We're still learning a lot about Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, though I doubt his Muslim beliefs were, as reported by NPR's Daniel Zwerdling this morning, "orthodox." I know more than a few traditionally observant Muslims who would dispute that.
News coverage now, though, has primarily shifted to questioning just what U.S. intelligence officials knew about Hasan before he allegedly went berzerker at Fort Hood last week and why nothing was done to preempt him.
The writing was on the wall, it seems -- and in a PowerPoint presentation to senior Army physicians. (This story from The Washington Post, complete with PowerPoint slideshow, is definitely worth reading.) Turns out investigators had turned an eye to Hasan more than a year ago when they learned he was communicating with the former imam of the Dar al Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va.
That imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, a "radical American" now living in Yemen, is praising Hasan as a hero:
"Nidal Hassan [sic] is a hero," Awlaki said. "He is a man of conscience who could not bear living the contradiction of being a Muslim and serving in an army that is fighting against his own people."
Here we see a reference to that belief mentioned in my post Friday -- that Muslims can't fight alongside Christians and Jews and against fellow Muslims. But, still, the statement isn't supported or undercut by the Koran. It's just put out there.
Again, a story about religion without much discussion of religion. (The Los Angeles Times didn't fare much better.)
The Washington Post, using an alternative spelling for Awlaki, got closer yesterday to getting into the religious meat of this story:
A challenge for investigators is sorting out a potential thicket of psychological, ideological or religious motivations behind Hasan's alleged actions. Hasan's possible contact with extremists such as Aulaqi would complicate matters, suggesting that U.S. authorities may have missed chances to prevent the cleric from instigating this incident and others. But if it turns out that Hasan acted in the throes of an emotional breakdown, his questionable ties could be misinterpreted in ways that damage U.S. outreach to the Muslim world or provoke an overreaction that divides Americans.
"There's a massive effort here to look at the Web sites he visited," the law enforcement official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing probe. "That's part of what's ongoing: what you learn from it, then you've got to figure out what it means." He added: "The important thing is, the jury's still out on motivation."
A former senior U.S. counterterrorism official said that "connections to Aulaqi would be problematic on many levels," calling him "a radicalizer of the first order" with many al-Qaeda ties.
"That said, many people attended that mosque who are not terrorist suspects," the official said. "The question will be whether the shooter kept in contact with Aulaqi and sought spiritual guidance from him. If that is the case, then this changes the complexion of this case a bit."
Still, though, this misses the mark on a number of levels.
First off, how would this change the case? And what exactly was Awlaki preaching before he left Falls Church for Yemen? And how big was his audience?
PHOTO: The current imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Falls Church, Va., not to be confused with the former imam calling Hasan a "hero."