Are all terrorists the same?

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Morning Joe is Joe Scarborough's morning talk show on MSNBC. In the segment above, he discusses media treatment of the role religion played in the Ft. Hood shootings. It begins with a clip from the previous day's show of the Washington Post's Sally Quinn decrying the focus on Major Nidal Hasan's religious views (my transcript):

QUINN: This is the problem. He clearly had serious problems and, you know, he could have been a doctor. You could have said, "Well, a doctor killed all these people," or "A disgruntled military man killed a lot of people."

I mean, the fact is that part of it was that he was Muslim, that he was disaffected, that there is an incredible amount of harassment in the military that's going on toward people who are religious minorities or atheists, and that's condoned by the military.

Quinn's career never really ceases to amaze me but the fact is that she represents a viewpoint held by many in the mainstream media. To counter Quinn's views, we next hear from Irshad Manji, an NYU professor and Muslim who has written a book titled "The Trouble With Islam Today." Manji had written a column in Toronto's Globe & Mail arguing that Hasan's Muslim identity matters and should be analyzed instead of whitewashed:

MANJI: Understanding requires analyzing, not sanitizing. I'm not interested in hysteria. It's clear that we have to be careful not to reduce this story to Islam but the corrective to that is not to whitewash Islam from public discussion of the story altogether. It's to put the role of religious conviction in its proper perspective. And by the way, we won't know what that proper perspective is until all the details have come in. But in and among those details has to be the detail that Major Hasan visited radical Islamist web sites, that he had email exchanges with an extremist preacher, that he reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" before he opened fire on comrades, that he told fellow community members that he did not wish to fight fellow Muslims. So my point simply is that this is a complex case but complexity is not served by, you know, excising certain factors out of the equation merely because you're uncomfortable with them.

We've seen stories that attempt to explain Hasan's actions as being motivated by mental health problems rather than religious views. But we also have a solid percentage of stories being written where reporters are doing painstaking research and connecting dots that include heavy doses of discussion of religion.

The Morning Joe team discusses a Canadian incident where police busted up a terror plot involving nearly 20 young Muslim men who claimed to have been motivated by religious views. But the police didn't mention Islam or Muslim in their press conferences and even bragged about avoiding those terms. Manji suggests that this approach doesn't serve or protect the public. Scarborough mentions that in the Hasan case, some avoided mentioning his name on air.

At this point, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham chimes in with his take:

MEACHAM: Here's, for what it's worth, here's what I think: I think the president was right to say don't jump to conclusions. We can now at least sort of hop up to one. And it is that this is an act of terrorism committed by someone -- clearly a Muslim, clearly influenced to some extent, we don't know yet what, by radical Islam. Let's call it what it is. It is an act of terror, which is part of what we've been struggling with now for nearly a decade. In the same way, to some extent, now I would not refer to it as Islamic terror in the same way I would not call Oklahoma City Christian terror.

But there is no doubt that Timothy McVeigh -- and I am a Christian -- there is no doubt that Timothy McVeigh was affected by the warped edges of a white supremacist ideology that was informed to some extent and to some degree by antisemitism and that part of the world. So I wouldn't shy away from it. It does a disservice to the people who fell.

mcveigh_timeNow I appreciate what Meacham is attempting to argue. Or what I think he's attempting to argue. I think he's saying that Islam as Islam does not necessarily lead to terror.

But equating Timothy McVeigh's motivation -- which was extreme hatred of the federal government -- with Christianity just boggles the mind. Anyone who has read the views of McVeigh -- and yes, I realize this was some time ago, but they're readily available online -- would know that he rarely discussed religion. And when he did, he did not indicate any motivation at all coming from religion.

Even though the attack on Ft. Hood is just a week old, we already have quite a bit of indication about Hasan's religious views playing a role. You can't get his former classmates or colleagues to stop talking about it and it's pretty apparent that the military and FBI mishandled the clear signals he was sending about his religious views.

Yes, both Timothy McVeigh and Nidal Hasan killed people (or, I should say, Hasan is alleged to have killed people). But not all mass murderers are the same.

For those curious about McVeigh's views, I recommend "American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing." Written by two journalists who corresponded with and covered McVeigh's trial and execution, the book describes McVeigh as having somewhat complicated views, but the takeaway is probably best summarized by his quote "Science is my religion." He was raised and even confirmed Catholic. But the book also describes him as avoiding worship while in the military, once visiting a Seventh Day Adventist congregation and finding it boring, and claiming that he lost touch with religion. Again, this does not sound like the Christian equivalent of one Major Hasan.

Time magazine interviewed him about his religious views and he said he wasn't terribly religious but did believe in a God. Shortly before he was executed, he accepted an offer to receive last rites from a priest. But he also sent a letter to the Buffalo News where he described himself as an agnostic but said he would "improvise, adapt and overcome", if it turned out there was an afterlife. Here's how Dan Herbeck, one of the Buffalo News reporters, explained it it in an interview with ABC's Sam Donaldson:

HERBECK Well, he is an agnostic. He doesn't believe in God, but he has told us he doesn't not believe in God. Death is part of his adventure, as he describes it to us. And he told us that when he finds out if there is an afterlife, he will improvise, adapt and overcome just like they taught him in the Army.

There's a reason why Jon Meacham would not refer to the Oklahoma City bombing as Christian terror -- it wasn't. And it's time for folks to stop rewriting history to make it so.

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