefs" in the Ft. Hood massacre.
Even the sophisticated analyst Tunku Varadarajan of Forbes.com observed that "Muslims may be more extreme because their religion is founded on bellicose conquest, a contempt for infidels and an obligation for piety that is more extensive than in other schemes." He also coined the phrase "going Muslim" -- a play on "going postal" that even he found disconcerting -- to describe the orgy of violence in which Hasan allegedly engaged. Adding sensibly that not all Muslims might be so inclined, Rubin and Varadarajan left it to more primitive commentators to draw the inevitable conclusion that all Muslims in the U.S. military should be viewed as potential traitors.
Underlying both the left- and right-wing narratives of the shootings is the belief -- or fear, on the part of many liberals -- that what happened at Ft. Hood is, in fact, rooted in Islam, rather than in a perverted political ideology that is rejected by an overwhelming majority of Muslims everywhere. The threat posed to America by the jihadist cult recalls the hysteria surrounding the late 19th century mass migrations that brought thousands of anarchists, syndicalists and communists from eastern Europe to America. Preaching their secular gospel of violently overthrowing the U.S. government and returning to a mythical agrarian past, the new immigrants, many of whom were Jewish, engaged in bombings, industrial violence and assassinations that killed hundreds of people, including President William McKinley.
There was no shortage of voices that blamed these attacks on immigrants, particularly "the Jews," and suggested that immigration from eastern Europe be stopped and that Jews be banned from sensitive government jobs and institutions of higher learning -- efforts that were enshrined in law and unofficial practice by 1924. In retrospect, we see these responses as products of ignorance and rank prejudice.
So now we must be clear: The United States is not at war with Muslims or Islam. We are at war, whether we like it or not, with Islamic heretics who argue that their own beliefs supersede traditional Islamic law and that traitors to Islam as they define it should be killed. Our enemies are members of a violent cult that uses the language of religion to achieve political aims. Believers in such heresies have more in common with other violent political extremists -- anarchists, Stalinists, Nazis, Klansmen, Weathermen bombers and terrorists such as Timothy McVeigh -- than they do with mainstream Muslims.
Jihadists are the latest bearers of an ideological virus -- the idea that one can accomplish millenarian political aims by murdering innocents -- that has done terrible damage to human societies. Our response should be zero tolerance for political cultists who try to achieve their goals through violence, be they Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Tamil Tigers, animal-rights activists or self-professed followers of Thoreau. No one should hesitate to call such people what they are -- terrorists.
If we had viewed them so, would the FBI have concluded that the more than 20 e-mails that Hasan sent to an Al Qaeda imam who had advised two of the 9/11 plotters were "consistent with the subject matter of his research"? Would it have seemed normal for a military officer to give a PowerPoint presentation to his peers that concluded with the jihadist motto "We love death more than you love life"?
The distinctive products of our self-defeating battles over "political correctness" are the self-flagellation of the left and the insidious racism of the right. An alternative might be to drop our preconceived notions and prejudices and to start taking political ideas seriously.
Judith Miller is an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a Fox News contributor. David Samuels is a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine.